Five Basic Art Terms You Should Know

Whether you are a novice or an expert in the world of art investment, like any asset class, there are some underlying terms, basic terms that every investor needs to know, regardless of whether you’re purchasing the painting to store in safekeeping or to adorn the walls of your home or office building.

Here are five basic art terms you should have up your sleeve.

Canon

Heralding from the Greek word kanōn, meaning a measuring rod, rule, or model and dating back as far as 4thcentury A.D, it generally refers to the established works, individuals, or theories that form the historical backbone of a particular discipline or genre.

In specific reference to art, canonised artworks are generally considered the cornerstones of their particular genre, and not exclusive from antiquity through the contemporary era.

These canon artworks can be found in textbooks or even on the walls of the most famous art institutions showing where the movement came from.

Figurative

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in the opinion of many, none more so that the use of the adjective ‘figurative’ in the world of art.

Figurative is often applied to works that relate to real world subjects. Some famous names include photorealists such as Richard Estes and painters such as Pablo Picasso, which depict subjects that are recognisable and yet considered abstract from reality.

Masterpiece  

One could be excused for thinking It doesn’t take an expert to identify what a masterpiece is in the art world, however, when a series of curators at the Louvre were asked what constitutes a masterpiece they didn’t come up with one answer, but many.

The ultimate in craftsmanship, much critical acclaim, created with skill and the greatest work of an artist’s career all can be pieced together to form the definition of a masterpiece.

However, there is little confusion when defining what the true masterpieces are, with works such as Michelangelo’s creation of Adam and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa standouts in the industry and the wider art-loving community.

Post Modernism

Defined as a movement grounded in the doubt of art having a fundamental truth, postmodern art is a movement that incorporates a wide range of disciplines such as intermedia, installation, conceptional and multimedia all of which set out to contradict aspects of modernism.

It often attempts to break the barriers between fine art and popular culture, with famous artists such as Justin Michael Jenkins and Johanna Drucker.

Minimalism

A term often used to describe a ‘lifestyle choice’ by those people wishing to love simply and not be defined by the material items which they accumulate, minimalism in the art world is much the same.

The term applies to art that is simplified to the extreme, not referencing any other art movements and essentially natural and independent in its nature.

Minimal artwork such as Red Circle on Black by Jiro Yoshihara and Cube by Sol Lewitt are pieces that depict the nature and stunning beauty of this art style.


The art world is moving forward, iterating and evolving from the hallways of the great museums through to the alleyways of the cities of the world and everything in between.

When investing in art, whether it is for purely capital growth, to lease out for residual returns or to appreciate art adorning your walls, it is always important to understand the terms that define the paint and canvas upon your wall.

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