Saturday, February 7, 2009

Words to Describe Art: A Challenge!

The question was raised in Dayle Doroshow's post at That Creative Place's blog: how can we describe designs or pieces of art that have a certain quality? She was looking for a word that meant something like "Sophisticated" but when she looked the word up, she realized it didn't fit at all. She chose to use the words, "natural elegance". It's a good term.

This is what natural elegance looks like to me:

Elegant! Degas, Little Dancer

It really got me thinking and I realized that this is the same kind of thing that I ran across while studying art and art history. So seldom can one word describe or categorize any given piece of work in art or craft. And I think about the comments that we leave for others when we show our work...beautiful....gorgeous...cute...etc.

This is indeed a Gorgeous bracelet by Etsy seller Coralia

This pin really IS Darling. by Pat Winter

But how do you describe this?
It more complicated than to just give it a one-word comment.


Etsy seller TilebyFire

The reason that art and craft is so hard to sum up is because there are so many different aspects to a work. You can talk about the color (bright, muted, subdued, bold, luminous), the shape (angular, linear, organic, proportional), the composition (well-composed, asymmetrical, balanced, unified) and we haven't even brushed on meaning, genre, or other elements of art. All of these things apply to craft as well as fine art.


It would be fortunate for us if we had many descriptive words just for the word "beautiful" in art like the Inuit people have for snow (urban legend, BTW). But it's not that simple. I challenge you to look closer at the works that you see and comment on to find something more specific to say about what you're looking at. It can be a teaching tool in our own art-making.

Here are some more of my words:

and my ultimate word....sublime.

This hasn't answered any of Dayle's question because I'm not so sure there is a word that describes natural elegance. Much of it lies in one's own interpretation of the word. Maybe the most important thing is to know what the words mean to us and what we're looking for in our art.

I haven't touched on the negative words to describe a work. But we should be aware of these, also because we can learn from these as well. We probably won't be leaving any of those on our favorite blogs, though.


  1. This post is fantastic and very intresting to me. I enjoyed it a lot. Please visit mine. I would like to know which words you would you use to describe it.

  2. Great post Lisa! I want to do a whole lot more thinking on this and decide what words or qualities I really am looking for to define this idea for myself. Your list of words gives much food for thought- Thank you!

  3. Thanks for the comments, Flor and Dayle.

    Flor, I'm enchanted by your Frida collages.

  4. Excellent post, and yes it is often
    extremely hard to describe art. I can see a piece that is brilliant in concept but perhaps not so much in the execution. How do you then describe the piece? I do like your
    "sublime" for that piece that is just that!

    Lisa, you asked about ADO - here is a link to the profile page with contact



  5. Gosh, I need more coffee! My comment about your word, "sublime" should have been a new paragraph, and does not refer to my previous statement. going to get that coffee!

  6. Reading this post was a delight and when I saw the Degas it reminded me how long it had been since I had been to the Joslyn to see her. I need to make the drive to see her again!
    Great post by the, on to coffe as Sue put it!

  7. So true! Sometimes I look and look at a piece of art and try to examine the feeling I'm getting from it and words just are not adequate.


  8. Hi,
    No I did not receive your message yesterday.

  9. Hi Lisa, Thanks for stopping by my blog! I love this post as it gives me new words to use in describing other's work. Sometimes I'm at a loss as how to describe a piece and you've given me new tools!


  10. Hi Lisa,

    I just have to say wow! You described my personality looking at my paintings...I am impressed! I will let you know when I make more Frida Kahlo shadow boxes. I am planning one but with "Between the Curtains" painting.

    I went to one Frida exhibition, but the "Broken Column" was not there...I wish I could see it one day.

    Thank you so much for your nice comments.


  11. You're so very welcome, Flor! Your work is a delight to describe!

  12. Lisa, Lisa, Lisa. Where have you been all my life!? Yes, I love you for your mind!
    What a delight to read this thought provoking post. We artists need constant greasing of our creative wheels and your post was a stop at Jiffy Lube!
    You cracked me up with your observation of the flying groundhog sand cranes. :)))
    Looking forward to more of what falls out of your brain,
    Ronnie-in a small town in Georgia

  13. Sure Lisa, no problem. You can link my Etsy store and thank you so much!

  14. That bracelet is great! And we have a copy of the Degas in our local library -- but someone sure needs to dust her skirt!

  15. you all have to know about MUTHUMUDALIGE NISSANKA,
    he is the greatest artist i ever meet in my life.just check his blog
    i dont know why peoples not aware his works.

    James T.Samuel
    Art and cinema foundation.

  16. You have vibrant twice but this list is fantastic