Skip to Main Content

Glossary of Terms

This glossary is designed to help explain some of the art-related terms found on our website, especially as part of our the Search the Collection feature.

Accession Number: Every object that enters the museum’s collection is assigned a unique identifying code known as an accession number. These codes are assigned in a way that reflects the chronology of how works entered the collection. For example, 1965:3 indicates that this was the third artwork to enter the museum’s collection in 1965. An accession number can also reflect when several objects enter the museum’s collection as a group from a single source. For example, 1911:9.11 indicates that this was a member of a multi-object group that, collectively, was the ninth accession to the museum’s collection in 1911.

Occasionally, Albright-Knox accession numbers include letters as well as numbers to identify special groups of objects that entered the collection over the course of several years. These include “K” for gifts from the Knox family, “P” for prints, and “RCA” for works that entered the collection through the Room of Contemporary Art Fund.

Audio Description: The audio descriptions available on selected artwork pages attempt to convey the visual content of works of art for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired. 

The Albright-Knox also offers verbal description sensory tours for adults who are blind or partially sighted. Each in-depth verbal description tour of works on view from the collection and in special exhibitions is enhanced by engaging several senses, often including, but not limited to, the sense of touch.

Artists' books: Artists’ books are those publications conceived, organized, and produced by artists, usually in limited editions and occasionally as unique items. See all artists’ books in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Class: Class is the most general division used in organizing works in the museum’s collection based on shared characteristics that distinguish them from members of other classes. These divisions are broad-based groups such as paintings, sculpture, and video art.

Collage and Mixed Media: Collage describes both the process and resulting artwork in which an artist organizes and adheres paper, photographs, fabric, and/or other materials to a supporting surface. Because they are composed of a combination of different materials or media, these works are sometimes also described as mixed media.

Not all mixed media works are collage, however. The term mixed media describes a broader array of works created using a variety of materials and associated techniques. See all collage and mixed media works in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Collection: The Albright-Knox’s fine art collection is the extraordinary group of objects the museum preserves and exhibits in order to enhance the understanding and appreciation of contemporary and modern art. Within this collection are several smaller collections of works that entered the fine art collection through the efforts of major donors, such as the Panza Collection. You can browse these collections using our Search the Collection feature.

Conceptual Art: In a work of conceptual art, the idea (or concept) of the work is more important or given greater emphasis by the artist than its appearance or physical manifestation. Work by a number of artists who engaged with this notion emerged in the late 1960s. The artist Sol LeWitt coined the term in his 1967 essay “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” in which he wrote, “The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product.” 

Copyright: Copyright is a form of legal protection for original works of authorship, including visual artworks as well as literary, dramatic, musical, and architectural creations. The Albright-Knox is mindful of its responsibilities concerning the intellectual property rights of others, and we work to protect images of artworks that are believed to be under copyright or to have other restrictions imposed by contract or policy. For more information on copyright and images of works of art in the museum’s collection, see Obtaining and Using Images.

Credit Line: Credit lines identify the organization that owns an object as well as when and how it entered the organization’s collection. For example, the credit line for Albert Bierstadt’s The Marina Piccola, Capri, 1859—Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Gift of Albert Bierstadt, 1863—tells you that this work is the Albright-Knox’s collection and that it came into the collection in 1863 as a gift from the artist, Albert Bierstadt.

Deaccessioning: On the rare occasion when an artwork is found to fall far outside the mission of an institution, it may be deaccessioned—or formally removed—from the museum’s collection.

Decorative Arts: The term decorative arts refers to works that are primarily functional but to which an artist or artisan has added aesthetic value through design, decoration, or embellishment. Traditionally, the decorative arts have included ceramics, furniture, textiles, glass, leather, metalwork, arms and armor, clocks, and jewelry, and other household or utilitarian objects. See all works of decorative art in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Drawings: Drawings are works of art in which an art creates lines and marks using pencil, pen, chalk, crayon, charcoal, or other implements on a surface, often paper. See all drawings in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Fair use: Fair use is a provision with United States copyright law that permits the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works for limited non-commercial, personal, and educational use (including scholarly publishing). For more information on fair use and images of works of art in the museum’s collection, see Obtaining and Using Images.

Film and video: Film and video describes works consisting of a series of images on photographic film, videotape, or digital files presented in rapid succession. See all films in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Inscriptions: Inscriptions refer to any words, texts, lettering, or symbols marked on a work, especially those that are not an intentional part of the image. For example, Albert Bierstadt’s The Marina Piccola, Capri, 1859, contains the inscription “ABierstadt. 1859”—the artist’s signature and the work’s date of creation—in the lower left corner of the painting.

Land Art: Land art is usually made directly in and of the outdoors, with artists sculpting the land itself into earthworks or environments that invite our participation or making structures in the landscape using natural, site-specific materials. See all works of land art in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Light and Sound Art: Light and sound art describes works in which the artist features light and/or sound as the primary artistic medium. See all works of light and sound art in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Manuscripts: Historically, manuscripts were handwritten documents often decorated with gold or silver, brilliant colors, designs, and/or miniature pictures. See all manuscripts in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Medium: A medium refers to the material an artist uses to create a work of art, but it can also be used to designate a set of artworks grouped by their shared materials. For example, “watercolor” as a medium could refer to the material an artist applied to paper in the creation of an artwork, but it could also refer to a category of artworks in which watercolor was used as a material.

New Media: Works in new media make use of electronic and digital technologies originally developed as means of mass communication, including various motion and sound mediums. See all works in new media in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Object type: As part of the Search the Collection section of the Albright-Knox’s website, you can sort objects in the museum’s fine art collection by fifteen object types. These types group related objects based on shared materials, such as textiles; production techniques, such as photographs; or foundational concepts, such as conceptual art.

Paintings: Paintings are unique works of art made from paint—pigment suspended in some sort of binding liquid—applied to canvas, wood, paper, or other, generally two-dimensional, supporting surface. See all paintings in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Photographs: Photographs are still images created by exposing a light-sensitive material, usually housed in a camera, to light. While the term can be used to describe a negative, it usually refers to the positive prints made from the exposed photosensitive film, paper, glass, or metal. See all photographs in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Prints: Prints are produced by a number of methods of transferring images by means of a matrix such as a plate, block, or screen to a support such as paper and fabric. See all prints in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Provenance: The documented place of origin and history of subsequent ownership and transfer of ownership of an object.

Public domain: A work is in the public domain if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Generally, reproductions of works in the public domain may be freely used without permission of the former copyright holder. See all works in the public domain in the Albright-Knox’s collection. For more information on copyright and images of works of art in the museum’s collection, see Obtaining and Using Images.

Sculpture and Installation: Sculpture refers to three-dimensional works of art formed by a variety of means, including carving, chiseling, or engraving a hard material like wood or stone; casting, molding, or welding a malleable material like clay, metal, or wax; and assembling sometimes found materials.

Beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s, many artists began experimenting with making three-dimensional works that were less tangible and more diffuse or enveloping. These assemblages or environments, known as installation art, often invite active engagement or immersion by the audience.

See all sculpture and installations in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Textiles: Textile works are created using by weaving, sewing, knitting, felting, knotting, or otherwise combining plant, animal, and synthetic fibers. See all textiles in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

Third party: In cases where the creator of a work does not or no longer holds the copyright to that work but the work has not or not yet entered the public domain, copyright may be held by a third party. Examples of third-party copyright holders include artists, artist estates, and organizations that represent the intellectual property rights of a number of affiliate artists, such as Artist Rights Society (ARS), Bridgeman Art Library, or VAGA. For more information on copyright and images of works of art in the museum’s collection, see Obtaining and Using Images.

Work type: Each class—the most general division used in organizing works in the museum’s collection—contains a number of more specific work types. For instance, the class “paintings” includes the work types “acrylic painting,” “oil painting,” and “watercolor,” among others.

Back to Top