Basic Introduction To Art & Antiques






Many of you write us asking for more information about something you have.We're glad you're curious enough to ask questions and we hope our Art and Antiques FAQs are helpful to you.

Here's what we discuss in this article:

  • What Is An Art Period And How Is That Different FROM THE STYLE OF THAT PERIOD?
  • What's the difference between an engraving and an etching?
  • What's the difference between a painting and a drawing?
  • What's the difference between a painting and a print? If a print is a copy, how can a painting also be a copy?


One of the most confusing aspects of understanding Art and Antiques are the terms used to describe these things. Each category of Art and Antiques has its own diverse and highly specialized vocabulary.

Each category of Art and Antiques has its own specialized vocabulary, and its own expert specialists. Each category of Art and Antiques is really its own FIELD because each requires a different area and type of expertise in order to be proficient in understanding it and thus to talk about it.

For example, terms used to describe pre-1900 Prints are different from terms used to describe pre-1900 Paintings and Drawings and terms used to describe Glass are different from terms used to describe Textiles and Silver.

Obviously it's beyond the scope of this web site to detail every single Art and Antiques period or even the most notable techniques of each period. We have to choose brevity using some criteria. Painting (and drawing) is the primary art category where we find the most frequent misunderstandings and mistakes amongst its' collectors and investors, so this is the area we'll discuss here (and unavoidably include printmaking as well to some extent). We also provide explanations of some of the art terms common to all the art categories.

In addition to specialized vocabulary and specialized expertise, each category of Art and Antiques has time periods where it acquired some unique property, name, attribute and characteristics. For example, a piece of furniture such a a chair done in the period called Louis XIV will have particular characteristics that make it visibly different in style, design and function to a chair done in the style of the Regency Period. And a cup done in the Art Nouveau style will be visibly different from a cup done in the Art Deco style, even though the two styles are adjacent to one another in time (and in fact they overlap a bit as the Art Deco period emerges).

While Art and Antiques PERIODS can be understood by studying data as HISTORY, Art and Antiques TERMINOLOGY requires studying things as well as data, and is another thing entirely, pun intended. There are many Art and Antiques terms for technique where the difference in meaning is highly specific and very subtle, and these terms can become confusing to anyone who hasn't actually tried the various techniques themselves and personally learned their differences.

Art History defines time periods differently from historical chronology. When we refer to a particular art PERIOD, we're referring to a particular time frame, a very specific time period. Some art periods are named after a monarch in power at the time whose influence helped define the various elements making up the unique STYLE of that particular time PERIOD (for example, Louis XIV and Louis XV). The term PERIOD tends to be used as an art term more than the term ERA which refers to a specific historical time frame (for example, the Victorian Era, the Roosevelt Era, and the Kennedy Era).

You can learn to tell one art period from another because each period has a pronounced and unique style to it comprised of common elements used by and in all the various forms of artistic expression during that time frame. As an example, here are three different art PERIODS with completely different STYLES that are adjacent in time: Beaux Arts (1880- 1900), Art Nouveau (1890 - 1910), and Art Deco (1910 - 1930). The time frames for each period overlap and are approximate; nothing changes overnight and the styles from these periods emerged rather than burst forth completely different. This also works in reverse: pieces can be dated by comparing their style and material composition with those of a known period.

The Beaux Arts period is characterized by flowing lines and curves, and almost baroque curvaceousness. Artists include Alphonse Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley and Galla Glass. Type fonts used during this period are almost always simple block fonts for lower case letters with a separate larger highly stylized font used for capital letters. Art Nouveau is characterized by Style Liberte (Liberty Style, or Liberated, as the case may be): flowering vines, arcs and curves, pastels. Artists include Maxfield Parish and Rene Lalique. Even cast metals and carved wood would take on serpentine flows during this period. Type fonts used during this period are almost always serif. Art Deco is characterized by t-squares and triangles, and sharply defined blocked shapes. Artists include Frank Lloyd Wright and Cartier. Type fonts used during this period are almost always sans serif.


The difference between an ETCHING and an ENGRAVING is in the actual steps of the technique. The two terms refer to printing processes for creating multiple copies of something however the processes they use to create the copies are completely different as are the techniques they use.

An ENGRAVING is actually a printing process; a reusable surface is created by cutting it so it will hold ink and print the same image onto something else over and over. The cutting is referred to as ETCHING and the etched areas act as small wells to hold the ink. A stamp can be considered a form of engraving, and so can a die and a die press, and a wood block print.

An ETCHING is also a printing process but it is a different process from an engraving process. It uses different materials and requires different steps to completion. A metal plate (usually copper or zinc) is etched using various acids or mordants, and in this way, an Etching is similar to an engraving, HOWEVER instead of cutting lines directly onto the plate, the artist covers the plate with an acid-resistant ground such as a sheet of acid-resistant wax. The artist then draws through that ground, with special sharp tools, exposing the plate underneath it where the design is to be. This means the artists SCRATCHES the acid-resistant material covering the metal in order to expose the metal to the bite of nitric acid where lines are desired.The resulting scratched plate is then immersed in an acid bath which bites into the plate where the protective coating has been removed and does not bite in where the acid-resistant material remains. These bitten areas are what will hold ink.

To confuse you even further, while an ETCHING involves METAL, the technique has similarities to BATIK, which is a method of creating a design on fabric using dye-resistant wax.


The difference between a painting and a drawing is in the technique and materials used to create the final product. Here we use the words Painting and Drawing as nouns rather than as verbs.

A painting is created by the practice of applying pigment suspended in a carrier (or medium) and a binding agent (a glue) to a surface (support) such as paper, canvas or a wall. The material, called PAINT can be made of many things, and it's applied to some surface typically using a brush dipped in the paint, but not exclusively; other things can be used to apply the paint to the surface (remember finger painting?). The surface can be anything to which the paint adheres: a car, a wall, a tree, a dress, a piece of canvas, a piece of paper, leather, human skin, etc. A drawing typically doesn't use paint to create the finished product, but instead uses a pressed substance such as pencil graphite lead, wax crayon, charcoal soot, chalk, etc. Sometimes the pressed substance is mixed with a binding agent like glue or wax, and sometimes not. The pressed material is applied by hand to any surface to which it will adhere: a car, a wall, a tree, a dress, a piece of canvas, a piece of paper, leather, human skin, etc. Notice that drawings can be done on the same surfaces as paintings.

As you can now tell, the main difference between a painting and a drawing isn't obvious: the difference is in the intended degree of permanence or impermanence of the final product. Drawing materials and drawing surfaces are typically (but not necessarily) more alterable, easier to change (erase, undo, redo, cover, cleanse, etc). and are not typically designed to last as long as painting materials and painting surfaces (but not necessarily) or to be as expensive to buy and to use. Some painting material takes a long time to dry; for example, oil paints can take days to dry completely. For example, the final product may be more durable as a result of being rendered in oil paint on canvas versus watercolor on paper, but it may take five to eight times longer to dry and complete. This is one reason artists will do a lot of preliminary sketching work using drawing materials and drawing surfaces before finalizing a commitment and creating a painting using painting materials and painting surfaces; these are more expensive, demanding, time consuming and final. This is also why drawings and sketches tend to be found more on paper than on cars and walls, and paintings tend to be found more often on canvas and wood, with practice paintings on paper.

As you can now tell from the above discussion, there is no less skill or technique apparent in a drawing than in a painting; in fact, sometimes there is less apparent skill in the painting as the final product, and more of the artist's ability can often be discerned in the preliminary drawings, before a client had their say about the finished product and deliberated over the preliminary sketches.


Art and Antique Objects are often referred to by the technique used to create them.

For example, the word PAINTING is used both as both a noun and a verb. The word PAINTER refers to a person who paints, but we say a PAINTING is created (painting used as a noun) when we mean some paint was applied to some surface in order to create a one at a time one of a kind representation of some thing; we also say PAINTING when we describe what the artist is doing to that thing (painting a canvas is an example of the word painting used as a verb).

We usually refer to the first of some thing as the ORIGINAL however this implies that later versions exist as a COPY of that original, with which to compare with the first of their kind.

We say PRINT when referring to some representation that was created in such a way that it was supposed to be duplicated many times, and while copies exist, there may or may not ever have been anything we could call an original. The original for a copper engraving, for example, might be an image scratched backwards onto a flat piece of copper, that only reproduces itself as prints facing in the other direction when ink is laid over it and paper printed from it. In this example, there is no original, only a starting point to a reproductive process whose technique is referred to as ENGRAVING printing process.

True originals may not in fact exist. Art has traditionally been taught through apprenticeships involving the active supervised duplication of previously completed works. The old adage See One Do One Teach One is as true for the medical professional as for the arts.

This is why lots of copies exist of other work, and why the copies vary in quality and method of execution. This is also why a copy of an original is not necessarily a bad thing; it depends on the expertise of the artist doing the copying.

One of the most famous examples of this is Salvador Dali's copy of Leonardo da Vinci 's La Jaconda (the Mona Lisa). Dali added a moustache, and his painting has become as famous as da Vinci's. A copy can be an honorable "original" in its own right in the same way that an improvement can be considered a patentable invention.

Likewise, paintings of the same subject matter are not necessarily copies of one another. The Eiffle Tower and the Pyramids of Egypt appear in lots of paintings, and the paintings of them aren't all copies of each other. Just because two artists paint the same street, or Saint, doesn't mean they are copying each other. In fact, comparing the works of two different artist's representations of the same or similar subject matter will force the unique characteristics of each artist to emerge and stand out, and this is a great way to learn to recognize the unique "hand" of any particular artist.

For more information on this subject, and examples of artists' copies, click here for our article WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN ORIGINAL, A COPY, A REPLICA, AN IMPROVEMENT, AND A FAKE ? at

Below is a quote by the Ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates. He is known as the father of modern medicine and this saying is still used today to teach medical students and it applies equally well to the Arts:



We hope this information is helpful to you. Thanks for reading. Merci de votre visite.


All Content is © Debra Spencer, Suit Yourself™ International. Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.


All Content is ©2020 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.

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All Content is ©2020 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.
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