This site is made possible by its sponsors. Please visit them!



S O to S P



so - In Japanese tradition, a calligraphic term referring to a free or running brushstroke, the so-called 'grass' stroke.

Also see gyo and shin.



soapstone - Steatite; a soft metamorphic rock composed mostly of the mineral talc. Soapstone is used in China for small figurative sculpture similar to work in jade, and in Byzantium it was used for sculpture similar to work in ivory. In India whole temples with highly ornate carving have been carved of soapstone.

Also see Buddhist and Hindu art.



social realism or Social Realism - A type of realism which is more overtly political in content, critical of society, marked by its realistic depiction of social problems. Paintings by Jean François Millet (French, 1814-75), a painter associated with the Barbizon school, such as The Gleaners (1857, Louvre), is considered an early example of social realism. The greatest impact of this art movement was felt in the first half of the twentieth century, however. Mexican muralists Diego Rivera (1886-1957), José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974) strongly influenced many North American social realist and New Deal artists. Some of these northern artists emerged from the Ashcan school, while others, like Ben Shahn (American, 1898-1969), evolved separately. Be careful not to confuse social realism with socialist realism.

Examples of social realist work:




see thumbnail to leftRobert Minor (American, 1884-1952), Morgan, Mellon, and Rockefeller, c. 1922, grease pencil on paper. The wealthiest men in America are holding on to their money. Editorial cartoons like Minor's encouraged the formation of social realism in the 1930s. See cartoon and drawing.




see thumbnail to rightBen Shahn (American, born Lithuania, 1898-1969), The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, 1931-32, tempera on canvas, 84 1/2 x 48 inches (214.6 x 121.9 cm), Whitney Museum of American Art, NY. This painting is from a series of 23 gouaches titled collectively "The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti." They tell the story of the two immigrant Italian anarchists and their infamous trial and 1927 electrocution for murder and robbery. Here the two lie in their coffins as those prominent in their conviction and execution stand by, clad in top hats and formal dress or in academic robes. Behind them, in a courthouse portico, is a portrait of Judge Webster Thayer, who presided over the trial and the appeal process. See Jewish art and mural.





see thumbnail to leftBen Shahn (American, born Lithuania, 1898-1969), for the Resettlement Administration (RA), Lest We Forget, 1937, gouache and watercolor in bound volume, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, National Archives and Records Administration. From 1935 to 1938 Ben Shahn worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) as an artist and photographer. He took over six thousand photographs about the life of every day working people in the southern and middle western states. See New Deal art.





see thumbnail to rightBen Shahn, for the Resettlement Administration (RA), Years of Dust, 1937, photolithograph, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, National Archives and Records Administration.



Raphael Soyer (American, born in Russia, 1899-1987), Entering the Studio, c. 1935, oil on canvas, Columbia Museum of Art, SC.



Philip Evergood (American, 1901-1973), Lily and the Sparrows, 1939, oil on board, 30 x 24 inches (76.2 x 61 cm), Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.




see thumbnail to leftThomas Hart Benton (American, 1889-1975), Mine Strike, lithograph.



Isaac Soyer (American, born Russia, 1907-1981)



Elizabeth Terrell (American, 1908-)



Also see American Scene painting and isms and -ism.



socialist realism or Socialist Realism - Socialist realism was the official style in the arts in the Soviet Union (USSR) from the early 1930s until the decline of Communism in the 1980s, disappearing entirely by the time of that country's dissolution in 1989. The onset of socialist realism meant the end of the avant-garde, notably in abstraction in such Russian art movements as by the Constructivist and Suprematism. The style was a conservative, figurative and narrative one, meant to be accessible to all viewers, and never to deviate from the Party line. In painting and sculpture, it was devoted to glorifying the state, its leaders (see thumbnail to rightsuch as this portrait of Nikolai Lenin, 1870-1924), and the people, idealizing the working class. In architecture, it excluded all but functional design within a traditional context, in a severe manner sometimes known as "Stalinist gothic." Be careful not to confuse socialist realism with social realism.




see thumbnail to leftChina, Man on the front of a train, above a Mao slogan: "Forcefully aid agriculture," poster. This and the following two posters were produced during the People's Republic of China's period known as the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976, Burke Museum, U of WA, Seattle.




see thumbnail to rightChina, Man driving a tractor holds up a copy of Mao's Red Book, above a Mao quote: "Continuous revolution always going forward," poster, Burke Museum, U of WA, Seattle.




see thumbnail to leftChina, Schoolchildren devote themselves to Mao's writings, poster, Burke Museum, U of WA, Seattle.


Also see agitprop, fascist aesthetic, isms and -ism, and propaganda.



socle - A molded projection at the bottom of a wall or a pier, or beneath a pedestal or a column base.

(pr. SOH-kəl)

An example of socle on a pedestal:


see thumbnail to rightAntico (Italian, 1460-1528), Bust of Young Man, Mantua, about 1520, bronze with silver inlay; later gilt bronze drapery, 21 1/2 x 17 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches (54.7 x 45.0 x 22.3 cm), J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, CA. The pedestal-type base of this bust has a socle.

Also see niche.



soffit - The underside of an architectural member such as an arch, lintel, cornice, or stairway.

(pr. sah'fit)

Also see intrados.



soft focus - Especially in photography, an image made when the lens is thrown slightly out of sharp focus so that the contours of any object appear moderately soft and blurred. Also see sfumato.




softwoods - Woods from coniferous trees, some of which are suitable for carving for example, pine and fir.

Also see hardwood and heartwood.



Solander box or solander box - A readymade box of acid-free board. Solander boxes are frequently used for the storage of books, documents, framed and unframed works on paper, among other objects. Daniel Charles Solander (English, born Sweden, 1736-1782) was a botanist who was also a librarian at the British Museum. The box he designed for the storage of books is known as a Solander box. Today's conservators insist on acid-free archival materials for today's Solander boxes.

Also see bin, collection, ephemera, flat file, polypropylene, portfolio, stack tray, and storeroom.



soldering - A method of joining pieces of metal by melting an alloy of tin and lead into the joint to fuse the two edges together. The application of a flux to surfaces to be soldered is generally required. A soldered joint will not withstand much stress. see thumbnail to rightHere a person holds the flame of a propane torch to a piece of solder at the position of the join.

Also see adhesion, temperature and welding.



soluble - Able to be dissolved.

Also see aqueous, solute, solvent and water-soluble.



solute - The material present in the smaller amount in a solution; the substance dissolved in a solution, as distinguished from the solvent. Or (as an adjective) dissolved; in solution. Don't confuse this term with its homonym, salute: a gesture acknowledging another person.

(pr. sə-LOOT)

Also see cleaning, soluble, solve, and water-soluble.



solve - Dissolve.

See detergent, solute, solvent, and water-soluble.



solvent - A (usually) liquid substance which is able to solve (dissolve) another substance, POISONOUS!either for cleaning, thinning, mixing, or some particular step in an art technique. Common solvents include water (especially when soapy), turpentine and paint thinner, (denatured) alcohol, acetone, lacquer thinner, toluene, xylene, plastic cement (model airplane cement), and naphtha. Solvents are commonly available at hardware stores, as well as at art supply stores. All FLAMMABLE!solvents can be dangerous — most are toxic, volatile, and flammable so be sure to study their labels carefully, in order to handle, store, WARNING!and dispose of them properly. Keep them out of the reach of children. The exception to liquid solvents is the solvent for encaustic, which is heat.

MEDICAL ALERT!Wash eyes and/or skin thoroughly in the event of hazardous exposure to powerful solvents, then consult a physician.

Once an artist has applied a paint to a ground, and its combination of solvent and medium has dried (or oxidized in the case of oils, or cooled in the case of encaustic), s/he expects that it will adhere permanently.

A medium's solvent should not be confused with its vehicle (alternatively called its medium or base).

Also see adhesives, blot, detergent, eraser, eyedropper, fresco, Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), poison, polyurethane, smock, soluble, solute, stain and stain removal, Venice turpentine, and water-soluble.



Song - A Chinese dynasty which lasted 960 - 1279, also called the Sung Dynasty. It can be subdivided into the Northern Song dynasty, 960-1126, and the Southern Song dynasty, 1127-1279.

Examples of work of the Song dynasty period:




see thumbnail to rightChina, Northern Song Dynasty, Pillow in the form of a boy and a lotus leaf, c. 1000-1200, ding ware, porcelain with incised decoration, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA.




see thumbnail to leftChina, Xinjiang, Square, 1050-1250, Song dynasty, silk, on silk, 14 5/8 x 14 7/8 inches (37.15 x 37.78 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.



see thumbnail to rightChina, Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), Tea bowl stand, brown lacquer on wood and fabric, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA.



see thumbnail to leftMi Fu (Chinese, 1052-1107), Poem Written in a Boat on the Wu River, Northern Sung dynasty (960-1127), c. 1100, handscroll, ink on paper, 12 1/4 inches x 18 feet 3 1/4 inches (31.1 x 557 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See calligraphy and scroll.





see thumbnail to rightChina, Vase with tubular ears, Southern Song dynasty, Kuan ware, celadon glazed porcelain, National Palace Museum, Taipei.





see thumbnail to leftChinese, Song Dynasty, Mallow-shaped plate in rose purple glaze, glazed porcelain, Jun ware, height 3.3 cm, mouth diameter 19.5 cm, foot diameter 8 cm, Henan Museum, China. Unearthed at Fangcheng, Henan Province. "Jun ware is named after Junzhou where it was produced, and the site of the ruined kiln has been discovered in the present Yuzhou City, Henan Province. The basic colour of the Jun ware is sky blue. The technique of yaobian is often used, which refers to the changes of tints of colours by control of the temperature of the kiln."




Southern Dynasties - See Northern and Southern Dynasties period of Chinese art.



souvenir - Objects collected for the memories they evoke — often sentimental and likely to remind one of significant people, places, or events. Anything natural or manmade might become a souvenir, although some things are made intentionally to be them: think about objects purchased at tourist destinations or concert venues, often with the name or image of the place or musicians integral to these things. Although many souvenirs could also be called ephemera, kitsch or low art, a seashell, a lock of hair, or a work of fine art might just as thoroughly satisfy a souvenir collector.

Also see bric-a-brac, mass media, memorabilia, popular culture, and poster.



space - An element of art that refers to the distance or area between, around, above, below, or within things. It can be described as two-dimensional or three-dimensional; as flat, shallow, or deep; as open or closed; as positive or negative; and as actual, ambiguous, or illusory.


a drawing of an orange triangle with a triangular space inside of it a drawing of an four circles with a square space overlapping them


In these images, negative spaces have been shaped and placed among positive spaces so that a viewer can make closure on a triangle, a square, and a cube.

a drawing of 8 circles through which one sees parts of a single cube

Related link:


Also see arrangement, composition, direction, human scale, intercolumniation, kerf, lacuna, letter spacing (and kerning), overlap, perspective, pixel shim, principles of design, straight, theater, and void.



space-time - A concise way of referring to the understanding of the universe as an entity composed of inextricably interwoven space and time; a conception based especially on the theories of Albert Einstein (German-American physicist, 1879-1955). In this view of the universe, anything that happens to alter the condition of space also affects the conditions of time, and vice versa. Mikhail Bakhtin (Russian linguist and literary philosopher, 1895-1975), used the term "chronotope" — literally "time-space" — to designate the space-time matrix that governs all narratives and other linguistic acts.

Also see interdisciplinary, ontology, and science and art.



spandrel - In architecture, the roughly triangular space enclosed by the curves of adjacent arches and a horizontal member connecting their vertices. Also, the space enclosed by the curve of an arch and an enclosing right angle.




Spanish art



spanner - A wrench. (Chiefly a British term.) Also see tool.



spatial qualities - Those aspects of any image or object having to do with the distance or area between, around, above, below, or within things. See space.



spatula - Sometimes called a scraper, any tool with a blade that is somewhat flexible, but fairly rigid. It is generally used for modeling such soft materials as clay, paint, plaster, and wax. Its edge is not honed to the degree that it would cut or carve hard materials. Spatulas can be made in a variety of sizes, and typically of metal, plastic, wood, horn or seashell. Although their edges are often broad and straight or curved, scrapers with edges having other shapes close to the contours of surfaces needing scraping — can be very useful. Historically among the oldest kinds of tools, spatulas are often used for removing materials from surfaces, for spreading or smoothing them.

Also see chisel and palette knife.



special exhibition - A gathering of museum objects, usually with a particular purpose or theme, for exhibition — public display.

Also see accession, deaccession, donation, gallery, and patron.



specifications - In commisioned works, especially in areas of design, specifications are specific expectations communicated to an artist, designer, fabricator, etc. Whether the entity forming and communicating specifications is a patron or employer, an art director or a teacher, specifications must be communicated clearly in a statement listing such particular requirements of a project as its materials, dimensions, subject or theme, elements or principles of design, quantity, or other qualities of the work expected. Specifications may allow for different interpretations, however, and can even be incomplete or vague in order to provide room for greater creativity. It is generally best to give and receive written specifications, as in a contract providing a record of what the specifications are agreed to be by each of the interested parties. If a work lives up to these parameters, then the work should be considered contractually satisfactory and successful. Related issues might include deadlines, locations, tools or techniques employed, engineering and safety issues, transportation, lodgings, etc.

Also see graphic design.



specific objects - Art that rejects both painting and traditional sculpture. This term was coined by Donald Judd (American, 1928-1994).

Also see combine and Minimalism.



spectrum - A radiant source's emission of a distribution of energy — colors — arranged in order of wavelengths. This band of colors — a range of various kinds of light which might originate from any particular source, such as is produced when sunlight is refracted and dispersed by a prism — is comprised of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. A rainbow is such a natural display of the visible spectrum. Of all the colors in the visible spectrum, red has the longest wavelength at about 700 nanometers. Violet has the shortest at 400 nanometers. Just longer than red is infrared. Just shorter than violet are ultraviolet and then x-rays. The plural form can be either spectra or spectrums.

Also see angstrom, color wheel, cool and warm colors, diffraction grating, palette, saturation, and ultraviolet.



sphere - A three-dimensional form shaped like a ball, circular from all possible points of view. Its surface consists of points, all of which are the same distance (radius) from its center. Refers both to the surface and to the space it encloses. The mathematical formula with which to calculate the area of the surface of a sphere: multiply four times the product of pi times the radius squared. The volume of a sphere: 4/3 (or 1.333) times the product of pi times the radius cubed. "Sphere" may also refer to the extent of a person's knowledge, interests, or social position; or, one's domain — area of power, control, or influence.

Spheres are among the ten classes of patterns.

Examples of spherical works:



see thumbnail to rightRussia, North Caucasus, Maikop Burial Mound, Balls and a Hammer-Axe Head, 3rd millennium BCE, stone, diameter of balls 2.7-3 cm, length of axe 15.6 cm, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. See Stone Age.





see thumbnail to leftMaurits Cornelis Escher (Dutch, 1898-1972), Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935, lithograph, 32 x 21.5 cm. See mirror, reflection, and self-portrait.





see thumbnail to rightBernd and Hilla Becher (German, 1931- and 1934-), Sphere, c. 1960s, black and white photograph of a large, steel storage tank. See technology.



see thumbnail to leftAndy Goldsworthy (English, 1956-), one of Two Oak Stacks, 2003, two large balls of stacked and knitted oak sticks, Storm King Art Center. This ball of sticks is (or was) directly outside the museum building, visible through the window of the gallery where the other identical ball of sticks was constructed and exhibited. See earth art, ephemera, and wood.


Also see circle, cone, concave, conglobe, convex, cylinder, hemisphere, Op Art, ovoid, penumbra, pyramid, and spheroid.



spheroid - A three-dimensionalform shaped like a sphere but not perfectly round. An egg is typically a spheroid. Commonly a spheroid is an ellipsoid — generated by revolving an ellipse around one of its axes.

Also see conglobe and ovoid.





spiral - There are two kinds of spirals: helix and volute.spiral



splay - A large bevel or chamfer.



splayed opening - An opening (as in a wall) that is cut away diagonally so that vertical edges (jambs) are farther apart than the inner edges.




see thumbnail to rightEngland, splayed opening at Pickering Castle, 12th-14th centuries, stone masonry. This slit in the castle wall was built as a splayed opening so that an archer could stand behind its edges, well protected as he shot his arrows in a range of directions. This castle is of a type called motte-and-bailey, and was first built of earth and timber by William the Conqueror's crew in the years following the Norman Conquest in the early 1100s.

Also see embrasure.



split complements - One color plus the two colors that are on either side of its complement on the color wheel. For example, the complement of orange is blue, and the two colors on either side of blue are blue-green and blue-violet. Therefore the split complements of orange are blue-green and blue-violet.

Also see analogous colors, camaïeu, color scheme, complementary colors, grisaille, monochrome, split complementary, and triadic colors.



spokeshave - A small planing tool for cutting away a thin slice of wood. It consists of a blade with a handle for each hand at its sides. Also see draw knife.



spontaneity and spontaneous - Spontaneity is the quality of being spontaneous: behavior proceeding from natural feeling or from a momentary impulse, without having been planned or labored; developing from within, without apparent external influence, force, cause, or treatment; not apparently contrived or manipulated. (SPAHN-tə-NAY-ə-tee and spahn-TAY-nee-əs)


Also see Abstract Expressionism, aleatory and aleatoric, alla prima, automata, automatism, creativity, encaustic, exquisite corpse, Fluxus, obsession, order, watercolor, and Zen.



springing - In architecture, the lowest block of stone of an arch, resting on the impost block.
Also see keystone and voussoir.




sprue - In lost-wax casting, a channel through which molten metal can enter a mold (runners) and air and gas can escape (risers). This term applies to the wax rods attached to the wax model that result in the formation of these channels, and for the rods of metal that may be cast within channels once metal is put into the mold. In some regions, to attach the wax rods is called spruing, in others it is called rodding.

Pictured here is a group of toy soldiers as they came from the mold in which they were cast. You may remember getting plastic toys in pieces, in the manner of these tiny soldiers (American, General Custer and His Troops). If so, you'll probably also recall removing the desired molded parts from the sprues that preserved the path through which liquid plastic reached the mold for each toy part. Here the sprue is the horizontal spine with a little tributary for each piece.



- Acronym for Section of Painting and Sculpture, one of the U.S. government's bureaucracies which administered New Deal art programs.







ArtLex Art Dictionary
Copyright © 1996-current year