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Frieze London 2016 | © Linda Nylind/Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze
Frieze London 2016 | © Linda Nylind/Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze
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11 Things Only Art Lovers Will Understand

Picture of Freire Barnes
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 7 September 2017
Elitist and intellectual it may be, the art world can be easily navigated once you’ve mastered the subtleties of these 11 points all art lovers have under their belt.

The difference between graffiti and street art

Example of Stik's work in East London | © Russell Darling
Example of Stik’s work in East London | Photo © Russell Darling

Quite simply, an art lover knows not to insult a graffiti artist by calling them a street artist and vice versa. Graffiti artists predominantly create word-based murals while street artists create image-based murals. There is undeniably overlap between styles but a true art lover will be able to make the distinction.

El Greco isn’t a Greek restaurant

El Greco, 'Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes', circa 1598 | WikiCommons
El Greco, Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes, circa 1598 | Wiki Commons

Artists are commonly referred to by their surname. Why? Because it’s easier and we’re obviously too lazy to say full names. The Spanish, though, took it that one step further. Because Doménikos Theotokópoulos was obviously too much to get their lips round, the renaissance painter and sculptor was simply nicknamed ‘The Greek’, in reference to his origins even though he lived out his days in Toledo, Spain.

Where to see art for free

Diego Velázquez's 'The Toilet of Venus' in Room 30 | © The National Gallery, London
Diego Velázquez’s The Toilet of Venus in Room 30 | © The National Gallery, London

Art might cost an arm and a leg to hang on your wall, but many cities have amazing national collections you can visit for free, as well as commercial galleries that don’t charge an entrance fee. So don’t be put off by the security guard, remember he’s there to hold the door open for you, as you might be the next big art collector!

How to gatecrash the VIP art party

Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts
Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts

It should come as no surprise that the creative industries are built on aesthetics, therefore looking the part is half the battle of getting into a VIP art party. During art-fair weeks like Frieze, there are parties aplenty, so you’re never too far away from a soiree to blag your way into, as anyone who is anyone is never really invited anyway – they just turn up and waltz in.

How to decipher a Dutch vanitas painting

Harmen Steenwijck, Vanitas, circa 1640 | WikiCommons
Harmen Steenwijck, Vanitas, circa 1640 | Wiki Commons

Artists love to use allegorical devices and symbolism in their work, as it gives scope to convey a wealth of information in a compact way. Back in the day, these pictorial codes wouldn’t have eluded us, but now you might need an art history degree to know that a lit candle indicates the presence of God, a skull represents death and rotting fruit reminds us of the shortness of life.

Where the latest interactive art installation is, to get the best Instagram selfie


When Kusama’s free show opened at her London gallery, Victoria Miro’s Wharf Road space, there were queues round the block just so people could get Instagram proof they were at the must-attend show. So every art lover knows when Instagram envy is on the cards; they have to keep their ears to the ground and finger on the pulse to be the first at the next big art show.

The difference between a litho and a lino print

Henri Privat-Livemont, 'Absinthe Robette', 1896 | Wiki Commons
Henri Privat-Livemont, Absinthe Robette, 1896 | Wiki Commons

Artists use multiple mediums to create their masterpieces, but a variety of printing techniques enables them to duplicate the same image many times over, giving rise to limited editions. So whether a print is made using woodcut, linocut, etching, engraving, lithograph or screen printing, any art lover will be able to tell the difference.

Where to find the next ‘ism’

Anthea Hamilton's 'Kar-A-Sutra', Frieze Projects, Frieze New York 2016 | © Tim Schenck
Anthea Hamilton’s Kar-A-Sutra, Frieze Projects, Frieze New York 2016 | © Tim Schenck

Art historians love to categorise art movements and groups of artists – well, there’ve been so many over the centuries. So we’ve had neoclassicism, romanticism, impressionism, fauvism, cubism, futurism, surrealism, abstract expressionism, modernism, post modernism, neoism and stuckism, to name but a few. And now we’re supposedly in the era of remodernism. But all art lovers know that we’re really in the era of the no-ism. Oh, it’s so art!

What the hell the Golden Section is

Leonardo da Vinci, 'Mona Lisa', 1503–06 | WikiCommons
Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503–06 | Wiki Commons

We don’t want to get all mathematical on you, but the Greeks devised an equation known as Phi – commonly referred to as the golden mean, golden section, golden ratio or divine proportion – which when followed creates compositions which are pleasing to the eye. Repeatedly used throughout the history of art, you’ll see this device in the work of renaissance artists such as polymath Leonardo da Vinci, as well as architects including Le Corbusier.

The difference between Pollock and play school

Jackson Pollock, 'Mural on Indian Red Ground', 1950 | © Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art/Pollock-Krasner Foundation/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016
Jackson Pollock, Mural on Indian Red Ground, 1950 | © Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art | © Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016

The proclamation ‘My kid could do that!’ doesn’t wash with art lovers. That’s not to say such children won’t grow up to be the next Jackson Pollock, but any art lover understands the visual language the American artist employed, which moved away from the formal aspects of representation and focused on the materiality of paint.

A gallery isn’t the only place to see art

Karen Tang, 'Synapsid', 2014 | © Rod Gonzalez/Courtesy of l'étrangère and KARST
Karen Tang, Synapsid, 2014 | Credit: Rod Gonzalez, courtesy of l'étrangère and KARST

Aside from street and graffiti art, public spaces are also the perfect location to install sculptures and installations. Forget municipal statues that commemorate royal or military figures, public art is about engaging in a dialogue with the public in a sphere that does not abide by the same rules as an art gallery or museum. Here, art can activate a space 24 hours a day for all to appreciate.

Want to know more arty facts? These European artworks were so controversial they shocked the world