Arts and Humanities Terms Study Guide

Updated on Jul 15, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Arts and Humanities Terms Practice Exercises

Put on your shiny shoes, your best dress, or your top hat, because it's time to become a patron of the arts. In this lesson, you'll learn some words you might hear in the theater, the opera, the ballet, a poetry reading, an art gallery, a museum, a symphony, or any other classy place you go. Just think how impressive you'll sound when you can use these terms with ease—and know what they mean. It's sure to earn you a few extra brownie points with friends, parents, relatives, or anyone else who attended the event. Enjoy your trip into the humanities.


  • abstract   (visual art) of or pertaining to the formal aspect of art, with an emphasis on lines, colors, and forms, sometimes specifically applied to the nonrepresentational (not trying to depict any clear or solid object) art styles of the twentieth century
  • aesthetics   (visual art) the outward appearance or the way something looks; also known as the study of the rules and principles of art
  • allegory   (literature, theater) a symbolic work in which the characters and events are supposed to be understood as representing other things with a deeper or more profound meaning; a symbolic narrative
  • archetype   (literature, theater) an image or symbol that is used repeatedly; a prototype

[Examples include familiar characters like the bad girl with a heart of gold, the amusing sidekick, and the knight in shining armor.]

  • caricature   (visual art) comic exaggeration or the art of creating one; a picture that greatly exaggerates the peculiarities or oddness of a person

[You usually see caricaturists at fairs, festivals, and other outdoor settings. They can draw quickly and have a knack for highlighting a person's most obvious qualities.]

  • catharsis   (literature, theater) an emotional release or psychological purging of emotional tensions

[Also, a common term used in psychotherapy as a type of breakthrough.]

  • denouement   (literature, theater) the final revelation in a drama, in which everything becomes clear

[It's when the detective turns to all of the other characters, points dramatically at the killer, and says, "Here's what happened."]

  • epiphany   (literature, theater) a sudden realization, intuitive perception, or insight into the reality or meaning of something
  • hubris   (literature, theater) pride or excessive ambition; overconfidence
  • lithography   (visual art, literature) the process for making prints with a plate
  • matte   (visual art) having a dull or lusterless surface; often used on metals, paint, paper, or glass
  • melodrama   (theater, music) a sensationalized dramatic work characterized by using stereotyped characters with exaggerated emotions, language, and conflict; also, a drama interspersed with music or spoken words with musical accompaniment
  • monochromatic   (visual art) painted or created with only one color
  • mosaic   (visual art) a picture or decoration made with small colored pieces of stone, glass, and/or other materials
  • omniscience   (literature) the quality of having infinite knowledge
  • parody   (music, literature, theater) a piece of writing or music that is a spoof or satirical imitation of a serious literary work or composition
  • protagonist   (literature, theater) the leading character or hero of a literary work; in Greek drama, the lead actor, who plays not only the main role but many other minor ones
  • soliloquy   (theater) a monologue used in plays to allow the character's thoughts and ideas to be heard by the audience
  • symmetry   (visual art, dance) beauty based on or characterized by excellence of balanced proportions
  • tragicomedy   (literature, theater) a play or other literary work that combines both tragedy and comedy

[On television, this is sometimes referred to as dramedy.]

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Arts and Humanities Terms Practice Exercises

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