What is the Meaning of Media in Art Terms? With Examples

Media is one of those words that crops up everywhere, but it has different meanings in different contexts. This short post breaks down the meaning of media in art terms.

Media in art terms, primarily refers to the painting and drawing materials used to make a work of art, these may include, oil paints, watercolor, and charcoal etc. It’s also sometimes used as a broader term to describe the type of art being made; painting, drawing and sculpting and such like.

Media is a term with too many definitions and that confuses things slightly, This post will clear things up for you.

So, first things first

(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

Media, Medium or Mediums, What’s the Difference?

It’s the difference between the singular and two plurals. In the context of art, mediums and media are the plurals of medium, and they’re interchangeable. When describing art materials you can use both plurals with confidence.

What Are Some Examples of Art Media?

The term ‘art media’ is confusing because it applies to both the art materials used to make the art, the type of art itself, as well as the additives used to augment the pigments.

Not only that, the word itself is a collective noun and applies to broadcast communications, i.e mass media (source). It’s a difficult to hear the word media without receiving conflicting messages. The same can be said for medium, does it mean middle, average or art materials?

Or is it a tarot reader! – not that you saw that coming.

How on earth do people learn English?

1. Medium as an Art Material

In this respect, drawing is a medium, but the category of drawing is subdivided into different materials (media) used for drawing.

These are examples of drawing media:

  • Crayons,
  • Charcoal,
  • Graphite Pencils,
  • Chalk Pastels,
  • Oil Pastels,
  • Indian Inks 

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The same subcategories apply to painting:

  • Watercolor,
  • Oils,
  • Acrylic,
  • Gouache.

Sculpting can be divided into, marble, bronze, clay, and their like, whilst printmaking can be, etching, lino-cut, screenprinting, and so on.

These are examples of traditional art media, but in truth, the art world has extended the definition of art media to include any material used in the creation of an artwork in any form whatsoever

At this point, you get sucked into the rabbit hole of trying to define what art is and I’m not going there!

2. Medium as a Type of Art

Art Medium, used in its broadest sense, can mean the all-encompassing categories of art you are describing.

Examples of which would include:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Sculpting
  • Printmaking

There lies the confusionn. Art materials that are used within those categories, are also described as media.

3. Medium as a Pigment Additive

To compound the confusion, the oils, dispersants, and solvents used as paint thinners and binders, are also described as mediums. Linseed oil would fall into this category as would acrylic retarders, and even water.

Is Art Medium the Same as Art Genre?

Art Medium and Art Genre have different meanings. The former, as we know, primarily refers to the different types of art and the materials used to make them, while the latter describes the topic or theme of the painting or the movement that it’s placed within.

Art Genre subjects might include:

  • Landscapes,
  • Portraiture,
  • Equine,
  • Marine,
  • Still life

Art Genre movements include:

  • Impressionism
  • Post-Impressionism
  • Expressionism
  • Realism
  • Surrealism

And umpteen more ‘isms, but never mind that.

What is Mixed Media in Art?

Mixed media is the application of two or more media in a single work of art. For example, a watercolor sketch with added pastel overlays or highlights would be described as a mixed media.

Any combination of media or materials can be labeled as mixed-media. Collages and sculptures incorporating various objects, which together form a work of art, can be considered mixed media.

A modern example would be combining traditional painting techniques over a photograph or digital image. I see artists do this all the time now.

It’s also possible to make a traditional work of art, scan it, and digitalize the image to work on it digitally. I intend to colorize some of my drawings in that way, why not? It’s the same as tinting a black and white photo. It’s also mixed-media.

As if by magic a mixed media artist appears! What a striking coincidence? I checked his profile and these are not his best works, others are much better. Go and check them out.

Learn some mixed media techniques on Domestika and use this code WILDLIFEART-10

Is Multi-Media the Same as Mixed Media?

Some people get confused with the terminology. They are different things.

Mixed media is the combination of permanent static materials to make a greater whole, whereas, Multi-media is usually referring to a combination of art forms delivered electronically. Anything that combines video, still images, audio, computer software, and text is considered to be multi-media.

Things get complicated where the two overlap. Conceptual installations may well contain an electronic element. In which case some art can be both multi and mixed media simultaneously.

What is Meant by Wet and Dry Media?

Wet media covers any medium used in a liquid or viscous form or where a liquid is added, that includes inks and paints.

Dry media covers any medium applied directly to the work surface without the need for a liquid dispersant. Obvious drawing media include pencils, charcoal, and chalk.

There is a crossover point where some dry media can be diluted and become wet media. Soft pastels and some colored pencils are water-soluble, and oil pastels can be mixed with turpentine and linseed oil.

Adding water to pastel and water-soluble pencils makes the pigment much richer and darker than the original dry medium. The effect is very different. Adding a 50/50 mix of turps and linseed to oil pastels makes them behave very much like oil paints.

What is Meant by New Media?

Any art created with digital technology is new media art, that includes computer graphics, animation, virtual 3D, photoshop and so on.

The Procreate app on the Apple iPad is probably the most popular software accessible to all and easy to learn. Procreate simulates any kind of traditional art media in digital form.

Grab your overpriced digital pen, choose your simulated medium and prefered fake surface, your favorite brush strokes, then pick your color palette. The off you go!

Don’t worry, you can’t go wrong, not when you can undo any mistake you make. It’s a new digital world.

I’m learning Procreate, and I bought this course on Domestika. I think you’ll like it too. It’s free to browse and join up. There is no membership fee. If you like it, there’s always a sale going on.

The Meaning of Media in Art Terms: Final Thoughts

If being reminded what media means in art terms is a minor point, just think of all that pretentious art-speak and art jargon there is out there.

I could be explaining what ‘canon’, or ‘oeuvre’ means in art terms and we’d both be losing the will to live. Never mind your diptychs!

I hope this short post has helped to clarify things, and to round things off, my medium is definitely pencil (shameless plug).

Elephant family pencil drawing by Wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Family Life’ A pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit: (Amazon affiliate links)


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