How to Talk about Art in French

French people love discussing culture and arts. One of the greatest art museums, the Louvre, is located in Paris, France, and displays artwork from some of the greatest artists on the planet!

If you love discovering and discussing arts, you might want to learn how to talk about it in French. If this is your case, read ahead as we will go over some of the phrases and terminology you might need to discuss arts in French with friends, family, and others.

How to Discuss Artistic Mediums in French

An artistic medium describes the material used by an artist to create a piece of art. The medium changes depending on the type of art created. For example, paintings, sculptures, and drawing each have their own types of mediums.

French Vocabulary: The Art Mediums used for Painting

Painters have a lot of different choices when it comes to medium. They usually pick a medium based on their skill level, the amount of cleaning they are willing to do after creating a piece, and the amount of time they would like to dedicate to each painting.

Here is a list of painting mediums in French:

Peinture à l’huile Oil paint
Peinture à l’eau ou aquarelle Watercolor
Peinture acrylique Acrylic paint
Peinture encaustique ou peinture à la cire Encaustic paint
Peinture à fresque Fresco paint
Peinture à la détrempe Tempera paint

If you wanted to discuss the various mediums, here are a few French sentences you could use:

La peinture à l'huile permet au peintre de créer des effets d'ombre et de lumière. - Oil painting allows the painter to create light and shadow effects. Si vous utilisez l'aquarelle, il sera difficile de camoufler vos erreurs de peinture. - If you use watercolor, it will be difficult to cover up painting mistakes. La peinture acrylique est plus sûre et sèche plus vite que la peinture à l'huile car elle est faite à base d'eau. - Acrylic paint is safer and dries faster than oil paint because it is water-based. Vous devez utiliser de la cire d'abeille afin de fabriquer de la peinture encaustique. - You must use beeswax to make encaustic paint. La peinture à fresque est parfois difficile à utiliser, mais elle peut donner un cachet particulier à votre murale. - Fresco paint is sometimes difficult to use, but it can give your mural a special touch. La peinture à la détrempe est souvent utilisée par les garderies et les écoles, car elle est peu dispendieuse et facile à utiliser. - Tempera paint is often used in daycares and schools because it is inexpensive and easy to use.

French Vocabulary: The Art Mediums Used for Drawing

Artists who specialize in drawings also have their pick of mediums. For example, they can use:

Crayon fusain Charcoal pencil
Crayon graphite ou crayon de plomb Graphite pencil
Crayon pastel Pastels

These French phrases can also be useful to describe the use of various mediums for drawing:

Le crayon est souvent utilisé par les artistes débutants afin de développer leurs habilités avant d'utiliser un autre médium plus difficile. - The pencil is often used by beginner artists to improve their skills before switching to another more difficult medium. Le crayon fusain est facile à étaler et à estomper, ce qui rend les corrections faciles. - The charcoal pencil is easy to spread and blend, which makes corrections easy. Il est mieux de se familiariser avec le crayon graphite avant de commencer à utiliser le crayon fusain. - It is best to become familiar with the graphite pencil before you start using the charcoal pencil. Il y a deux types de pastel, soit le pastel à l'huile et le pastel sec. - There are two types of pastel: oil pastel and dry pastel. Le pastel sec peut être utilisé pour le dessin et la peinture, car il peut être dilué dans l'eau pour ensuite être appliqué au pinceau - Dry pastel can be used both for drawing and painting as it can be diluted in water and then applied with a brush.

French Vocabulary: The Art Mediums Used for Sculpting

Sculpting is an impressive form of art that deserves to be discussed with your fellow art fans. Sculptures can sometimes take years to complete because of their impressive size and their level of detail.

Sculptors can use a wide variety of mediums such as:

Argile Clay
Brique Brick
Métal Metal
Papier Paper
Ivoire Ivory
Sable Sand
Pierre Stone
Matériaux recyclés Recycled materials
Tissu Fabric
Terre cuite Terra cotta
Verre Glass
Plâtre Plaster
Caoutchouc Rubber

These French phrases can also be helpful when discussing sculpting mediums:

Avant de débuter votre sculpture à l'argile, vous devez travailler la terre en la tapant. - Before you begin your clay sculpture, you must work the material by slapping on it. Les matériaux recyclés sont de plus en plus utilisés par les sculpteurs car les artistes souhaitent pratiquer leur art de façon plus durable. - Recycled materials are used more and more because artists want to practice their art more sustainably. Plusieurs métaux peuvent être utilisés pour la sculpture, tels que le bronze, l'acier et le cuivre. - Several metals can be used for sculptures such as bronze, steel, and copper. La terre cuite est l'un des matériaux les plus anciens utilisés pour faire de la sculpture. - Terra cotta is one of the oldest materials used to sculpt.

How to Describe Art in French

Before going to the museum with your French friends, it might be a good idea to learn a few useful words to describe art in French.

To describe colors in French, you can use the words:

Naturel(le) Natural
Clair(e) Clear
Brillant(e) Bright
Profond(e) Deep
Harmonieux, harmonieuses Harmonious
Riche Rich
Vibrant(e) Vibrant
Complémentaire Complementary
Intense Intense
Terne Dull
Pâle / Clair Light colored
Foncé(e) Dark

If you wish to comment on the art tone, you could say:

Uniforme Uniform
Doux, douce Smooth
Simple Plain
Constant(e) Constant
Changeant(e) Changing
Monochromatique Monochromatic

You can also discuss the painting or drawing's composition, meaning how the various elements are arranged in relation to one another. Some French words you can use include:

Arrangement Arrangement
Structure Structure
Disposition Layout
Format paysage Landscape format
Format portrait Portrait format
Centré(e) Centered
Symétrique Symmetrical
Chevauchement Overlapping
Encombré(e) Cluttered
Spacieux, spacieuse Spacious
Vide Empty
Formel (le) Formal
Diagonal Diagonal
Premier plan Foreground
Arrière-plan Background
Position intermédiaire Middle ground

If you wish, you can also address the texture of the painting or the sculpture you are examining. To do so, you can use words such as:

Poli(e) Polished
Réfléchissant(e) Reflective
Coupé(e) Cut
Creusé(e) Pitted
Rayé(e) Scratched
Inégal(e) Uneven
Poilu(e) Hairy
Brillant(e) Shiny
Givré(e) Frosted
Mat, matte Matte
Rugueux, rugueuse Rough
Grossier, grossière Coarse

At times, art pieces can have a specific mood or atmosphere and cause us to experience certain emotions. These French vocabulary words could come in handy if you wished to discuss what you are feeling when looking at a work of art:

Calme Calm
Tranquille Tranquil
Déprimé(e) Depressed
Sombre Gloomy
Triste Sad
Romantique Romantic
Heureux, heureuse Happy
Joyeux, joyeuse Cheerful
Fâché(e) Angry
Effrayant(e) Chilling
Terrifiant(e) Frightening
Violent(e) Violent
Excitant(e) Exciting
Stimulant(e) Stimulating
Fait réfléchir Thought-provoking
Insipide Insipid
Ennuyeux, ennuyeuse Boring

Lastly, you could choose to discuss the style of the artwork. Throughout history, artists developed different art styles that often reflected the ideals and philosophies of that time. Use these French terms if you wish to discuss art styles with other connoisseurs:

Réalisme Realism
Cubisme Cubism
Surréalisme Surrealism
Impressionnisme Impressionism
Modernisme Modernism
Conceptualisme Conceptualism
Dadaïsme Dadaism
Expressionisme Expressionism
Fauvisme Fauvism
Futurisme Futurism
Minimalisme Minimalism
Néo-impressionnisme Neo-impressionism
Art-performance Performance art
Pop art Pop art
Postimpressionnisme Post-impressionism
Symbolisme Symbolism

You've just learned a lot of useful French words to discuss and describe art, and here is what it can look like once you put everything together:

Cette peinture contient des couleurs complémentaires et des motifs simplifiés, ce qui me rappelle le style impressionniste. - This painting has complementary colors and contains simplified patterns that remind me of the impressionist style. Lorsque je regarde cette peinture, je me sens triste car toutes les couleurs sont foncées. - When I look at this painting, I feel sad because of all the dark colors. Je trouve que ce dessin est trop encombré et contient tellement d'éléments qu'on ne sait plus où donner de la tête. - I find this drawing too cluttered with so many elements that you do not know where to look. La technique de pointillisme est propre au style néo-impressionnisme et est très bien exécutée par cet artiste. - Pointillism is a technique unique to the Neo-impressionism style and is very well executed by this artist. Je recherche des œuvres qui s'inspirent du style réalisme afin de décorer mon salon. - I am looking for pieces of art inspired by the realism style to decorate my living room. Cette peinture expressionniste contient des couleurs vibrantes et dégage des émotions violentes. - This expressionist painting contains vibrant colors and gives off violent emotions. Les lignes douces et les couleurs pâles de cette peinture me calment et m'apportent un sentiment de paix. - The soft lines and pale colors of this painting have a way of calming me down and giving me some sense of peace.

Other Useful Words to Talk About Art in French

You now know a lot of useful words to describe art accurately, but there are some other words you might need when discussing art with friends. For example, you might want to talk about the tools the artists need for their work:

Peinture Paint
Pinceau Paint brush
Toile Canvas
Papier Paper
Palette d’artiste Artist palette
Chiffon Rag
Efface Eraser
Surface à dessin Drawing surface
Aiguise à crayon Pencil sharpener
Carnet de croquis Sketchbook
Encre Ink
Mélangeur de souches Blending stump
Portfolio Portfolio
Couteau à palette Palette knife
Chevalet Easel

Lastly, if you are an artist who wants to promote their work, it might be a good idea to write an artist statement in French. You can then publish them on your website, in art magazines, and even in art galleries. Here are a few French phrases you can draw inspiration from:

J'aime représenter les êtres vivants, tels que les animaux, les plantes et les humains, de la façon la plus réaliste possible. - I like to portray living beings, such as animals, plants, and humans, in the most realistic manner possible. Je préfère sculpter avec le bronze, car c'est la façon dont mon père m'a appris à le faire. - I prefer to sculpt with bronze because that is how my father taught me. J'utilise la peinture à l'huile car je trouve les couleurs plus vibrantes et ça me permet aussi d'ajouter de la texture à mes œuvres. - I use oil paint because I find the colors more vibrant, and it allows me to add texture to my artwork. Mon amour des peintures chinoises fut l'inspiration pour la création de ma dernière collection d'art. - My love for Chinese paintings was the inspiration for the creation of my latest art collection.

The Proper Etiquette to Assessing Art in French

When you give your opinion about a piece of art, it is important to avoid harsh or unnecessary judgment. Art is very personal, and although you might not like a particular piece, someone else might find it inspiring and even moving.

You also want to avoid comments that are degrading towards the artist. You should avoid saying things like:

J'aurais facilement pu faire mieux, cette peinture ne contient que des lignes rouges. - I could easily have done better; this painting only has red lines. Je ne comprends pas pourquoi un artiste voudrait se limiter à peindre des formes géométriques, ça ne veut rien dire. - I do not understand why an artist would want to limit himself to painting geometric shapes; it does not mean anything.

Always remember that artists pour their heart and soul into their work. What might not seem like much to you is the result of hours visualizing and thinking about that particular piece of art.

If you struggle to understand a painting, a drawing, or any other work of art, do not be afraid to ask questions. Find a guide in the museum who will be more than happy to provide information about a specific artist and their work.

PS: you can use our free language tool, VocabChat to create and record your own French vocabulary and phrase lists.