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English Idioms and Expressions about Art Posted by on Jan 28, 2021 in Culture, English Language

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In English, we have many idioms and expressions that reference art.  Perhaps because art is such a personal thing, producing emotional responses, we strive to find ways to express how it makes us feel and how to define it. I’m sure that the very word art means something different to everyone.

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”

― Neil Gaiman

Because of COVID-19, the Louvre, the world’s largest museum, is closed. So are many more museums around the world. This makes me sad because I love to visit museums and art should be experienced. After all, most art was created to share with others. Creating art is one of the most basic of human traits.

What comes to mind when someone says the word art? A painting? Which one? A building? A dancer leaping in the air? A comic book? A work of sculpture, perhaps.

A phrase you hear all the time in English is, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” This is a cliché, meaning that it is an overused expression that doesn’t show much original thought. The person who says this is really saying, “I only like what I can relate to.” Many people don’t wish to be challenged or to have to consider the meaning and purpose behind a work of art. And while some art is not meant to challenge us, much is. Another version of this phrase is, “I may not know much about art, but I know it when I see it!”

Other Idioms and Expressions

  • Art is long, life is short. This idiom means that a work of art outlasts the artist.
  • Down to a fine art. To have something down to a fine art means that any skill or talent, with much practice, can be considered to be a work of art.
  • State of the art. Anything which is state of the art is the latest and finest quality available.
  • Artistic license. When facts or details are omitted or altered to meet the desires of the artist or storyteller.
  • A case of life imitating art. In which circumstances in someone’s life are similar to something seen in a movie, book, play, or television show.
  • Let me paint you a picture. To paint or draw someone a picture is to describe a situation in detail.
  • Put me in the picture. To ask someone to explain what’s going on.
  • The big picture. The entire perspective on a subject. What it all means.
  • Paint with a broad brush. To describe or explain something without adding much detail.
  • An artistic triumph. Any success achieved with flair and style.
  • Artist’s retreat. A place away from a typical environment, usually secluded, so that an artist may reflect and create undisturbed. Also called an Artist-in-Residency.
  • Art for art’s sake. Art that was created for no other purpose except that it pleased the artist to make it. Art created only for its aesthetic merits and not to make a statement.
  • The picture of health. Someone who looks very healthy.
  • Pretty as a picture. Something that’s very attractive.
  • Just picture it! To imagine something vividly.
  • A blank canvas. Facing something with no content, in which anything is possible.

There are many more, but you will find these to be among the most typical examples of English phrases and expressions related to art. Can you think of any that I’ve missed?






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About the Author: Gary Locke

Gary is a semi-professional hyphenate.