What Does “medium” Mean in Art?

Steven Correy/CC-BY-2.0

In art, “medium” refers to the physical objects used by artists to convey messages to audiences through the senses. Mediums used by artists vary widely, and range from tools including paints, brushes, pencils and pastels used by traditional artists, to instruments, voice and electronics used in the auditory arts. Additionally, sculptors use raw materials like wood, paints, clay and plastics to create figurines and sculptures.

Many methods of classification exist to define the arts. Of those methods, however, medium remains the most important. Medium distinguishes the arts according to certain categories, including visual art, auditory or acoustic art, verbal art and mixed art, which contains elements of all artistic styles. Within these categories lie different subgroups of art. Visual art, for instance, breaks down into two-dimensional and three-dimensional representations. Two-dimensional art includes paintings and drawings while three-dimensional art includes architecture and sculptures.

Artists of all varieties manipulate mediums to create certain effects and convey tones and emotions. Traditional painters, for instance, use watercolors, pastels, acrylic and oil paints to produce realistic and abstract scenes. Sculptors mold wood, plastics and other materials into buildings, replicas and other objects. While visual art appeals to the senses of sight and sometimes touch, acoustic art appeals to the auditory senses. Acoustic artists use instruments, songs and musical notes to do so.