What Does Media Mean in Art Terms?


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Media is a common word that we’re used to hearing, but it can be used in a lot of different contexts. When it comes to art, what actually are we referring to? What does media mean in art terms?

In art terms, media is described as the material used to create art. Papers, paints, pencils, watercolors, and more are all different types of media. Media is a plural for medium and can be used to define whatever tools and supplies are used to create art.

Now that we’ve reviewed a short definition of media, let’s dive into it in greater detail.

The Definition of Artistic Media

Artistic media is defined as whatever materials are used to create art. Media is the plural of medium, meaning that word usage depends on how many artistic materials are being used. When one artistic material is used, it is a medium, but when multiple materials are used, it’s mixed media.

We don’t usually think of media being the plural of medium. It’s not like the simple switch between zebra and zebras. 

No, what makes medium and media confusing is that we use each word in such unique contexts. We’re used to medium being used as a way to describe paint, watercolor, ink, ect. Or, we use medium to describe a psychic, or something that’s “in the middle.” 

Even when we use the word medium in an artistic sense, we don’t tend to jump around between the singular and the plural within the same train of thought very often.

What complicates it more is that the word media has become SO common, and not in the fine art sense. We’re used to talking about media in relation to music, movies, and other forms of digital communication.

In fact, one of the definitions of media is “the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, magazines, and the internet, that reach or influence people widely” (source). This is often how we think about media; our brains don’t immediately jump to the definition stating that media is the plural of medium.

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Especially in this day and age, media has taken the world by storm. With the growth of internet, streaming services, online news, and more, of course we’re more attuned to this definition of media instead of the one relating to fine arts. 

That said, media is a really important word in the fine arts sector. Let’s dive into the word multimedia to get a better understanding of it.

The Definition of Multimedia

Multimedia is defined as using two or more mediums together in the same type of art or method of communication. This can be applied to fine arts, digital platforms, and more. Multimedia is most commonly known to describe digital or entertainment experiences, like movies.

As noted, we’re used to multimedia being used to describe movies or entertainment. In fact, the Merriam-Webster definition of multimedia is: “a technique (such as the combining of sound, video, and text) for expressing ideas (as in communication, entertainment, or art) in which several media are employed” (source).

This definition includes art, but it mainly addresses movies (the combination of sound, text, and video).

Whenever we use more than one medium in our artwork, we’ve created a multimedia piece. 

For example, if we use paint, that is one medium, but if we use paint and ink, that’s multimedia.

Multimedia is just another word for mixed media. Mixed media is actually much more commonly used to describe fine arts than multimedia, so it might ring a bell. 

When we create mixed media art, we are simply mixing different types of media, the plural for medium.

Pretty cool, right?

Ok, so if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably asking a really good question. Hopefully I’m reading your mind (har har) and answering the question that’s burning in your brain.

What Does Mediums Mean Then?

When you turn the word medium into the plural of mediums, it can either refer to art, or to a group of psychics. In the art world, the plural of medium is either media or mediums. To avoid confusion and having people think you are talking about clairvoyants, it’s best to use the word media. 

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a fun word usage mistake. 

Even though mediums can describe either the artistic or physic worlds, wouldn’t it be funny to be talking about mixing paint and ink, and have someone think you were actually talking about a group of psychics. Could be a fun slip, depending on the audience.

That said, if you’re talking about mass communication, you can only use the word media (source).

Luckily, there are few sentences where we’d use the word mediums and be confused about whether we’re referring to art, or psychics. 

So, in your general art conversations, you can interchange the words mediums and media. If you happen to be a psychic, as well as an arist, you may want to be more careful.

Ok, so that is what media means in art terms! Hopefully that was more than enough information than you’ll ever need about the definitions of those terms. Next time you sit down to create a beautiful mixed media piece, you’ll know what that means!

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When you grab a free trial of Skillshare, you’ll get unlimited access to all of the amazing classes that they have to offer. Believe me, you won’t regret it. And, with a free trial, you have nothing to lose. 

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Diana Fitts

Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana's latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.

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