Technical word, art jargon

General Denotation: n., a type of paint with opaque colors ground in water, a mix of honey and gum makes the paint a paste. Also sometimes called opaque watercolor. The type of painting with the medium also.

Etymology: The term gouache comes from the 16th century Italian word “guazzo” for the type of painting using the matte finish paint mix. The current term gouache was first used in 18th century France, but use of the paint and painting method span back to as early as 9th century Persia. Of course now, the paint and pigments are created much differently with a much wider area of the color spectrum, and with that, much more room for blending. In the early eras, the use of gouache was much more limited to earthen tones with lack of high chroma and medium values.

Sociolectal Information: It is a type of paint, almost like a mix of acrylic and watercolor. The word would probably be considered jargon now, because the word is used almost exclusively in the art and artist community. I don’t think the word was intended to be exclusive of outsiders, but now the type of paint is not well known outside of the art world. In the art world, however, the term is used often and gouache is a valid and widely used medium. The new usage of the word is not as much in the sense of the word itself but in the resurgence of its use in current art and the experimentation of artists with gouache in recent years, through mixing mediums and brush techniques. It is changing the style in the art community, so the word is associated more widely, rather than in a past era where gouache was not as exploratory of a medium.

Survival Predictions: I think this word will survive, but stay in the limited sphere of the art community. It has survived thus far as a paint and painting technique and many artists love to use it, so I don’t see it leaving the technical world. I would say that the popularity of gouache and the word’s usage levels are going to remain stable, but that the art world will see a change in the medium’s usage from the classical pieces that used to define the painting type.

Lexopinions: I would consider myself a member of the art community but I actually had never heard of this term until this year. I would, as many probably would/have, mistaken it for or watercolor or acrylic paints, the more well-known mediums. But in using gouache and learning about its qualities and uses, I will definitely at least keep the term in my vocabulary. It might not be a new word, but it is a technical word for a medium that has been rediscovered and reclaimed by the art community.

Professor Linda Carey of the art department at the College of William and Mary discusses gouache, in technical terms and describes its utility in the art world:

A non-art major talks about what she thinks gouache might mean:

Some gouache paintings:

gouache paintingduck gouache painting




  1. rjmchale says:

    Overall, I think the post is very informative and concise! Though it might be helpful to include what about the term makes it a new word. It seems as though you’ve given historical context for the medium but not anything that makes the term relevant to the 21st century. Also I’d be interested to know how widely the term is used on campus (in relevant contexts). Is it a popular medium used in art classes, or is it obscure enough that only art professors would use this medium/talk about it in class?

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