‘Medium’ can encompass both the artistic category (such as painting, sculpture, or printmaking) and the materials used in creating an artwork.
In the realm of art, this term carries two main, slightly overlapping, and sometimes bewildering connotations. On one hand, it denotes painting, sculpture, drawing, and printmaking as different artistic categories, each representing a specific type of art. Simultaneously, it can describe the materials employed in crafting an artwork.
For instance, a sculpture created using bronze or marble is referred to as a sculpture in those particular mediums. Likewise, a painting executed with oil paint on canvas or watercolour on paper is identified by the medium used. A drawing is attributed to its medium, be it pencil or crayon, and a print can be labelled as an etching or lithography.
In modern art, new media have emerged in both of these senses. Firstly, modern artists, following the footsteps of figures like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, have pushed the boundaries of art by demonstrating that virtually any material can serve as a medium for artistic expression. Thus, the media of modern art, in this context, encompass a wide spectrum, from found or appropriated objects and various materials to the artist's own bodily excretions and the human body itself. Many contemporary works incorporate a diverse array of such elements, leading to the introduction of the term "mixed media" to account for this diversity.
The expansion of media in the material sense has also given rise to new media in the broader sense of distinct art types. For example, assemblage, installation, and performance art have become three-dimensional art forms distinct from traditional sculpture, and are considered new media in their own right. In the cases of assemblage and installation, the materials used are often diverse, constituting a mixture of media. Performance art employs the artist's own body as the primary material or medium.
Lastly, in a third connotation, the term "medium" refers to the liquid in which pigment is suspended to create paint. Therefore, the medium of oil paint, for instance, is linseed oil.