An art student said, "I didn't use to like Picasso because I thought he's just a lineist." The pronunciation was LIN-ee-ist, in contrast with "colorist."

I do not find "lineist" in the Oxford English Dictionary; in fact, every search for "lineist" turns up nonsense. The word is auto-corrected to "alienist", "lines," "linguist", ...

The graphic novels of Jason Lutes, for instance, and 1940s-1970s newspaper comics, are lineist, I thought. Perhaps Monet and Renoir were colorist.

Is "lineist" a known term? Is the contrast between it and "colorist" common?
If so, in what context? Is it attested anywhere?

The OED knows the term "colorist", first attested 1685(!):

  1. A painter considered in terms of his or her use of colour; spec. a painter skilled in the use of colour. Frequently with modifying adjective.

So it is "lineist", and the dichotomy between it and "colorist", that I am curious about.

  • Hi Jacob, welcome to Arts & Crafts! I'm inclined to close this since you're asking for clarification about a term you heard a single person use, and people tend to create new words constantly. But I think I've heard the word before as well, so I'd like to hear more voices. You might want to rephrase your title, though, because the history of word usage is certainly not on-topic here.
    – Joachim
    Feb 5, 2022 at 22:02
  • 1
    @Joachim thank you. I changed the title per your suggestion. Feb 6, 2022 at 0:49

3 Answers 3


This is my contribution.

Around 1919, the lineist aesthetic emerged, which proposed the line as a symbolic representation of the surface, thus replacing the plane. Among the first lineist works are those of Rodchenko and those of the Obmokhu Association of Young Painters, made up of the first class of Svomas students. These non-objective constructions of a linear type were exhibited in May 1921 at an exhibition in Moscow.

Source constructivism sculpture (Spanish)

Although the definition includes only sculpture, it's perfectly applicable to drawing and painting where, in my opinion, it refers to a structural representation, based on construction axes and that to some eyes can be interpreted as "unfinished". On the other hand, the close relationship between the beginnings of Picasso and constructivism is very well known.

An image search on Google of Obmhoku painters gives a generic concrete visual idea.

After my research in Spanish, I tried lineist together with constructivism:

In May 1919, an exhibition of a "group of young painters" (Obmokhu) took place in Moscow. Apart from "cubist" paintings of poor quality, works "destined for production," projects of decoration, designs and logos were exhibited anonymously. The name of the creator was erased as well as that of the old "artistic will" (Kunstwollen). Everything was drowned out in the battle of words of a violent revolutionary discourse. Social argumentation overruled formal motivation, "aestheticism" was declared a "waste for the human mind." Two years later, these same artists "declared art and its priests outlawed." 20 The Obmokhu association continued to organise its annual exhibitions till 1922. The most remarkable show of this group took place in the month of May 1921. In addition to its regular members Rodchenko and Yoganson participated with an important number of three-dimensional linear structures, some of which are suspended. This participation conferred on the event the rank of a real "constructivist salon." The 1921 exhibition marked the climax of the "lineist" tendency and that of sculptural constructivism.

From the book AVANT-GARDE RUSSE by Andrei Nakov, page 95

enter image description here

Monument to the Third International – Vladimir Tatlin


I've heard terms like "lineast" and "colorist" used for animators.

They aren't the standard terms used in the field, but I've heard them used nevertheless.

The "lineast" is the person who draws the outlines of the subjects and backgrounds, and the "colorist" is the one that fills in the outlines with colors.

This makes sense in the world of animation, as the skill sets are different. Also, the outlines are often drawn and tested before coloring is performed so a change can be made without wasting the extra effort required to color the animation cells.


If there are 'lineists', there is likely such a thing is 'lineism', and that at least comes up with several hits:

Based on these and similar results, the term seems to be generally used to indicate a stylistic tendency to accentuate lines in artworks.

I also performed a search query on the Internet Archive, since the term could be outdated, and, indeed, there are some — but very few — hits:

  • "Even those who are not considered to be selectionists believe that natural selection is very important in evolution. So the epithets, selectionist and pure-lineist, fail to indicate the difference between the two groups to which they have been applied. It would be quite impossible to divide biologists into two distinct schools on the basis of a subject upon which there are many different shades of opinion."

    Excerpt: Piebald Rats and Multiple Factors, article published in The American Naturalist, vol. 50. 1916.

  • "This 'mocking tone' also attached to the Communist Party's 'correct lineism': a 'correct lineist' was a comrade whose holier-than-thou espousal of party dogma made other comrades want to spit."

In these articles the word is used in a more abstract way: the 'lineist' is someone who draws a linear or direct conclusion from something, or sees something in an all too straightforward manner.

Most notably for our context are the following quotes:

  • "The 1921 exhibition marked the climax of the "lineist" tendency and that of sculptural constructivism."

    Excerpt: Avant-garde russe. Andrei B. Nakov. 1986. p. 95


  • ""Lineism," practised in Russia between 1919 and 1922, suppressed the material sensuality of the pictorial plane in order to replace it with a conceptual reduction of the single straight line."

    Excerpt: Avant-garde russe. Andrei B. Nakov. 1986. p.39

These are from a book about suprematism in art (coincidentally the same one as referenced in Danielillo's answer).
Since this seems to be the only hit when it comes to suprematism (or art history in general), it could be a translation of or neologism for a French, Bulgarian, or Russian word.

  • Looking into that did lead to finding the word "Liniizm" as coined by Russian avant-gardeist Alexander Rodchenko (also mentioned in Danielillo's post):

    "We know that before Construction No. 126 was painted he had been working on a theoretical statement to be called Liniizm (‘Line-ism’ or ‘Linearism’), in which the whole immensely complex problem could be addressed."


    However, that word has also (and more often?) been translated as 'linearism' (see this PDF of the article 'What is Linearism?' by Alexander Lavrent'ev, for example).

A few additional but not particularly relevant comments:

Quite a few of the references come from Latin texts, but - and this is corroborated by how Google hardly finds any hits with the query '"lineist"' - this is due to bad Optical Character Recognition when the texts were digitized (mistaking 'lineis' several times).

There is also the old rendition of 'finest': "fineist", sometimes misinterpreted to be 'lineist'.

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