What's a word for an inaccurate artistic representation that doesn't retain all the qualities or features of the original subject?

For example: There is a painting of a king but it doesn't have the expected semblance. It looks like him but there are oddities, like an elongated nose, or bigger eyes and ears.

  • 8
    Your question title doesn't match your question body.  Are you asking about a shoddy imitation or an inaccurate representation?  Please do not respond in comments; edit your question to make it clearer and more complete. May 28, 2016 at 18:35
  • @JoeBlow If the painting example is more close to inaccurate representation, should I use that in my question?
    – user173199
    May 29, 2016 at 11:57
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    In short as Scott asks. Do you want to know about a fake, poorly made, Louis Vuitton handbag or, do you want to know about literally a drawing that is a poor likeness. (If so, "poor likeness" is probably your best bet.)
    – Fattie
    May 29, 2016 at 12:17
  • 3
    For anyone confused by the answers, be aware the title was changed.
    – Spencer
    May 29, 2016 at 17:58
  • 1
    If the question is not about an inept artist, perhaps the title should not contain "inept".
    – Mr Lister
    May 30, 2016 at 6:50

13 Answers 13


The word you are looking for is knockoff (or knock-off) — (M-W)

a cheap or inferior copy of something

a copy that sells for less than the original; broadly : a copy or imitation of someone or something popular

"That purse is a knockoff. "

This question has evolved to be a request about a shoddy representation. For that, one might use the term hack (job) — (UD)

something done shoddily or ineptly

"The script was such a hack job that they had to bring in a new writer to completely rewrite it."

  • 3
    Isn't knockoff used for commodities like watches, purse, shoes etc. Can it be use for paintings, statues, etc?
    – user173199
    May 28, 2016 at 18:36
  • @User1234567890 - E.g.: Do you really think that the 'Mona Lisa' hanging in my living room isn't a knockoff?
    – Mazura
    May 28, 2016 at 22:01
  • Sorry for unchecking the answer but the comments show I misrepresented.
    – user173199
    May 29, 2016 at 12:00

From your description I think you're looking for caricature:

  • a picture, description, etc., ludicrously exaggerating the peculiarities or defects of persons or things.


  • 5
    The ordinary usage of caricature implies intentional exaggeration -- the OP asks for something merely lacking in the correct qualities. Clearly you mean the rarer usage of caricature to mean a work so poorly done that it's an unintentional caricature, but the definition from dictionary.com doesn't make that distinction.
    – agc
    May 28, 2016 at 17:50

The German word ersatz (pronounced ['ʔeəzats] 'air zotz') is often used with precisely this meaning.

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    See my comment on Vickyace’s answer.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 29, 2016 at 11:03
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    @Wrzlprmft Checked your profile to confirm that you are, as I suspected, from Germany. "Ersatz" in English carries strong implications of inferiority
    – SAH
    May 29, 2016 at 16:29

Try simulacrum defined by Oxford Dictionaries as

An unsatisfactory imitation or substitute.

Also, you can use ersatz defined by Merriam-Webster as

Being a usually artificial and inferior substitute or imitation.

  • 1
    The word ersatz is mainly about the aspect of substituting the original (e.g., because it is not available for some reason), not about a lack of quality. A lack of quality is often implied by context because there is no reason to use the original in the first place if the ersatz is better, but the word itself is neutral in this respect – the ersatz may also be better than the original. This is also reflect by the usually in your dictionary quote.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 29, 2016 at 11:02
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    Also, ersatz only works if you are actually substituting something. If you have a copy of the Mona Lisa in your living room, it would not be an ersatz Mona Lisa, unless you want to pretend it’s the real thing for some reason.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 29, 2016 at 11:31
  • I fully agree with the unpronounceable @wrzplnrtf. Too often on SWRs, we see answers given of "close" words. It's great that they are mentioned, but it should be pointed out that in detail the "close" word in question is quite distinct.
    – Fattie
    May 29, 2016 at 11:45
  • @Wrzlprmft "Ersatz" absolutely implies inferior quality (at least in English).
    – SAH
    May 29, 2016 at 16:26
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    @Wrzlprmft The fact that "inferior" is part of the first definition of "ersatz" in almost every English dictionary (whether or not it is hedged by "usually") suggests to me that this is a significant part of its meaning in English. So do most uses I have seen. This isn't a function of the context. I agree with you, though, that an implication of inferiority is not inherent in "ersatz" from a purely theoretical, etymological perspective
    – SAH
    May 29, 2016 at 20:38

"a fake" and "a sham" come to mind.

  • fake - (noun) - One that is not authentic or genuine; a sham. TFD


"That blood on the floor was clearly fake." (adj)

"He was wearing a fake mustache." (adj)

"It was a sham diamond." (adj)

"Their marriage was a sham."

However, if the reproduction looks so much distorted, I'd call it "a rough imitation"

Then again, if those distortions were intentional, I'd agree with Josh's answer that the author created a caricature.



adjective 1 Made in exact imitation of something valuable with the intention to deceive or defraud - ODO

Also try bogus, ersatz.


I would suggest: a pale copy

which carries the idea of a copy of poor quality and not of a copy which would have failed in an attempt to make a perfect imitation.


If you are discussing an artistic style then you are describing a form of abstract art. There are several different categories, from purely non-representational on one extreme to impressionism on the other. Salvador Dali's surrealist style sounds closest to what you're describing (though I'm by no means an expert on art).

A famous Dali painting (The Persistence of Memory):

enter image description here


Are you referring to Naïve art?

Naïve art[6] is often seen as outsider art which is without a formal (or little) training or degree. While this was true before the twentieth century, there are now academies for naïve art. Naïve art is now a fully recognized art genre, represented in art galleries worldwide.

The characteristics of naïve art are an awkward relationship to the formal qualities of painting, especially non-respect of the three rules of the perspective (such as defined by the Progressive Painters of the Renaissance):

Decrease of the size of objects proportionally with distance,
Muting of colors with distance,
Decrease of the precision of details with distance,

The linked reference also notes Outsider art

The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut (French: [aʁ bʁyt], "raw art" or "rough art"), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by those on the outside of the established art scene, such as psychiatric hospital patients and children.1

While Dubuffet's term is quite specific, the English term "outsider art" is often applied more broadly, to include certain self-taught or naïve art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.

Outsider art has emerged as a successful art marketing category; an annual Outsider Art Fair[3] has taken place in New York since 1993, and there are at least two regularly published journals dedicated to the subject. The term is sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people who are outside the mainstream "art world" or "art gallery system", regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.


A person like this may be an imposter. This word usually refers to a person but is sometimes used, though with less precision, for objectives well. But, a person retaining the qualities you listed can be called an imposter because of the definition of the word: someone who is falsely presenting as someone/something else.


I think this would work:

clumsy: awkwardly done or made; unwieldy; ill-contrived:

"It is a clumsy portrait of the king and does not do him justice."


It seems the OP is asking about how to describe a “bad” piece of art. There are several options.

  • poorly executed

Gauguin titled the work Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Although he expected critics to dismiss this painting as poorly executed, Gauguin declared, “I was so bent on putting all my energy in it… ,

  • amateurish

7 mistakes that make your paintings look amateurish and why some people don’t even know their paintings look amateurish

The following word refers to how badly the paint is applied in a painting

  • daub

n 4. A crude, amateurish painting or picture.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

n 4. (Art Terms) an unskilful or crude painting
Collins English Dictionary

From Judging the Image: Art, Value, Law by Alison Young

In the register of art criticism, ‘daub’ has strongly pejorative meanings. Calling a painting a 'daub' would indicate dislike for the work, criticism of the artist's abilities and condemnation of the effort applied to the work. ‘Daub’ derives from Middle French and connotes the act of coating with soft adhesive matter such as plaster, coating a surface with dirty substance, and applying or smearing colours crudely.


A daub, even if it is signed by Poussin or Picasso, will still be a daub.
Jean Mitry

enter image description here

The universally panned portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Welsh artist, Dan Llywelyn Hall; the commissioned painting was “criticised by many as being a 'hideous cartoon'” and resembling a ‘drag impersonator’.


If a painting accurately resembles the person or object it depicts, it is true to the original.

So a poor imitation or poor representation would be not true to the original.

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