The arts

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The arts are a wide range of human practices of creative expression, storytelling, and cultural participation. They encompass multiple diverse and plural modes of thinking, doing, and being, in an extremely broad range of media. Both dynamic and a characteristically constant feature of human life, they have developed into innovative, stylized, and sometimes intricate forms. This is often achieved through sustained and deliberate study, training, and/or theorizing within a particular tradition, across generations, and even between civilizations. The arts are a vehicle through which human beings cultivate distinct social, cultural, and individual identities while transmitting values, impressions, judgements, ideas, visions, spiritual meanings, patterns of life, and experiences across time and space.

Prominent examples of the arts include:

They can employ skill and imagination to produce objects and performances, convey insights and experiences, and construct new environments and spaces.

The arts can refer to common, popular, or everyday practices as well as more sophisticated, systematic, or institutionalized ones. They can be discrete and self-contained or combine and interweave with other art forms, such as the combination of artwork with the written word in comics. They can also develop or contribute to some particular aspect of a more complex art form, as in cinematography. By definition, the arts themselves are open to being continually redefined. The practice of modern art, for example, is a testament to the shifting boundaries, improvisation and experimentation, reflexive nature, and self-criticism or questioning that art and its conditions of production, reception, and possibility can undergo.

As both a means of developing capacities of attention and sensitivity and as ends in themselves, the arts can simultaneously be a form of response to the world and a way that our responses and what we deem worthwhile goals or pursuits are transformed. From prehistoric cave paintings to ancient and contemporary forms of ritual to modern-day films, art has served to register, embody, and preserve our ever-shifting relationships to each other and to the world.


Merriam-Webster defines "the arts" as "painting, sculpture, music, theater, literature, etc., considered as a group of activities done by people with skill and imagination".[1]

While art refers to the way of doing or the application of human creative skills, typically in visual form,[2] the arts are the various practices formed by human creativity and imagination.

History and classifications

The Venus of Brassempouy

In ancient Greece, art and craft were referred to by the word, techne. Ancient Greek art brought the veneration of the animal form and the development of equivalent skills to show musculature, poise, beauty, and anatomically correct proportions. Ancient Roman art depicted gods as idealized humans, shown with characteristic distinguishing features e.g. Zeus' thunderbolt. In Byzantine and Gothic art of the Middle Ages, the dominant church insisted on the expression of Christian themes.[3][4]

Eastern art has generally worked in a style akin to Western medieval art, namely a concentration on surface patterning and local colour (meaning the plain colour of an object, such as basic red for a red robe, rather than the modulations of that colour brought about by light, shade, and reflection). A characteristic of this style is that local colour is often defined by an outline (a contemporary equivalent is the cartoon). This is evident, for example, in the art of India, Tibet, and Japan. Islamic art traditionally avoids the representation of living beings, particularly humans and other animals, in religious contexts.[5] It instead expresses religious ideas through calligraphy and geometrical designs.[6]


Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Catullus-at-Lesbia's (1865)

In the Middle Ages, the artes liberales (liberal arts) were taught in European universities as part of the Trivium, an introductory curriculum involving grammar, rhetoric, and logic,[7] and of the Quadrivium, a curriculum involving the "mathematical arts" of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.[8] The artes mechanicae[9] were practised and developed in guild environments. The modern distinction between "artistic" and "non-artistic" skills did not develop until the Renaissance. In modern academia, the arts can be grouped with, or as a subset of, the humanities.[10]

The arts have been classified as seven: painting, architecture, sculpture, literature, music, performing, and cinema. Some view literature, painting, sculpture, and music as the main four arts, of which the others are derivative; drama is literature with acting, dance is music expressed through motion, and song is music with literature and voice.[11] Film is sometimes called the "eighth" and comics the "ninth art".[12]

Visual arts


The Parthenon on top of the Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings and structures. The word architecture comes from the Greek arkhitekton, "master builder, director of works," from αρχι- (arkhi) "chief" + τεκτων (tekton) "builder, carpenter".[13] A wider definition would include the design of the built environment, from the macrolevel of urban planning, urban design, and landscape architecture, to the microlevel of creating furniture. Architectural design usually must address feasibility and cost for the builder, as well as function and aesthetics for the user.[14]

In modern usage, architecture is the art and discipline of creating, or inferring an implied or apparent plan for, a complex object or system. The term can be used to connote the implied architecture of abstract things such as music or mathematics, the apparent architecture of natural things, such as geological formations or the structure of biological cells, or explicitly planned architectures of human-made things such as software, computers, enterprises, and databases, in addition to buildings. In every usage, an architecture may be seen as a subjective mapping from a human perspective (that of the user in the case of abstract or physical artefacts) to the elements or components of some kind of structure or system, which preserves the relationships among the elements or components. Planned architecture manipulates space, volume, texture, light, shadow, or abstract elements, to achieve pleasing aesthetics.[15] This distinguishes it from applied science or engineering, which usually concentrate more on the functional and feasibility aspects of the design of constructions or structures.

In the field of building architecture, the skills demanded of an architect range from the more complex, such as for a hospital or a stadium, to the apparently simpler, such as planning residential houses. Architectural works may be seen as cultural and political symbols, or works of art. The role of the architect, though changing, has been central to the design and implementation of pleasingly built environments, in which people live.[16]


Celadon kettle from the 12th century. Goryeo celadon is considered to be among the great achievements of Korean art.

Ceramic art is art made from ceramic materials (including clay), which may take forms such as pottery, tile, figurines, sculpture, and tableware. While some ceramic products are considered fine art, others are considered decorative, industrial, or applied art objects. Ceramics may also be considered artefacts in archaeology. Ceramic art can be made by one person or by a group of people. In a pottery or ceramic factory, a group of people design, manufacture, and decorate the pottery. Some pottery is regarded as art pottery.[17] In a one-person pottery studio, ceramists or potters produce studio pottery. Ceramics excludes glass and mosaics made from glass tesserae.[18]

Conceptual art

Conceptual art is art wherein the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. The inception of the term in the 1960s referred to a strict and focused practice of idea-based art that often defied traditional visual criteria associated with the visual arts in its presentation as text.[19] Through its association with the Young British Artists and the Turner Prize during the 1990s,[20] its popular usage, particularly in the United Kingdom, developed as a synonym for all contemporary art that does not practice the traditional skills of painting and sculpture.[21]


Drawing is a means of making an image using any of a wide variety of tools and techniques. It generally involves making marks on a surface by applying pressure from a tool, or moving a tool across a surface. Common tools are graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax coloured pencils, crayons, charcoals, pastels, and markers. Digital tools with similar effects are also used. The main techniques used in drawing are line drawing, hatching, crosshatching, random hatching, scribbling, stippling, and blending. An artist who excels in drawing is referred to as a drafter, draftswoman, or draughtsman.[22] Drawing can be used to create art used in cultural industries such as illustrations, comics, and animation. Comics are often called the "ninth art" (le neuvième art) in Francophone scholarship, adding to the traditional "Seven Arts".[23]


The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Painting is a mode of creative expression and can be done in several forms. Drawing, gesture (as in gestural painting), composition, narration (as in narrative art), or abstraction (as in abstract art), among other aesthetic modes, may serve to manifest the expressive and conceptual intention of the practitioner.[24] Paintings can be naturalistic and representational (as in a still life or landscape painting), photographic, abstract, narrative, symbolistic (as in Symbolist art), emotive (as in Expressionism), or political in nature (as in Artivism).

Modern painters have extended the practice considerably to include, for example, collage. Collage is not painting in the strict sense since it includes other materials. Some modern painters incorporate different materials, such as sand, cement, straw, wood, or strands of hair, for their artwork texture. Examples of this are the works of Jean Dubuffet or Anselm Kiefer.[25][26]


Photography as an art form refers to photographs that are created in accordance with the creative vision of the photographer. Art photography stands in contrast to photojournalism, which provides a visual account for news events, and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to advertise products or services.[27]


Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sculptural processes originally used carving (the removal of material) and modelling (the addition of material, such as clay), in stone, metal, ceramics, wood, and other materials, but since modernism, shifts in sculptural processes have led to an almost complete freedom of materials and processes. A wide variety of materials may be worked by removal such as carving, assembled by welding or modelling, or moulded or cast.[28][29][30]

Literary arts

Literature (also known as literary arts or language arts) is literally "acquaintance with letters", as in the first sense given in the Oxford English Dictionary. The noun "literature" comes from the Latin word littera, meaning "an individual written character (letter)." The term has generally come to identify a collection of writings, which in Western culture are mainly prose (both fiction and non-fiction), drama, and poetry. In much, if not all, of the world, artistic linguistic expression can be oral as well and include such genres as epic, legend, myth, ballad, other forms of oral poetry, and folktales. Comics, the combination of drawings or other visual arts with narrating literature, are often called the "ninth art" (le neuvième art) in Francophone scholarship.[23]

Performing arts

Bharatanatyam performer at Indian classical dance

Performing arts comprise dance, music, theatre, opera, mime, and other art forms in which human performance is the principal product. Performing arts are distinguished by this performance element in contrast with disciplines such as visual and literary arts, where the product is an object that does not require a performance to be observed and experienced. Each discipline in the performing arts is temporal in nature, meaning the product is performed over a period of time. Products are broadly categorized as being either repeatable (for example, by script or score) or improvised for each performance.[31] Artists who participate in these arts in front of an audience are called performers, including actors, magicians, comedians, dancers, musicians, and singers. Performing arts are also supported by the services of other artists or essential workers, such as songwriting and stagecraft. Performers often adapt their appearance with tools such as costumes and stage makeup.[32]


Dance generally refers to human movement, either used as a form of expression or presented in a social, spiritual, or performance setting.[33][34][a] Choreography is the art of making dances,[39] and the person who does this is called a choreographer.[40] Definitions of what constitutes dance are dependent on social, cultural, aesthetic, artistic, and moral constraints and range from functional movement (such as folk dance) to codified virtuoso techniques such as ballet. In sports: gymnastics, figure skating, and synchronized swimming are dance disciplines. In martial arts, "kata" is compared to dances.[41]


A musical score of the opening measures from Piano Sonata No. 11 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Play)

Music is often defined as an art form whose medium is a combination of sounds.[42] Though scholars agree that music generally consists of a few core elements, their exact definitions are debated.[43] Commonly identified aspects include pitch (which governs melody and harmony), duration (including rhythm and tempo), intensity (including dynamics), and timbre.[44] Though considered a cultural universal, definitions of music vary wildly throughout the world as they are based on diverse views of nature, the supernatural, and humanity.[45] Music is often differentiated into composition and performance, while musical improvisation may be regarded as an intermediary tradition.[46] Music can be divided into genres and subgenres, although the dividing lines and relationships between genres are often subtle, sometimes open to individual interpretation, and occasionally controversial.[47]


Theatre or theater (from Greek theatron (θέατρον); from theasthai, "behold"[48]) is the branch of the performing arts concerned with acting out stories in front of an audience using combinations of speech, gesture, music, dance, sound, and spectacle—indeed, any one or more elements of the other performing arts. In addition to the standard narrative dialogue style, theatre takes such forms as opera, ballet, mime, kabuki, classical Indian dance, Chinese opera, and mummers' plays.

Multidisciplinary artistic works

Areas exist in which artistic works incorporate multiple artistic fields, such as film, opera, and performance art. While opera is often categorized as the performing arts of music, the word itself is Italian for "works", because opera combines artistic disciplines into a singular artistic experience. In a traditional opera, the work uses the following: the sets (visual arts), costumes (fashion), acting (dramatic performing arts), the libretto [or the words/story] (literature), singers and an orchestra (music).[49]

Ernestine Schumann-Heink as Waltraute

The composer Richard Wagner recognized the fusion of so many disciplines into a single work of opera, exemplified by his cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen ("The Ring of the Nibelung"). He did not use the term opera for his works, but instead Gesamtkunstwerk ("synthesis of the arts"), sometimes referred to as "Music Drama" in English, emphasizing the literary and theatrical components, which were as important as the music. Classical ballet is another form that emerged in the 17th century in which orchestral music is combined with dance.[50]

Other works in the late 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries have fused other disciplines in unique and creative ways, such as performance art. Performance art is a performance over time that combines any number of instruments, objects, and art within a predefined or less well-defined structure, some of which can be improvised. Performance art may be scripted, unscripted, random, or carefully organized; even audience participation may occur. John Cage is regarded by many as a performance artist rather than a composer, although he preferred the latter term. He did not compose for traditional ensembles. Cage's composition Living Room Music, composed in 1940, is a "quartet" for unspecified instruments, really non-melodic objects, that can be found in the living room of a typical house, hence the title.[51]

Other arts

There is no clear line between art and culture. Cultural fields like gastronomy are sometimes considered as arts.[52]

Applied arts

The applied arts are the application of design and decoration to everyday, functional objects to make them aesthetically pleasing.[53] The applied arts include fields such as industrial design, illustration, and commercial art.[54] The term "applied art" is used in distinction to the fine arts, where the latter is defined as arts that aim to produce objects that are beautiful or provide intellectual stimulation but have no primary everyday function. In practice, the two often overlap.

Video games

Video games are multidisciplinary works that include non-controversially artistic elements such as visuals and sound, as well as an emergent experience from the nature of their interactivity. Within the video game community, there is debate surrounding whether video games should be classified as an art form and whether game developersAAA or indie—should be classified as artists.[55] Hideo Kojima, a video game designer considered a "gaming arteur", argued in 2006 that video games are a type of service rather than an art form.[56][57] In the social sciences, cultural economists show how playing video games is conducive to involvement in more traditional art forms.[58] In 2011, the National Endowment of the Arts included video games in its definition of a "work of art",[59] and the Smithsonian American Art Museum presented an exhibit titled The Art of the Video Game in 2012.[60]

Arts critique

Monkeys as Judges of Art, 1889, Gabriel von Max

Art criticism is the discussion or evaluation of art.[61][62][63] Art critics usually criticize art in the context of aesthetics or the theory of beauty.[62][63] A goal of art criticism is the pursuit of a rational basis for art appreciation[61][62][63] but it is questionable whether such criticism can transcend prevailing socio-political circumstances.[64]

The variety of artistic movements has resulted in a division of art criticism into different disciplines which may each use different criteria for their judgements.[63][65] The most common division in the field of criticism is between historical criticism and evaluation, a form of art history, and contemporary criticism of work by living artists.[61][62][63]

Despite perceptions that criticism is a lower risk activity than making art, opinions of current art are liable to corrections with the passage of time.[62] Critics of the past can be ridiculed for dismissing artists now venerated (like the early work of the Impressionists).[63][66][67] Some art movements themselves were named disparagingly by critics, with the name later adopted as a badge of honour by the artists of the style e.g. Impressionism, Cubism, with the original negative meaning forgotten.[66][68][69] Artists have often had an uneasy relationship with their critics. Artists usually need positive opinions from critics for their work to be viewed and purchased.[62][70]

There are many different variables that determine judgment of art such as aesthetics, cognition or perception. Aesthetic, pragmatic, expressive, formalist, relativist, processional, imitation, ritual, cognition, mimetic and postmodern theories, are some of many theories to criticize and appreciate art. Art criticism and appreciation can be subjective based on personal preference toward aesthetics and form, or on the elements and principle of design and by social and cultural acceptance.[citation needed]


Arts in education is a field of educational research and practice informed by investigations into learning through arts experiences. In this context, the arts can include performing arts education (dance, drama, music), literature and poetry, storytelling, visual arts education in film, craft, design, digital art, media and photography.[71] It is distinguished from art education by being not so much about teaching art, but focused on:

  • how to improve learning through the arts
  • how to transfer learning in, and through the arts, to other disciplines
  • discovering and creating understanding of human behavior, thinking, potential, and learning, especially through the close observation of works of art and involvement in arts experiences


A strong relationship between the arts and politics, particularly between various kinds of art and power, occurs across history and cultures. As they respond to events and politics, the arts take on political as well as social dimensions, becoming themselves a focus of controversy and a force of political and social change.

One observation is that a great talent has a free spirit. For instance Pushkin, a well-regarded writer,[72] attracted the irritation of Russian officialdom and particularly the Tsar, since he "instead of being a good servant of the state in the rank and file of the administration and extolling conventional virtues in his vocational writings (if write he must), composed extremely arrogant and extremely independent and extremely wicked verse in which a dangerous freedom of thought was evident in the novelty of his versification, in the audacity of his sensual fancy, and in his propensity for making fun of major and minor tyrants."[72]

Art and politics continue to have a strong relationship. Artists use their work to express their political views and promote social change. And governments use art to promote their own agendas.[73]


  1. ^ The term 'Dance' is also used to describe the steps or pattern for one particular dance,[35] a certain musical form or genre,[36] a social gathering for dancing,[37] or motion in inanimate objects (e.g. "the dance of the waters [...] was visible for over a mile around").[38]


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Further reading

External links