Types of Art
Categories, Forms and Classification of Visual Arts and Crafts.
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Detail From The Isenheim Alterpiece
by Matthias Grunewald (c.1475-1528)
(1512-15) Musee d'Unterlingen, Colmar.

Types of Art

Contents

Definitions of Art
A-Z Forms of Art
World Art
Styles and Genres

What are the World's Oldest Works of Art?
See: Oldest Stone Age Art: Top 100 Artworks.

Which are the World's Most Valuable Paintings?
See: Most Expensive Paintings Top 10.



Contemporary ice sculpture
of the Lion King, exemplifying how
modern visual art extends across
numerous different types of media.

DEFINITION OF VISUAL ART
Ever since the controversial works of Marcel Duchamp, avant-garde artists have been pushing the boundaries of their profession to breaking point. Installations, found-objects, conceptual works, and film, are just some of the media which have been employed to broaden the contemporary aesthetic. A flattened motor car has been presented as an important work of assemblage art; a dead shark has been pickled and turned into an installation; a "human skull" has been 'recreated', studded with precious jewels and turned into a piece of contemporary sculpture; and, to cap it all, an exhibition of contemporary art opened last year at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, consisting of 8 empty rooms.
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art.

Basic Definitions of Art

Art: Definition and Meaning
The meaning of beauty and art is explored in the branch of philosophy called aesthetics. For more definitions, see the following:
Fine Art
Includes: drawing, painting, sculpture and printmaking.
Visual Art
Includes: fine arts, certain contemporary arts (eg. installation, performance) and decorative arts.
Decorative Art
Broadly synonymous with crafts. See also: Arts and Crafts Movement.
Applied Art
Includes: architecture, industrial-design, fashion/furnishings-design, interior-design etc.
Crafts
Broadly synonymous with decorative arts.
Art Glossary
Explanation of all basic terms.

IMPORTANCE OF DRAWING
Ever since the Stone Age, painters have been forced to move with the times. Prehistoric artists painted with lumpy pigment crayons and pads of moss, before upgrading to brushes made of vegetable fibre and animal hair. For colour pigments they used three varieties of clay ochre, (red, yellow and brown), and charcoal for black. By the time of the Middle Ages, artists had developed both encaustic and egg-tempera painting methods, and were soon to explore the lustrous advantages of oils. New colour pigments came and went, as did a series of paint containers and colour charts. Lastly, during the 1940s - about 32 Millennia since the first cave paintings - chemists devised fast-drying acrylic paints. But despite all these developments in the art of painting, painters still had to draw their own images. Now, things are changing.

Digital and computer art is upon us, which means that anyone with any proficiency in software design programs can produce a drawing at the drop of a hat. And life drawing is now seen by many as an old-fashioned and unnecessary waste of time. Unfortunately, when artists stop learning how to draw, figurative art flies out the window, and video art takes over.

NON-REPRESENTATIONAL ART
The ongoing debate about "What constitutes art?" is not a trivial squabble between dessicated academics. It's an important cultural issue for huge numbers of people. For instance, as more activities become accepted as "art", so these activities find their way into the curricula of our best art schools, sometimes with unfortunate results. Last year, I visited a Graduate Show staged by one of Ireland's top art colleges. Out of many hundred exhibits, I was impressed by the artistic merits of perhaps three works - two of which were by the same artist! Most of the other works, which were nearly all abstract, seemed to me to be sloppily executed, and lacking any creative impact - a fairly dire thing to say about such a major showcase of young talent. Obviously the show's organizers thought differently, so maybe my sense of aesthetic appreciation has deserted me. Either that, or else it's a sobering example of The Emperor's New Clothes.

HOW TO EVALUATE ART
Every attempt to define "good" art is doomed to frustration. Allowing the free market to decide may sound reasonable, except that auction prices identify Damien Hirst as the best ever British artist, which sounds a bit dodgy. Besides, there are hundreds of dark, uninteresting but mega-valuable Old Master paintings quietly deteriorating in museums around the world, whose monetary value bears no relation to their "beauty". As for the so-called "priceless" Greek sculptures in the Louvre - the one-armed, one-legged, no-head variety, like the Venus di Milo - would you want any of them in your sitting room? I doubt it. The lesson? Expensive art isn't always good art. Okay, so how else can we decide what constitutes a worthy artwork? How about letting the Arts Council decide? Err, no thanks. We do that already, and it's a disaster. A committee of independent critics? Hmm, perhaps not: look what happened to the Turner prize. Is subject matter a guide? For instance, is representational or figurative art better than abstraction? No. Some of the most beautiful decorative works are completely devoid of recognizable features, while a superrealist painting or sculpture can sometimes leave us cold. The truth is, "good" or "beautiful" art is practically indefinable. Arguably, its existence hinges on a magical combination of shape and colour, which cannot be pre-selected, otherwise Volkswagen would manufacture it.

ART HAS RARITY VALUE ONLY
Every so often we hear that a painting or drawing by some famous artist has been bought at Sotheby's or Christie's for $10 million or maybe $50 million. A recent example was the $100 million paid for a screenprint (Eight Elvises) by Andy Warhol. Did the news make us choke over our breakfast? Probably not. After all, people do pay huge prices for rare objects. Nevertheless, it's very confusing, because it gives the impression that a painting has an objective or intrinsic value, sometimes reaching into the millions. But the truth is, a painting has no intrinsic value - only rarity. Even its beauty or aesthetic appeal can be acquired by buying a print, at a fraction of the cost of the original. When it comes to a Monet, a Van Gogh or a Titian, none of this matters because the rarity value justifies a hefty price-tag, but when it comes to works of art by ordinary mortals, beware! - the $20,000 price-tag for the work of an established minor artist can include a large "fashion" premium, that can disappear overnight. All this explains why the contemporary art market has nosedived, while demand for rare Old Masters and Moderns remains comparatively buoyant.

SEPARATION OF ARTS & CRAFTS
"Fine art", traditionally the premier form of visual creativity, is supposedy a drawing-based acivity, practised mainly for its aesthetic value ("art for art's sake") rather than its functionality. In contrast, the second-class category, known as "decorative art" (the new word for crafts), refers to things like ceramics, tapestry, enamelling, metalwork, stained glass, textiles, and others, which are deemed to be ornamental or decorative, rather than intellectual or spiritual. So to recap: arts are beautiful useless things that elevate the senses - example, the Mona Lisa; whereas crafts prettify functional objects - example, a tea cup with a handpainted design. I don't know which painter/sculptor or government civil servant first proposed this absurd distinction, but it lingers on in all its ugly illogicality. Take architecture, for instance. This has always been regarded as a fine art, despite being the ultimate example of utility - just ask any architect. Advertising posters by the likes of (say) Toulouse Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha are also seen as fine art, despite being the embodiment of decorative functionalism. On the other hand, a beautiful tapestry or stained glass window is regarded as mere ornamentalism, irrespective of the degree of artistic designwork and craftsmanship involved. And if you think all this is pointless and confusing, wait till you encounter "applied art", a term which is now used to describe a more design-oriented category of decorative art.

A-Z Types of Art

Animation Art
Derived from the Latin meaning "to breathe life into", animation is the visual art of creating a motion picture from a series of still drawings. Among the great twentieth century animators are J. Stuart Blackton, George McManus, Max Fleischer, and Walt Disney.
Architecture
Best understood as the applied art of building design. Historically has exerted significant influence on the development of fine art, through architectural styles like Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical. For the origins of skyscraper design, see: 19th Century Architecture; for its characteristics and development, see: Skyscraper Architecture (1850-present); for technical details, see: Chicago School of Architecture; for historical context, see: American Architecture (1600-present).
Art Brut
Painting, drawing, sculpture by artists on the margin of society, or in mental hospitals, or children. (English category is Outsider art.)
Assemblage Art
A contemporary form of sculpture, comparable to collage, in which a work of art is built up or "assembled" from 3-D materials - typically "found" objects.
Calligraphy
This fine art, practised widely in the Far East and among Islamic artists, is regarded by the Chinese as the highest form of art.
Ceramics
A type of plastic art, ceramics refers to items made from clay and baked in a kiln. See ancient pottery from China and Greece, below. Two of the foremost European ceramicists are the English artist Bernard Howell Leach (1887-1979), and the Frenchman Camille Le Tallec (1908-91).
Christian Art
This is mostly Biblical Art, or at least works derived from the Bible. It includes Protestant Reformation art and Catholic Counter-Reformation art, as well as Jewish themes. See also: Early Christian sculpture and also: Early Christian Art.
Collage
Composition consisting of various materials like newspaper cuttings, cardboard, photos, fabrics and the like, pasted to a board or canvas. May be combined with painting or drawings.
Computer Art
All computer-generated forms of fine or applied art, including computer-controlled types. Also known as Digital, Cybernetic or Internet art.
Conceptual Art
A contemporary art form that places primacy on the concept or idea behind a work of art, rather than the work itself. Leading conceptual artists include: Allan Kaprow (b.1927), and Joseph Beuys (1921-86) the former Professor of Monumental Sculpture at the Dusseldorf Academy, whose dedication earned him a retrospective at the Samuel R Guggenheim Museum (New York).
Design (Artistic)
This refers to the plan involved in creating something according to a set of aesthetics. Examples of artistic design movements include: Art Nouveau, Art Deco, De Stijl, Bauhaus, Ulm Design School and Postmodernism.
Drawing
A drawing can be a complete work, or a type of preparatory sketching for a painting or sculpture. A central issue in fine art concerns the relative importance of drawing (line) versus colour.
- chalk
- charcoal
- conte crayon
- pastel
- pen and ink
- pencil
For a selection of the greatest sketches by some of the finest draftsmen in history, please see: Best Drawings of the Renaissance (1400-1550).
Folk Art
Mostly crafts and utilitarian applied arts made by rural artisans.
French Furniture
The greatest furniture was created during the 17th/18th centuries by French Designers at the Royal Court, in the Louis Quatorze, Quinze and Seize styles. For a short guide, see: French Decorative Arts (1640-1792).
Graffiti Art
Contemporary form of street aerosol spray painting which emerged in East Coast American cities during the late 1960s/early 1970s. Famous graffiti artists include Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88), Keith Haring (1958-90) and Banksy.
Graphic Art
Types of visual expression defined more by line and tone (disegno), rather than colour (colorito). Includes drawing, cartoons, caricature art, comic strips, illustration, animation and calligraphy, as well as all forms of traditional printmaking.
Icons (Icon Painting)
Ranks alongside mosaic art as the most popular type of Eastern Orthodox religious art. Closely associated with Byzantine art, and later, Russian icon painters.
Illuminated Manuscripts
This principally refers to religious texts (Christian, Islamic, Jewish) embellished with figurative illustrations and/or abstract geometric designs, exemplified by Book of Kells.
Installation
A new category of contemporary art, which employs various 2-D and 3-D materials to create a particular space designed to make an impact on the viewer/visitor. Turner Prize Winner Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin are famous installation artists.
Illustration
A form of painting, drawing or other graphic art which explains, clarifies, pictorializes or decorates written text.
Jewellery Art
Practised by goldsmiths, as well as other master-craftsmen like silversmiths, gemologists, diamond cutters/setters and lapidaries.
Junk Art
Artworks made from ordinary, everyday materials, or "found objects", of which Marcel Duchamp's "readymades" are a sub-category. Typically includes 3-D works like sculpture, assemblage, collage or installations.
Land Art
A relatively new category of contemporary art, also called Earth art, earthworks, or Environmental art, it was led by Robert Smithson (1938-73), and emerged in America during the 1960s as a reaction against the commercial art world.
Metalwork Art, Celtic
Embraces goldsmithing, the fashioning of precious metals into objets d'art, as well as enamelwork techniques like cloisonne, champleve, plique-a-jour and encrusted enamelling. See also: Fabergé Easter Eggs.
Mosaic Art
An ancient art form, developed by Ancient Greek and Byzantine artists, which creates pictorial designs out of glass tesserae. For its high point during the Middle Ages, see: Ravenna Mosaics (c.400-600) and Christian Byzantine Art (c.400-1200).
Outsider Art
Artworks by painters/sculptors outside mainstream culture; may be mentally ill, or untutored and uneducated: (French equivalent is Art Brut).
Painting
Since classical antiquity the highest form of Western art, painting has been dominated by Renaissance-style "Academic Art". Until the invention of pre-mixed paints and the collapsible paint tube in the mid-19th century, painters had to create their own colour pigments from natural plants and metal compounds. See colour in painting. Famous painting movements or schools include: Early/HighRenaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Op-Art, Pop Art, Minimalism, Photorealism, and others.
- acrylics
- encaustic painting
- fresco painting
- gouache
- ink and wash
- nail art
- oils
- miniature painting
- panel painting
- tempera painting
- watercolours
- and more
Performance Art (and Happenings)
A 20th century art form involving a live performance by the artist before an audience. The form was explored and developed by exponents of Futurism, Constructivism, Dada, Surrealism and later contemporary art movements.
Photography
A 20th century medium by which the artist captures pictorial images on film as opposed to the traditional fine art supports of canvas, paper or board. New computer software graphics programs have created new opportunities for editing and image manipulation. See also: Is Photography Art? Foremost among exponents of photographic art is the American Ansel Adams, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Guggenheim fellow and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, noted for his black-and-white photographs of the American West. The leading contemporary Irish lens-based artist is Victor Sloan (b.1945).
Poster Art
Peaked during the French Belle Epoque and the Art Nouveau era.
Primitive Art
Associated with Aboriginal, African, Oceanic and other tribal cultures; also embraces Outsider art. See also: Body Painting and Face Painting.
Printmaking
The process of making original prints by pressing an inked block or plate onto a receptive support surface, typically paper. Among great modern exponents of fine art printmaking (eg. woodcuts, engraving, etching, lithography and silkscreen) are the American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), the French artist Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), the Dutch graphic artist MC Escher (1898-1972), Willem de Kooning (1904-97) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), as well as silkscreen printers like Andy Warhol (1928-87), all of whom infused the artform with great vitality.
- engraving
- etching
- giclee prints
- lithography
- screen-printing
- woodcuts
- and more
Public Art
A vague category of art which encompasses all works paid for by public funds. A more narrow definition might restrict it to all works designed for a space accessible to the general public. Sadly, most public art ends up in stores or offices staffed by public servants!
Religious Art
Typically architecture, or any fine or decorative arts with a religious theme: includes Christian or Islamic, Hindu, Buddhism or any of a hundred different sects. See for instance Chinese Buddhist sculpture (c.100 CE - present).
Rock Art
Traditionally encompasses primitive stone engravings (petroglyphs), relief sculptures, cave painting (pictographs) and megaliths of the Stone Age.
Sand Art
Encompasses sand painting (Navajo Indians, Tibetan Buddhists), sand drawing (Vanuatu, formerly New Hebrides), sand sculpture and architecture.
Sculpture
Sculpture is a three-dimensional work of plastic art created either by (1) Carving - in stone, marble, wood, ivory, bone; (2) modelling - from wax or clay, after which it may be cast in bronze; (3) an assemblage of "found objects".
- statue
- relief sculpture
- bronze
- ivory carving
- marble
- stone
- terracotta sculpture
- wood-carving
Stained Glass Art
The supreme decorative art of the Gothic movement, stained glass reached its zenith during the 12th and 13th centuries when it was created for Christian cathedrals across Europe. Modern stained glass was made in America by John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany; and on the Continent at the Bauhaus design school.Sadly, the creators of the stained glass masterpieces in Chartres and other Gothic cathedrals remain anonymous, however their skills were kept alive by artists like Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and Joan Miro (1893-1983), and - in Ireland - by such Irish artists as Harry Clarke (1889-1931), Sarah Purser (1848-43) and Evie Hone (1894-1955).
Tapestry Art
An ancient type of textile art, tapestry-making flourished in Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, at the hands of French and (later) Flemish weavers. The most famous works were woven at the Gobelins and Beauvais tapestry factories in Paris, but see also the famous Bayeux Tapestry (c.1075) a Romanesque work stitched by Anglo-Saxon and French seamsters, depicting the Norman Conquest of 1066.
Video Art
One of the most recent categories of contemporary expression, pioneered by Andy Warhol and others, video is frequently used in installation art, as well as as a stand-alone art form. Several Turner Prize Winners have been video artists. The leading video artist of the twentieth century is probably Bill Viola (b.1951), known for his technical and creative mastery of the genre.

 

World Arts

Aboriginal Art (Australia)
Introduction to ancient cave painting and petroglyphs from Australasia.
- Australian Colonial Painting (c.1780-1880)
- Australian Impressionism (c.1886-1900)
- Australian Modern Painting (c.1900-60)
Aegean Art (c.2600-1100 BCE)
Early Greek civilization: features Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenean cultures.
African Art
Guide to rock paintings, classical African sculpture, art of the African kingdoms, religious and tribal artworks and more.
American Art
History of painting and other fine arts in America, 1750-present.
Pre-Columbian Art (Americas)
Architecture, art and crafts of the Americas up to 1535.
American Indian Art
A largely craft-based culture, specializing in wood carving, textile arts, shell-engraving, basket-making and ceremonial masks.
American Colonial Art
Eurocentric 17th/18th century portrait painting, miniatures and architecture.
Byzantine Art
Principally architecture, panel painting, and mosaics created by artists within the eastern Christian Byzantine empire centred on Constantinople.
Celtic Art
Includes metalwork of the Hallstatt and La Tene culture, plus abstract geometric designwork.
Chinese Art
Includes world famous Chinese lacquerware, bronzes, jade carving, terracotta sculpture, Chinese Porcelain, wash-painting and calligraphy. For more, see also Chinese Pottery and Chinese Painting. For a guide to the aesthetic principles behind Oriental arts and crafts, see: Traditional Chinese Art: Characteristics.
Egyptian Art
Embraces mainly tomb artworks - like panel paintings, Egyptian Sculpture, murals, pottery, metalcraft and Egyptian Pyramids Architecture.
Etruscan Art
Includes tomb paintings, domestic frescoes, bronze and terracotta sculpture, ornate sarcophagi, goldsmithery and jewellery.
Flemish Painting
School of highly realistic oil painting - including artists like Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling, and others - that strongly influenced the Italian Renaissance.
Franco-Cantabrian Cave Art
Prehistoric parietal works in southern France and northern Spain.
French Painting
Follows the French School (1400-1900) from medieval book painting to late 19th century Symbolism.
German Expressionism
The most famous style of art from Germany. But see also our articles on German Medieval Art (c.800-1250), the German Renaissance (1430-1580) and the German Baroque (c.1550-1750).
Greek Art
Highly innovative, technically accomplished, Greek artists set the standard in all forms of fine, applied and decorative art, notably painting, sculpture, architecture and glass mosaic.
Greek Pottery
Includes a range of ceramic designs from different areas of ancient Greece, such as Geometric style, Oriental Style, Black-Figure Style and Red-Figure Style.
Greek Sculpture
Includes sculptural masterpieces like Discobolus by Myron; Wounded Amazon by Polykleitos; Apollo Belvedere by Leochares; Laocoon by Hagesandrus, Athenodoros & Polydorus; Aphrodite of Melos (Venus de Milo) by Andros of Antioch.
India: Painting & Sculpture
Includes prehistoric cupules and petroglyphs, ivory and bronze figurines, Buddhist frescoes, miniature paintings, and supreme works of Moghal architecture, like the Taj Mahal.
Irish Art
Includes (painting): portraiture, topographical landscape, 19th century history paintings and 20th century genre-works and still lifes; (sculpture): Stone and bronzework by traditional, Gaelic, modern and contemporary Irish sculptors.
Islamic Art
Embraces many categories of creativity including, mosque-architecture, ceramics, faience mosaics, lustre-ware, relief sculpture, wood and ivory carving, friezes, drawing, painting, calligraphy, book-gilding, lacquer-painted bookbinding, textile design, goldsmithery, gemstone carving, and others.
Italian Renaissance Art
Beginning in Florence, it spread to Rome and Venice before being taken up by painters and sculptors across Europe.
Japanese Art
Brief guide to four of the main visual arts in Japan, including: Buddhist Temple art, Zen ink-painting, Yamato-e, and Ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
Jewish Art
A look at Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Oriental Jewish art, crafts and archeological artifacts.
Korean Art
Initially influenced by prehistoric Siberian culture, then by Chinese arts and crafts, Korea in turn influenced the development of several artforms in Japan.
Mesopotamian Art
A brief guide to Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian culture in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates. See also: Mesopotamian Sculpture.
Minoan Art
Covers sculpture, fresco painting, pottery, stone carvings (notably seal stones), jewellery and the palace architecture of Knossos, Phaestus, Akrotiri, Kato Zakros and Mallia.
Mycenean Art
Embraces Tholos tomb architecture, precious metalwork, and early Greek plastic arts.
Oceanic Art
This umbrella term refers to arts and crafts produced by indigenous native peoples within the Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia zones of the Pacific Ocean.
Persian Art
Encompasses monumental rock sculptures, bas-reliefs, ceramics, mosaics, metalwork, frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, calligraphy, carpet-making, silk-weaving and architectural designs.
Roman Art
Noted for its historical relief sculptures (eg. Trajan's Column) and its practical architecture (bridges, aquaducts, roads), ancient Rome was also responsible for producing unique copies of many original Greek sculptures, without which many Hellenic treasures would have been lost forever.
Russian Art
Prehistoric sculpture and the history of painting 30,000 BCE to 1920.
Spanish Painting
Follows Iberian art (1500-1970), from El Greco to Antoni Tapies.
Tribal Art
Short guide to the traditional art of tribal societies in India, Africa, the South Pacific, Australasia, Alaska and the Americas. Also known as Primitive Native Art, the category is sometimes extended to include certain early European artworks (eg. Celtic La Tene). It primarily consists of stoneworks (sculpture, temples), earthworks, and petroglyphs.
Viking Art
Norse art mainly consists of portable artworks, like decorated body armour, drinking horns, pagan icons, paddles, and small-scale carvings in amber, jet, bone, walrus ivory and wood.

 

Styles and Genres

Abstract Art
Strictly speaking, abstract artworks derive from non-natural subjects such as geometric shapes, although wider definitions embrace all non-representational works. Types of geometric abstraction are also called concrete art, or more confusingly non-objective art. Both these terms mean the same.
Representational Art
This describes images that are clearly recognizable for what they purport to be. By contrast, abstract art consists of pictures that lack any clear identity, and must therefore be interpreted by the viewer.
Figure Drawing and Figure Painting
Including representational drawing from life.
History Painting
Derived from the Italian word "istoria" (meaning, "narrative"), history painting - exemplified by Leonardo Davinci's work The Last Supper - tells noble stories or carries uplifting messages, and was considered to be No 1 in the Hierarchy of Painting Genres.
Portrait Art
Embracing individual, group or self-portraits, this genre - exemplified by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) - was considered to be No 2 in the Hierarchy of Painting Genres.
Genre Painting
Championed by 17th century Dutch Realists, such as Jan Vermeer (1632-75), this category of "everyday scenes" was seen as No 3 in the Hierarchy of Painting Genres.
Landscape Painting
Comprising scenic views in which nature takes primacy over human figures, this was rated No 4 in the Hierarchy of Painting Genres.
Still Life Painting
This genre - exemplified by Frans Snyders (1579-1657) - typically comprised an arrangement of objects (flowers, kitchen utensils etc.) laid out on a table. For moralistic still lifes, see: Vanitas Painting (17th century Holland) by Dutch artists like Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-83), Willem Kalf (1622-93) and Willem Claesz Heda (1594-1681). Because they were devoid of human representation, still lifes were regarded as the least important type of painting.

• For more about the classification of the visual arts, see: Homepage.


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