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.
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
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 &
"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
A-Z Types of 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.
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
Painting, drawing, sculpture by artists on the margin of society, or in
mental hospitals, or children. (English category is Outsider 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
One of the oldest (and newest) forms - includes body
painting and face painting, as well
as tattoos, mime, "living statues" and (most recently) "performances"
by artists like Marina Abramovic and Carole Schneemann.
This fine art, practised widely in the Far East and among Islamic artists,
is regarded by the Chinese as the highest form of art.
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
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
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.
All computer-generated forms of fine or applied art, including computer-controlled
types. Also known as Digital, Cybernetic or Internet 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).
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.
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.
- conte crayon
- pen and ink
For a selection of the greatest sketches by some of the finest draftsmen
in history, please see: Best
Drawings of the Renaissance (1400-1550).
Mostly crafts and utilitarian applied arts made by rural artisans.
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).
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)
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. Also includes postmodernist styles
of word art (text-based graphics).
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
This principally refers to religious texts (Christian, Islamic, Jewish)
embellished with figurative illustrations and/or abstract geometric designs,
exemplified by Book of Kells.
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
A form of painting, drawing or other graphic art which explains, clarifies,
pictorializes or decorates written text.
Practised by goldsmiths, as well as other master-craftsmen like silversmiths,
gemologists, diamond cutters/setters and lapidaries.
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.
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
Embraces goldsmithing, the fashioning
of precious metals into objets d'art, as well as enamelwork
techniques like cloisonné,
and encrusted enamelling. See: Celtic
Metalwork. For more modern works, see also: Fabergé
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).
Artworks by painters/sculptors outside mainstream culture; may be mentally
ill, or untutored and uneducated: (French equivalent is Art Brut).
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.
- encaustic painting
- fresco painting
- ink and wash
- nail art
- miniature painting
- panel painting
- tempera painting
- 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.
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).
Peaked during the French Belle Epoque and the Art Nouveau era.
Associated with Aboriginal, African, Oceanic and other tribal cultures;
also embraces Outsider art.
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 (18341903),
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.
- giclee prints
- and more
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!
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).
Traditionally encompasses primitive stone engravings (petroglyphs), relief
sculptures, cave painting (pictographs)
and megaliths of the Stone Age.
Encompasses sand painting (Navajo Indians, Tibetan Buddhists), sand drawing
(Vanuatu, formerly New Hebrides), sand sculpture and architecture.
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". Note: Origami
paper folding should also be classed as a plastic art.
- relief sculpture
- ice sculpture
- ivory carving
- terracotta sculpture
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).
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
tapestry 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.
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.