Categorizing Art

In thinking and writing about art, one of the things I’ve noticed is that it is difficult to say anything meaningful about art in general. This became even more evident to me with the last post. Obviously it is difficult to discuss a collective that has parts that communicate so differently, as I attempted to do in that post. So, I came to question the wisdom of attempting to say anything about art in general.

It’s not that the arts don’t have anything in common; rather, it’s that what they have in common is so general as to be very vague. It would be better, I think, to divide that arts into categories, for purposes of discussion. But then the question arises as to how to break them down. The traditional way is to divide them into performing and visual arts: some add plastic arts as a separate category. Unfortunately, that leaves out a whole section of art: written art, which is neither performing nor visual. It exists more in the mind of the reader than anywhere else, guided by what is on the page.

So now we have three categories: performing art, visual art, and written art. Are there others or do we have the field of arts covered? A bit of research turns up nine “classic” arts: music, poetry, painting, sculpture, dance, comic, theatre, cinema, and architecture. It is obvious that that prose could be included only by stretching the poetry category beyond recognition. And can sculpture be expanded to include ceramics? Interestingly, no reasons are given for this breakdown.

Perhaps another method of breaking down the arts is in order. Such a method is suggested by the last post. And that is by how the art in question communicates with its audience. So we have performing arts, which communicates over time, and includes music, dance, theatre, film, and all of the variants of these. Next, we have arts that communicate the moment they are perceived, although they certainly can be studied for longer periods. Art in this category are not dependent on exposure over a specific length of time to grasp the entire art work and is absorbed primarily through the eyes of the viewer. This category includes painting, sculpture, ceramics, and architecture. A third category is comprised of art which is absorbed by reading and so is not dependent upon either a specific amount of time or continuity to be appreciated by its audience. The audience can absorb the words and images primarily through the eyes over sometimes discontinuous time, with the primary communication taking place in the imagination of the reader. This applies to prose as well as poetry.

There are also crossover arts, such as audio books, which combine input through the ears, but, again, with the primary communication taking place in the imagination of the listener. One must note, however, that part of the interpretation of this art falls to the reader, thus influencing what is communicated.

This whole discussion brings up other questions: are these categories exhaustive? Do they cover all the arts? Are they sufficient, i.e. should we divide visual and plastic arts? Are these categories useful for talking about art or is this just a mental exercise? What do we call these categories? Are “performing arts,” “visual arts,” and “written arts” sufficient or do we need other names?

All of those questions are worth considering, and I certainly do not know the answers. But it does seem to me that by grouping arts into three categories gives us a more accurate way to talk about those arts than if we refer to all arts as one thing.

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Date: Sunday, 2. June 2024 23:04
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