What Are ‘The Arts’

A major focus of this site is a call to readers to make art for themselves as research, as health promotion, and as a source of emotional and intellectual nourishment.

This page is included as a kind of benchmark. It is an attempt at setting a broad description of ‘The Arts’ as a starting point from which to develop more specific ideas about art as experiential learning, art as research, performance, art in health and adventure and art outdoors. Some links here put the arts and sport together, but both are included as they support the idea of active experiential engagements as popular and beneficial.

Defining or describing ‘The Arts’ appears very simple. There are many definitions which have mostly the same idea. The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes them thus

‘The arts, also called fine arts, modes of expression that use skill or imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.’

It goes on to say: ‘Traditional categories within the arts include literature (including poetry, drama, story, and so on), the visual arts (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.), the graphic arts (painting, drawing, design, and other forms expressed on flat surfaces), the plastic arts (sculpture, modeling), the decorative arts (enamelwork, furniture design, mosaic, etc.), the performing arts (theatre, dance, music), music (as composition), and architecture (often including interior design).’

Wikipedia says

‘The arts refers to the theory and physical expression of creativity found in human societies and cultures.’

Then it says the United States Congress, in the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act, defined “the arts” as follows: ’The term ‘the arts’ includes, but is not limited to, music (instrumental and vocal), dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture and allied fields, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, industrial design, costume and fashion design, motion pictures, television, radio, film, video, tape and sound recording, the arts related to the presentation, performance, execution, and exhibition of such major art forms, all those traditional arts practiced by the diverse peoples of this country, and the study and application of the arts to the human environment.’

The Department for Culture Media and Sport in England estimates ‘Overall, 77% of adults interviewed in 2016/17 had engaged with the arts in the last 12 months.’

But this level of participation is highly variable.

In an article published in 2018 the Arts Professional says that in England, participation varies between 40% and 90% depending on location, with London and the South East having the highest rate within the City of London showing 92% engagement.

And regards the social impact of participation in culture and sport, The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee put arts and sport together in a 2019 report that summarised ‘Cultural and sporting opportunities have intrinsic value, and can inspire personal success, but to view them only this narrowly would be to fail to understand their true value.’

So whilst there may be a general consensus as to what ‘The Arts’ are and how we participate in and benefit from them, the specificity of how an individual aesthetic object, environment or experience can be understood as art is highly variable.

Can the painting of a house made by a child at school be classed as art in the same way that Jeff Koons inflatable bunny sculpture, which sold at Christie’s this year for £91 million. Comparing a child’s art with ‘The Art World’ is difficult and ultimately beyond the scope of this website.

The main thrust of this site is to advocate for doing art as well as viewing art.

If you are interested, Grayson Perry the self proclaimed ‘Transvestite Potter’ and winner of the 2003 Turner Prize delivered a wickedly funny and accurate view of ‘The Art World’ as presenter of the 2013 Reith Lectures Playing to the Gallery. He is skeptical about the pomposity and capitalisation of the arts, but is clearly passionate about how art making promotes health, both mental and physical.

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