Since prehistoric times, humans have been creating art of various forms. Over the years as tools and technologies have changed and developed, the concept of what art means has come under scrutiny, and indeed, it is an ongoing debate. There are different opinions as to what can be classified as art. In this article, we will discuss seven of the most widely accepted kinds of art without confusing them with art genre and form in art. The seven major forms of art are painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, music, cinema, and theater.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Art?
- 2 The Seven Forms of Art
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Art?
There are about as many definitions of art as there are people alive. As a widely accepted definition, art is produced when imagination or creativity are used to create something that can be directly experienced through our senses. Although visual art that is witnessed through our sense of sight is the most common form, art can appeal to our other senses as well, such as our auditory or tactile perceptions.
Most of the art forms that are discussed in this article go back thousands of years. From prehistoric cave paintings and figurines found in dank caves across the world to the exquisite architecture and sculptures in Greece and Rome, even in the ancient world, creativity played a monumental part in personal and public life, as it continues to do today.
As the techniques in art have developed, much of the conversation in art circles has been concerned with what the word “art” means.
This central debate is an important factor in the development of personal style within the broad art movements that have emerged over the years, with particular emphasis on the relationship between utility and aesthetics.
The most dramatic example of art that revolutionized the way we think of it was Marcel Duchamp’s The Fountain (1917), which explicitly challenged the meaning of art by claiming that a slightly modified urinal deserved to be classified as art. This is also an epitomic example of how art is an important medium through which artists can provide political and social commentary.
Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917); Marcel Duchamp, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Art types should not be confused with art genres, which is a different classification system that was developed by the French Royal Academy and includes still life, portrait, and history, among others. The different types of art should also be distinguished from form in art, which refers to a specific element within an artwork that relates to shape.
Form in art occurs alongside other elements like texture, color, space, shape, value, line, and color.
Art provides us with a crucial glimpse into history – a means through which we can understand the life of the humans that came before us and without which the world would be far a far less interesting and inspiring place! It provides a doorway into galaxies of possibility for expression and a platform for political and social commentary.
The Seven Forms of Art
Although there has been much speculation regarding the definition of art over the years, there is a general consensus that there are seven main kinds of art, most of which have been around for centuries if not thousands of years. These different types of art are painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, music, cinema, and theater.
Painting is one of the oldest kinds of art, dating back tens of thousands of years, and is evident on caves at various sites across the world, such as the Drakensberg in South Africa, the Northern Territory in Australia, and the Lascaux paintings in France to name only three of many sacred sites that are scattered across the globe. Some of these sites have become designated world heritage sites to preserve cultural history associated with those areas, and to preserve them.
Painting is the application of paint, usually on a two-dimensional surface.
Paint consists of a pigment, combined with a binding agent such as oil, egg, or water and possibly a filler, to make the quantity more substantial. In ancient times, people relied on natural materials such as plant matter, bones, and soft stones and rocks to make their pigments but today artificial coloring is mostly used. In modern times, various other additives are included in the ingredients, which make the paint more user-friendly and convenient.
Paint can be applied in various ways – the sky’s the limit. Brushes, fingers, spray cans or sponges can be used, for example. In modern art, painters mostly use canvas to paint on but other surfaces such as board or wood can also be used.
As techniques and styles have evolved, painting has become an institution in its own right, inspiring study, analysis, and debate. Paintings can usually be classified into one or several of many art movements that are characterized in terms of the underlying philosophy that determined the style, content, and subject matter of the paintings as well as their temporal location in terms of their relationship to previous art movements.
Well-known art movements that started in Europe include Impressionism (1867-1886), Surrealism (1924-1966), and Expressionism 1905-1920).
Different cultures all over the world developed different styles as well, such as Pop Art in the USA in the mid-20th century. There is a countless number of painters who could be mentioned as examples of artists, but some of the most famous names include Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) from Spain, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) from the USA, and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) from Japan. You can read more about all the different art periods and art movements in painting on artincontext.org – from the first cave paintings to contemporary and abstract art.
Sculpture is another ancient art form, dating back to some of the earliest civilizations. Unlike painting though, this form of art involves the creation of art in the three dimensions. The type of material used can be anything natural or artificial – from clay, metal, bronze, marble and wood to objects that artists come across in their everyday lives.
Different processes can be used in creating sculptures, such as modeling, casting, assembling, and carving.
Sculptures can be free-standing, independent forms, or they can be made in relief, where the form emerges from a background. An example of a free-standing sculpture is Christ the Redeemer (1931) in Rio de Janeiro by Paul Landowski.
Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with Moon background; Donatas Dabravolskas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Mount Rushmore which was constructed between 1927 and 1941 is a colossal demonstration of a sculpture done in relief, as well as the elaborate forms carved into the temple complex at Khajuraho in India. Sculptures can also include other forms of art, especially painting.
Figurines and larger examples of sculptures from the ancient world have been found in various locations around the world. They often had a spiritual or religious connection.
The ancient Greeks and Romans were also known for their exceptional sculptures, such as The Orator and Head of a Roman Patrician, both of which were created in the 1st century BCE. The Statue of Liberty is a more modern example of sculpture (1886) that has become famous around the world.
People often identify architecture as going back to the very first structures that people built as dwellings. If we are to define architecture in this way, we can think of the teepee in America or the yurt in Mongolia. Some architecture has a distinct aesthetic quality though – indeed, the relationship between utility and beauty is sometimes central in architectural design as it is in other forms of art.
Looking back, some of the most exquisite examples of architecture still boggle the mind.
Think of the Pyramids in Egypt which are thousands of years old, the Colosseum (70 A.D.) in ancient Rome, and the magnificent Taj Mahal (1648) in India – each of these marvels has its own story that continues to capture our hearts and remind us of earlier times in our collective history that reflect the beautiful, heart-wrenching and sometimes darker aspects of what it means to be human.
The Roman Colosseum; FeaturedPics, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Some of the extraordinary modern-day architectural marvels include the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, the Eiffel Tower (1887) in France, and the Sydney Opera House (1973) in Sydney, Australia. Other contemporary buildings that have been dreamt into existence that changed the way we see buildings include the Louvre (1793), the Guggenheim Museum (1959), and the Glass House (1949-1995).
Like other kinds of art, architecture also has various styles that have emerged that reflect certain characteristics or design principles and to which various buildings can be classified. Some of the most well-known include:
The word “literature” is derived from the Latin word that is translated as “letters” and refers to the written word in particular. Language is a powerful and symbolic way of communicating, and writing is no exception. The earliest texts date back thousands of years to Mesopotamia, although it is thought that writing developed independently on different continents.
The first piece of literature with an identifiable author was some of the prayers written by the priestess Ur in Sumeria in Mesopotamia.
Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first recorded piece of literature, dating back to the Old-Babylonian Period, 2003-1595 BCE; Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
At different times and in different cultures, societies used the unique technology and resources they found in their unique, immediate natural environment to write. For example, hieroglyphics were written on rock and papyrus (handmade paper made from plants that grew in water). In Sumeria, where evidence of the first writer was found, the writing that emerged within this culture was done predominantly with wet clay and to communicate across long distances when cities began flourishing and trade became easier.
Words are the medium the writer manipulates in creative ways to stimulate an emotional response in readers.
Literature includes poetry, articles, novels, plays, folklore, myths, and legends as well as other forms of writing. It is most often divided into fiction and non-fiction, but this distinction can sometimes be inappropriate as some stories contain elements of both, especially in folklore and myth.
The history of literature is teeming with literary giants and their works of art, and it is therefore impossible to pinpoint the most influential or the best without resorting to subjective opinion. Libraries have kept millions of books around the world since ancient times – today there is a growing industry in electronic text, books, and the storage of data.
Music is created when there is an organization of sounds, as vibrations, that are put together to form an audible composition. Elements of a musical composition include harmony, timbre, melody, and rhythm. Although the presence of music in ancient civilization is harder to trace than visual art, remains of musical instruments have been found that are thousands of years old.
Music and sound created by the voice and/or instruments have played an important role in various cultures on all continents of the globe making it a universal feature of humanity.
Like paint, early instruments were made from a variety of natural resources that communities found within their vicinity, while today a vast selection of ready-made instruments are available for musicians to choose from that are classified into three groups: string (such as the violin and guitar), percussion (such as cymbals and the drums) and wind (such as the flute and saxophone).
While, originally, music was confined to their communities, thanks to modern developments in technology, today music from different places in the world is becoming more and more accessible to people in faraway places. In addition to folk music, there is a huge variety of genres in music that includes funk, blues, hip-hop, pop, rock, electronic, gospel, country, and indie to name a few.
Relative to the other art types discussed in this article, cinema is a fairly recent form of art. Instead of attributing the development of cinema to one inventor, many great minds contributed to the entrance of cinema into people’s lives as is the case with many great inventions and discoveries of our time.
Cinema first took the form of a “kinetoscope” in 1893, which was a contraption that enabled one person to see the motion picture at a time. The first public show was made in 1895 in Paris.
Early films were not as we know them today, and nor was the atmosphere in which they were broadcast. Visuals lasted only a few minutes and some of the content included comedy skits, news, and pictures of lands beyond the borders. Unlike cinema today, there was often much participation from the audience.
Interior of the Chicago cinema, opened in mid-1912 and destroyed by the bombing of February 22, 1944; Unknown author Unknown author, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
The progression of cinema into the immensely popular and accessible format we know today occurred within the space of a little over 100 years. Below are the major events that took place that made cinema more attractive to the public:
- 1891: Prototype of kinetoscope by the Edison Company
- 1893: The kinetoscope made its first public appearance
- 1895: Public audience by the Lumière brothers using their Cinématographe
- 1909: Color was introduced
At the turn of the century, much was afoot in the industry of cinema, with many new film industries emerging, especially in Europe and Russia. When they were first created they did not have sound but by the 1930s, most movies had sound.
Since then, the attendance rate has had an exponential increase, with a movement in the last few decades toward an increase in film accessibility in private spaces.
Theater is a performance art that usually includes a visual element that has been used for entertainment purposes for thousands of years. One of the most famous locations central to bringing Romans together for entertainment was the Colosseum which, although now in ruins, remains a testimony to the flourishing culture of the Roman Empire. Indeed, Rome in the 6th century BCE is seen as the earliest example of theater in the “western world”.
Reconstruction of the theater of Dionysus in Athens during Roman times; From the German 1891 encyclopedia Joseph Kürschner (editor): “Pierers Konversationslexikon”. Pierers Konversationslexikon. Siebente Auflage. Mit Universal-Sprachen-Lexikon nach Prof. Joseph Kürschners System. Union. (published by) Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft in Stuttgart, 1891. herausgegeben von (edited by) Joseph Kürschner., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
However, long before this oral storytelling, voice, sounds, and gestures were used to transmit important information from one generation to another before written language was invented. Evidence for visual story-telling goes back tens of thousands of years, but it is widely accepted that story-telling through sounds, song, dance, and charts formed an integral medium through which traditions were passed down and retained.
Theater is a unique form of art in the sense that it can combine several different forms of art in one theater production. A variety of artists can be involved in the range of complex elements that may be involved in a theater production, including costume and stage designers, musicians, actors, and writers.
Theater can take several forms such as puppetry, dance, circuses, magic shows, or plays.
The history of theater is rich and alive with the spectrum of human emotion that we have all experienced when witnessing the stories that are embodied in performance, whether in cinema, theater, or even spoken word. Genres include tragedy, comedy, and drama.
Although cinema has taken the world by storm within its relatively short lifespan, theater remains alive and well. Some famous modern-day theater productions include Lord of the Dance and The Lion King which were started in 1996 and 1997 respectively.
A scene from Disney’s theater production of The Lion King; Barne227, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Other Art Types
In this article, we have explored the seven different types of art that have permeated the boundaries of space and time, infiltrated our conceptions of temporality to embody an enduring creative spirit that is the heartbeat of human life.
After expanding upon the seven primary forms, it should be said that contemporary art has taken on new faces and forms that should not be excluded from any modern definition of art, with new artistic horizons being conquered in the realms of fashion, digital art, and graphic design and photography as three examples of recent trends in art that do not conform to the types of art discussed in this article but should nevertheless be taken into account.
Art has been around since the early days of humanity and has changed considerably over the centuries. The thread of creativity, expressed in the form of theatre, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, cinema, and literature, has continued to weave its way across the world and into the cracks of our imagination through the years. Art continues to bring color and life into an ever-changing world in a way that not only stimulates an intellectual response but which also touches our hearts.
Take a look at our different types of art webstory here!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Define Art?
Since humans started producing art thousands of years ago, the meaning of the word has become a topic of debate. The common element in all definitions of the word “art” is an element of creativity in the production of something that is accessible to the human senses or experience. Usually, art is visual, such as painting, drawing, or photography but it can appeal to other senses as well. Art can combine dimensions of functionality and aesthetics.
What Is the Importance of Art?
Art allows for creative expression and can bring beauty into built environments. It is also a medium through which social and political commentary and criticism can be communicated. Art in all its forms gives us insight into the social and cultural history of humanity and can bring people together in a community that is based on mutual enjoyment and creativity.
What Are the Seven Different Forms of Art?
There are many ways of categorizing different art forms, most people agree that sculpture, architecture, literature, theatre, cinema, painting, and music are the seven primary art forms, though this excludes other types of art such as photography and digital art.
What Is Form in Drawing?
Concerning the question of what is form in art, it should be differentiated from the seven forms of art, namely architecture, literature, sculpture, theater, music, painting, and cinema. Form in art on the other hand (including drawing), refers to a depiction of an object that has height, width, and depth – the way an object occupies space whether it is in two dimensions or three. Form is one of several elements in art, among others such as texture, value, color, and shape.