Art, Arts, The Arts? What Art Thou?

Below is an email I sent to a student on the clarification of the terms ‘art’, ‘arts’ and ‘the arts’.

Using definitions from the Oxford Dictionary:

1. Art [mass noun]: (1) the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power; (2) works produced by human creative skill and imagination; (3) creative activity resulting in the production of paintings, drawings, or sculpture

Sentence examples:
(1) She studied art in London.
(2) You can find a nice collection of art on display now at The Substation.
(3) I absolute hated art in secondary school.

Question example: ‘A work of art can never be valued just in financial terms.’ Discuss. (2002)

2. The Arts [n.]: the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.

Question example: ‘Public money should not be wasted on the arts; they should support themselves.’ Discuss. (2000)

This is arguably the most common of the three terms as it is encompasses broad forms of creative activity (i.e. visual arts, performing arts, literary arts etc.) unlike ‘Art’, which mainly deals with fine aesthetic works of skill and craft.

3. Arts [n.]: subjects of study primarily concerned with human creativity and social life , such as languages, literature, and history (as contrasted with scientific or technical subjects) E.g. Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences 

Question example: Which is more important for your society, science or arts? (‘Arts’ is usually compared with ‘science’) 

So if you are attempting a question that compares science and arts, please do not limit your discussion to paintings and dancing.


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