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genre in the arts

Here, Electricka explains and explores the meaning and importance of the concept of genre in the arts. She offers a universal conceptual definition of genre in the arts, one that her cohort muses attest and subscribe to as well. She further maintains that any art form worthy of being called art adheres to her definition of genre, not just her muses.

what's art?

An exploration of Electricka's concept of genre in the arts requires first an understanding of what she means by art.

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Art is the quality, production, expression, or realm of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

A particular art is a field, class, or category of artistic endeavor involving subjects and modes of expression that are artistic according to a given set of aesthetic principles. Specific arts differ from one another according to such aesthetic principles as form, content, medium, type of expression, style, technique, etc.

So long as a particular expressive work or type of work adheres to a coherent set of aesthetic principles, it qualifies as being artistic, no matter what kind, form, or medium of expression it may adopt.

The given field of art to which a specific artistic piece belongs depends on the coherent set of aesthetic principles to which it conforms. The class or category of specific work of art—its kind of art or genre—is defined by the specific set of aesthetic principles it adheres to.

As a result, a specific instance of a dance, piece of music, architectural structure, or kind of acting may or may not be artistically successful, but it is an artistic creation nonetheless if it attempts to be beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance and if it conforms to a given set of coherent aesthetic principles.

Regardless of the success or failure of its specific works, a given field of expression or genre is an art form so long as a significant number of the works that adhere to its aesthetic principles are at least partly beautiful, significant, and appealing. For instance, when grouped and considered as a whole, dances comprise an art form; musical pieces comprise an art form; architecturally designed buildings comprise an art form; ceramic plates comprise an art form; even mimicry and other street performances are members of art forms.

And these generic principles apply equally to all of the arts.

about genre in (and out of) the arts

Genre extends to fields of endeavor other than the arts. Genres can be found almost everywhere one turns, wherever there are classes or groups of similar thingshardware stores, parts departments, lumber yards, airplane hangers, and auto showrooms. But genre is an especially important aspect of the creative arts—fine arts, music, film, and literature.

The English word genre is derived directly from the French and Old French, where it means kind, and from the Latin word genus, which means race, stock, kind, and gender. Genre is a noun that can show up in any field of endeavor, but is especially widespread and important in the arts.

Although genre can be traced to the Latin word genus, which is a logical term for a kind or sort of thing, the word genre first appeared in the language of the art world starting as late as the 17th century. What is a genre in the arts?

In the world of arts, a genre is a class or category of artistic works that exhibit certain key aesthetic characteristics. Any work of art that that belongs to a given genre belongs to it by virtue of the fact that it possesses certain key aesthetic characteristics. To name a work's genre is to describe, define, typify, and tag it with these essential aesthetic characteristics.

Genres are found in music, literature, painting, film, television, or in many other artseven in video games! For example, in music there are genres of classical, folk, rock, heavy metal, pop, blues, big band, etc.; in literature, there are genres of comedy, tragedy, history; in fine arts, there are genres of still life, sculpture, portrait, landscape, etc.; and in film, there are genres of documentary, animation, thriller, horror, etc.

You can get a good idea of the nature of a genre in the arts is by walking into a bookstore like a Barnes & Noble or Borders or by visiting a web site that sells books, CDs, and DVDs, such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble. There you will find physical or logical shelves or islands of books and other media that are divided into sections. Look around such a store and you'll see placards above the sections bearing names like romance, poetry, horror, geography (maps), science fiction, history, mystery, art, religion, cooking, occult, self-help, computers, music, math, movies, science, and more. The names on these placards are genres and the shelves contains works that belong to the genres. Walk into a music store and you'll see the same kind of thingsdepartments for different kinds or types of musicclassical, popular, jazz, rock, and many more.

the function of genre in the arts

The aesthetic characteristics that define a genre are shared by every work that belongs to it. Therefore, as far as their aesthetic characteristics are concerned all works that belong to the same genre are similar to each other. This similarity allows similar works of art to be typecast and grouped into classes.

Provided you are familiar with a genre's key aesthetic characteristics, once you know the genre of a specific work of art, you know much about the aesthetic nature of that work. Knowing a work's genre gives you insight into the ways in which it resembles works of its own genre and departs from works of other genres. For example:

  • A folk dance is a dance that originated among and has been transmitted through the common people.
  • Heavy metal is aggressive and heavily amplified rock music, commonly performed by groups that wear spectacular or bizarre costumes.
  • Film Noir is a motion picture with an often grim urban setting, photographed in somber tones and permeated by a feeling of disillusionment, pessimism, and despair.
  • A detective story is a fictitious prose narrative about a puzzling crime that is unraveled by the central character, who is a detective.

Genre is a convenient way to identify, talk about, analyze, teach, study, and point out groups of similar or dissimilar works of art. Genre is a way to separate one art or one kind of art from another. It helps organize the arts. When you walk into a book store you can look at the signs on the shelves and know just what aisle to visit to find books on science fiction. Because of genre, you can quickly select a menu on your television screen to separate the horror movies from dramas so you can quickly find a movie to download.

But genre is more than that. mastering the concept of genre is an essential precursor for full understanding of the nature of art. Knowing concepts like genre, period or time, place, form, fiction, non-fiction, prose, poem, and other literary devices is precursory to learning about the arts.

subgenres and hybrids

Genres in the arts may be further subdivided into: 1) subgenres and, 2) hybrids.

A subgenre is an arts genre whose aesthetic characteristics are a subset of another arts genre. For example, sometimes the genre called speculative fiction is subdivided into subgenres called science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, alternate history, and magic realism. The aesthetic characteristics of each of these subdivisions are a subset of the aesthetic characteristics of speculative fiction.

Most classification schemes are or can be made hierarchical, and genres in the arts demonstrate this hierarchical ability as well. In the arts, a genre is a class or category of artistic works that exhibit certain key aesthetic characteristics. A subgenre is a genre that exhibits all the aesthetic characteristics exhibited by the genre plus additional characteristics that make it unique.

In the Speculative Fiction example, each of the subgenres names a class of artistic works that speculate about worlds that are unlike the real world in some important, specific way. This fact marks the works in a subgenre as a special kind of speculative fiction, one that is different from the works in other subgenres. The works in each subgenre are different from one another because they speculate about different kinds of worlds. Works of science fiction speculate about the world of science, works of fantasy fiction speculate about the world of magic or magical creatures, works of horror fiction speculate about the world of scary things, etc.

As in other hierarchical classification schemes, a subgenre can be a subgenre of a subgenre. Each subgenre occupies or belongs to a given level in its hierarchical tree. In the Speculative fiction example, there are two levels of hierarchy: 1) the speculative fiction level, and 2) the subgenre level.

A hybrid genre is a genre that is derived and bears the aesthetic characteristics of two heterogeneous, incongruous genres. For example, a tragicomedy is a fictional work that combines aspects of tragedy and comedy.


genre painting

The word genre is now used in art circles to describe a particular style of painting called genre painting. This painting style originated with the ancient Egyptians and goes back thousands of years, but genre painting as the term is used today developed particularly in Holland at the time in the 1600s. The genre painting style emphasizes small scenes from the everyday life of ordinary, peasant people in work or recreation, depicted in a generally realistic manner.

The Muse cautions you not to equate the special way the term genre is used in genre painting with the broader meaning of genre in the arts. In particular, please don't equate genre painting with the term literary genre.

more about genre in the arts

To get a better idea of the nature of genre in the arts, Electricka suggests that you explore some of these pages at the Wikipedia web site:

  • Explore film genres at the Wikipedia page called Film Genre: click here.
  • Explore music genres at the Wikipedia page called Music Genre: click here.
  • Explore genre painting at the Wikipedia page called Genre Works: click here.

ETAF Recommends


literary genres

The principles of genre are the same in the different art forms, but the specifics play out differently from one art form to another.

Examine in greater depth and detail how genre works in the arts by visiting the feature called Literary Genres. There The Muse Of Literature explores authors, bodies of work, and selected individual works strongly associated with literary genres. The Muse also explores issues and questions related to the subject of genre in literature.

  • Explore the subject of literary genre. See how genre in literature fits into the subject of genre generally. Visit The Muse Of Literature's feature called Literary Genre: click here.




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