Ashok R. KELKAR, Pune, India







This presentation is not aprioristic and so is not oblivious of the sometimes awkward historical realities.  After all it is a faithful census.  And yet it is universalistic and so keenly aware of the various possibilities of man’s life of the various possibilities of man’s life of the arts.  It is a conceptual census, and not a simple historical report.


            How does a work of art exist at all?  What is it made of?  What is the situs (or locus) of its existence?  A work of art exists at two levels—at the level of material and at the level of medium.  (This distinction is prefigured I Kant.) Thus, a painting can be thought of as pigments mixed with oil smeared onto a stretched piece of canvas; it is at this level that it can be said to have been produced and be bought or insured against fire or theft.  But then, clearly, not every paint-daubed canvas-piece is a painting.  That is why nobody would call paint and canvas the medium of painting at best they constitute the vehicle material of painting.  I speak of vehicle material in order to distinguish it from another kind of material.  A painting can also be thought of as made out of its content material or experimental material.  It is a representational (or figurative) painting, then it is relatively easy to say what its content is, what it is about—a portrait, a landscape, a still life, and so forth.  But eve if it is an abstract (or non-representational) painting, one could still meaningfully ask the question-what is the painting about?  What does it show?  Again, however, the painting has eluded us.  Not every painted figure that shows something is a painting—otherwise every painted map will be a painting.  The painting as such exists at the level of medium-at that level the painting presents line and shape, colour, light and shade as they operate within painting space.  These constitute the medium of painting.  It is at this level that the painting has been created (not merely produced); interpreted (not merely annotated or figured out); and appraised (not merely priced).


            A work of art, then, is open to the following discriminations as one looks for the situs of its existence:


            1.  Material:


                        a. vehicle.

                        b.  content.


            2.  Medium.


            The medium is what imparts form to the vehicle material as well as to the content material, imposes a pattern or shape on the material, and indeed serves to blur the line between vehicle and content.  The vehicle does not convey the content, the vehicle embodies the content—at least in art at its best.  It is the medium, again, that brings the material home or projects it to the recipient.  It is at the level of medium that one assigns a work of art to a certain art form—it is at that level that it is received as painting or sculpture or music or poetry or whatever.


            There is no such thing as a mixed art form.  One art can enter into another art as vehicle material (as when music enters into dance), as content material (as when, in some of Degas’s work, dance enters into painting), or even at the level of medium (as when a novel like Sartre’s Les Jeux Sont faits gives a certain cinematic feel or quality).  But there is never any doubt as to whether to respond to a given work as a poem or a prose work; an Italian opera is really theatric music, but a Marathi SaṁgītanāÉka is really musical

Theatre; a Russian ballet is really theatric dance, but dance incorporated in a play remains vehicle material.


            But there is no denying that various art forms together form a network with crisscrossing resemblances and differences.  An art form can differ from another art form along a variety of axes or dimensions:


            1. A piece of art has a specific vehicle, a typical content.


         2. The result is a specific medium.


            3. The vehicle and the content may be evenly balanced; the vehicle may dominate              content; or the content may dominate the vehicle.


      4. A piece of art may be seen as a spell of activity, a becoming or happening or doing or as an object made or both.  A text is an object that leads to a performance.  A performance is a spell of activity that may be scripted or improvised.


      5. A piece of art is received by the recipient through its vehicle.


            a. The channel of reception may be purely sensory, visual or audial or

audio-visual as the case may be, or it may be verbal or ideational as well.  Thus, poetry is audible-intelligible, but prose literature is intelligible-the audible/visible input false to be an integral part of the work.


b. The reception may be structured over space or time or space-time.  Thus, poetry and prose literature are received over time, but concrete and graphic poetry are received over space-time.


So art-forms stand distinguished from each other by virtue of –


      1a. Specific vehicle.


        b.  Typical content.


      2.  Specific medium.


      3.  Vehicle-content balance.


            4.  Activity-object status.


            5  a. Specific channel.


                b. Structuring of reception.


These alphanumeric signs will be used below to save space.


            Rather than setting out art-forms in a list and a classificatory grid, it will be wise to set them out in a number of loose-knit families.  The art-forms may range from the ones with divided loyalties (the piece hasn’t made up its mind as it were whether to remain simply art or to claim some other status as well) to those content to be just art.


            I.  The arts of design: design of products (for example, clothes, fabrics, toys, furniture) and tools (for example, hammers, daggers, typewriters, vehicles), design of interiors (for example, homes, offices) and exteriors (for example, landscaping, planning of towns and cities), architecture (for example, temples, houses, bridges), calligraphy, topography, book-design, design of displays (for example, museums, exhibitions, commercial display).


1a.  Display of structured material and environment.


1b.  Coping with reality or life, a certain vision of the environment, messages,


2.  Masses, textures, volumes, space.


3. Decorative (vehicle-dominated), functional (content-dominated), expressive (balanced), communicative and propogative (content-dominated).


5  a. Visual, visual-tactile.


5  b. Space-time (space-dominated).


Note: The culinary art and perfumery together constitute a closely related ˊminor art ˋ

family—the arts of delectation.


II.         The arts of spectacle: spectacle theatre (for example, pantomime, puppetry,             shadow play, vaudeville, revue, musical comedy, tableau vivant), spectacle

            arts (for example, acrobatics, animal show, magic show, peep-show, slide show,             son et lumiere, pyrotechnic show), advertisement film, silent cinema (theatrical,



 1a.      Display of other art-forms, often in combination. 


1b.              Response to life, understanding of reality and life, coping with reality and life.


2.            Spectacles, theatrical gesture, against an arena.


3.            Recreative or celebrative (vehicle-dominated), communicative (content-dominated), theatrical (balanced),


4.         object more than performance (scripted or improvised).


5a.       Visual rather than audial or verbal.


5b.       Space-time.


III.       The arts of language: audible literature (poetry, song), visible literature (graphic and concrete poetry), intelligible literature (prose fiction and essay), verbal theatre (prose drama, poetic drama, street play, radio play, television play), verbal storied cinema (feature sound film, television film, verbal storied picture strip), cartoon (verbal or non-verbal).


1a.         Intelligible language use (its sounds, forms, meanings) as text and gesture, rhythm, melody, the spoken word, the sung word, visible, intelligible, and audible gesture, mobile visible form and sound, displaced and enriched symbol use.


1b.         Reference, expressivity, impressivity, fittingness in languages use, understanding of and response to reality and life, coping with reality and life.


2.         Textured and structured meaning and gesture in the lyric mode, the narrative mode, the dramatic mode, and the cinematic mode against a scene.


3.         Poetic mode (balanced), prose mode (content-dominated), propogative mode (content-dominated), procreative (vehicle-dominated).


4.         Text and scripted or improvised performance (balanced or text-dominated or performance-dominated).


5a.         Audial, visual, audiovisual, verbal in various combinations.


5b.       Time or space-time as the case may be (under time serialization is a possibility (for intelligible literature and cinema.


IV.       The arts for display: abstract and representational graphic art (painting, drawing, etching, etc.), abstract and representational sculpture (still or moving, free-standing or embedded as the case may be), still and moving photography (abstract or representational as the case may be), non-verbal picture strip, verbal non-storied cinema (documentary, educational, propogative films), collage and collage sculpture.


1a.         Surface, pigment, light, movement, solidity and depth.


1b.         Abstract or representational interpretation of reality, response to reality.


2.         Line and shape, light and shade, texture and colour, masses and volumes in space (two or three dimensional as the case may be).


3.         Abstract mode (vehicle-dominated), representational mode (balanced or content-dominated as the case may be).


4.         Object.


5a.         Visual or visual-verbal the  case may be.


5b.         Space or space-time as the case may be.


V.           The arts for performance: verbal music (as distinct form song), non-verbal music (instrumental, vocal exercise like tarāna or pahanta, abstract dance (classical Indian n¤tta, good deal of modern, popular, and folk dance), representational dance (the Russian ballet, Indian classical n¤tya dance and song theatre), theatrical music (the Italian opera).


1a.          Tone, volume, sound quality, gesture and posture (visible, also audible or intelligible in some cases), language material, arts of design.


1b.         Response to and interpretation of life.


2.         Rhythm, harmony, melody in time; rhythm and force in arena (for dance).


3.         Abstract mode (vehicle-dominated), representational mode (balanced or vehicle-dominated, text).


4.         Scripted or improvised performance.


5a.         Audial or audio-visual as the case may (also audial-intelligible, audio-visual-intelligible),


5b.          Time or space-time as the case may be.

VI.          The art of criticism: criticism of literature, music, and so forth.


1a.         Language in the prose mode (rarely poetic mode).


1b.         Response to and interpretation of art.


2.         Understanding and Response.


3.         Content-dominated.


4.            Text.


5a.         Verbal


5b.          Time.


            At the farther end of  the spectrum some people find it possible to add the family of the arts of recreation in which to include gymnastic, outdoor games, and indoor games like billiards or chess.  While Olympic floor exercises, Spanish bull-fighting, and the ambience of European football games often comes close to the arts of spectacle, it is misleading to blur the line between play as (sports and games) and play as creative work (art properly so called).  The democratic impulse is fine, but it mustn’t be allowed to fudge our thinking!


            Every civilization tends to have its enumeration of major and minor arts.  Thus, calligraphy features as a major act in Chinese or Islamic civilization but as a minor art in Indian or European civilizations.  Broadly speaking, the arts of design, of delectation, and of spectacle tend to be seen as minor arts.


            But something like a major-minor stratification cuts across these arts in most civilizations.  Thus, Indian civilization used to distinguish between at least three layers :


            (1) What can be enjoyed by the refined (šiâa /budha/nāgara jana) and       conforms to the discipline (šāstra, mārga ).


            (2)  What can be enjoyed by the refined but, being rooted in the third layer,               does not wholly conform to the discipline.


            (3)   What can be enjoyed not only by the refined in their lighter moments but even b the others (ltarejana, prā k¤tajana) and is typically (dešya) in appeal.


            Contemporary civilization recognizes a category of what cannot ordinarily be enjoyed by the refined but is regularly enjoyed by the others—the ‘mass’ art of pulp novels, calendar art, pop music, or commercial cinema.  Indeed the refined and the others have invented words for mutual name-calling—kitsch art and ‘highbrow’ or ‘arty’ art.  At the same time the refined have singled out one category of popular art for their enjoyment—folk art, the regional art of pre-industrial peasants, artisans, and ‘primitive’ people.  This yields a three-tier scheme :


            (1)  ‘highbrow’ art


            (2)  ‘lowbrow’ art


            (3)  folk art


with two intermediate categories:


            (1a)  ‘popularized’ highbrow art—such as science fiction, ‘refined’ crime fiction              (Poe, Chandler, Simenon), ‘intermediate’ cinema, Sugama or upa-šāstrīya              saṁgīta (contrast this with ‘promoted’ low art in India).


            (2a)  ‘commercialized’ folk art-such as jazz, ‘country’ music for mass             dissemination. 


Do such socially accepted stratifications have any conceptual significance for a census of the present sort?  Or do they merely remain social history of art?


            Let us begin by agreeing to a shorthand—‘high art’ for sacred or elite or repertory art and ‘low art’ for folk or popular or mass-consumed art and by conceding that there can be poor high art and good low art.  What is low art for one generation or people may get accepted as high art for anther generation or people.  (Consider what has happened to some of the ‘folk epics’.) Each generation decides what to save from the earlier generations—the works so saved constitutes its repertory.  A frozen repertory is a canon. Again in good low art can be enjoyed by the refined in their more relaxed moments and some good high art can be genuinely responded to by the other people I their more serious moments.  In sum, high and low art is not a distinction between high-quality and poor-quality art.  Perhaps it is not a distinction at all, but rather a recognition of the two ends of a spectrum—a polarity.


            The polarity of major and minor art forms (or of fine and useful arts, if you like) and the polarity of high and low art are both socially accepted realties. But they are conceptually rooted in certain considerations that have a bearing on the very nature of art.  (To speak of pure and applied art is of course a singularly inappropriate way of conceptualizing this polarity!)


            The first consideration is that art is inseparable from and continuous with craft.  Actually art is robust enough to assimilate even mechanization and technology as in architecture and cinema.  Many artists are proud of their craft.  The artist as well as the craftsman both exercise skills rooted in private knowledge, personal observation and imitation, and constant innovation rather than skills rooted in the implementation of precise rules controlling the values of each variable.  (Indeed excess of discipline or šāstra can be the death of high art.)  So it should not come as a surprise that an art object lacking an obvious practical purpose may also figure as extrinsically useful.  Low art claims so much energy and resources and loyalty precisely because it helps us to cope with reality and life by satisfying certain insistent and universal human hungers, namely, stimulus hunger, pattern hunger, and interest hunger.  Firecrackers and bright lights, work rhythms and tidying up a house, gossip and mass-consumed ‘human interest’ stories are some of the non-artistic ways of satisfying these hungers.  Low are satisfies them at a deeper level—but often not at a level that is deep enough for the refined people.  Thus, popular verbal theatre often lapses into spectacle theatre—as with certain types of melodrama; and popular graphic art into interior design—as with certain types of calendar art.  But such lapses do not show low art at its best.  Art forms and traditions need to be understood and appraised when they are at their best.  Aberrations can be conceptually misleading.


            The second consideration is that art is inseparable from and continuous with man’s attempts to understand and interpret reality and life.  Actually art is delicate engouh to assimilate myth and ritual, philosophy and mysticism.  Art, both low and high, is therefore often the celebration of what is shared—say, the shared glory of a golden past or the shared hardship of a time of distress or struggle or simply a shard life-style, even shared violation of that life-style (as in Holi or carnival or bacchanalia).  But art, preeminently high art, is also the articulation of the personal and innovative mode of perception (as in avant-grade art and the art of deep human needs of conformation as well as subversion.  High art claims the energy and loyalty of the best minds precisely by being deeply sub


            However,  a caveat to this argument for the deep conceptual roots for the polarity of Minor/Major art-forms and the polarity of Low/High art-traditions is called for.  Art can be robust and delicate at the same time.  Great art, whether high or low, transcends these polarities through being accessible at multiple levels and through being at once deeply confirmative and deeply subversive.  Consider this instance of great low art, a popular saying of the Maya people of Central America:


            For in the baby lies the future of the world:

            Mother  must hold the baby close so that the baby knows that it is his world

            Father must take him to the highest hill so that he can see what his world is like


Art can be both mother and father—even at the same time.


            Any encyclopedia of the arts worth the name must do justice to both Minor and Major art-forms, both Low and High art-traditions, and both good and great art works.




obstetric/non-representational (opp. Representational /figurati amūrta


alphanumeric sign  var¸āka-cihna


animation cetan ī-kanra (animated sa-cetnana)


annotation/exegesis ippanī, īkā


appraisal mūlyā´kana


architecture vāstu- šilpa


arena a´gana/a´gana


art form kalā-vidhā


art object/performance/work kalā-vastu/prayoga/k¤ti


art of criticism samī- kalā


arts for display pradaršana-jīvī kalā


arts for performance prayoga- jīvī kalā


arts of delectation āsvāda- jīvī kalā


arts of design ārkalpana-kalā


arts of language sam̄jñāpana- jīvī kalā


arts of spectacle vlsmaya- jīvī kalā


audial, audiable šravya, šruti-gamya


audio-visual d¤š-šravya, d¤âti- šruti-gamya


axis/dimension akâa/parimā¸a, āyāma


balanced saṁtulita


calligraphy sulekhana-kalā


channel vāhinī


cinema 1. citra-paa            2. (of. Picture strip) calat-citra-paa


colour ra´ga


communicative sam̄jñāpanalakâī


content/experimental material āšaya-dravya


conveying (opp. Embodying) vahana


coping abhihāvana


craft kaušala


creation (opp. Production) sarjana (rather than s¤ jana), s ¤âī


dance nartana-kal (rather than n¤tta, n¤tya)


decorative šobhā-lakâī


displaced symbol lākâa¸ika pratīka


dominant pradhāna, –dominated- pradhāna


embodying (opp. Conveying) mūrtimattā


enriched symbol  vyañjaka pratīka


expressivity āviâkāra-sādhakatā


family kula


fittingness prasan̅gānurūpatā


form rūpa


functional vyavahāra-lakâī


gesture a´ga-calana


graphic art citra –kalā ( ra´ga, rekhā,  ra´ga-rekhā as the case may be)


high art budha-jana-lakâī  kalā


impressivity saṁskāra-sādhaka


improvised (opp. scripted) samaya-sūcita


intelligible/ideational bodha-gamya


interest hunger vinodana-pipāsā


interior and exterior design parisara-šilpa


interpretation vyākhyāna


level of material dravya-stara


level of medium mādhyama-stara


line and shape ākāra-rekhā


light and shade chāyā-prakāša


low art sarva-jana-lakâī kalā


maker of art kalā-virmā¸a-kartā


mass art bahujana- lākâī


masses (opp. Volumes) ghanākāra


mixed art form mišra-kalā-vidhā


mode v¤tti


moving/mobile (opp. Still/stabile) cala


music gāyana-vādana-kalā, saṁgta- kalā


mysticism bheda-vilopa-bhāva (rather than gūha-vāda )


myth divya-kathā  (rather than purā-kathā,  mithaka)


network  jāla-racanā


pantomime mkābhinaya


panttern hunger  a¤kti-pipāsā


phonography dhvani-mudra¸a


phototgraphy parkāša-citra¸a


picture of stip sthira-citra-paa


picture and tool design vastu-šilpa


production (opp. Creation) utpādana


projection prakâepaa, samarp¸a


propogative pracāra-lakâī


reality vāstava


receipient of art kalā-graha¸a-kartā


recreative rañjana-lakâī


reference nirdeša


representational/figurative (opp. Abstract/non-representational) samūrta


response pratikriyā


rhythm pravāha-laya


ritual divya-vidhi


scene pariveša


scripted (opp. Improvised) phya-sūcita


sculpture mūrti- šilpa


sensory indriya-gamya


situs/locus of existence astiva-kakâā

song gīta


space to two/three dimensions dvi-miti/tri-miti sthalāvakāša


space-time sthala-kalāvakaša


specifio višiâa, vyavacchedaka


spectacle theatre pradaršana-nātya


still/stabile (opp. Moving/mobile) sthira


stimulus-hunger cetana-pipāsā


storied kathā-yukta


structure 1. racanā, 2. (opp. Texture) sthūla-racanā


structuring of reception graha¸a-racanā


tactile sparša-gamya


text hya (not saṁhitā, of. Corpus hya-saṁhitā


texture (opp. Structure) sūkma-racan


theatric dance abhinta nartana-kalā, sābhinaya -kalā


theatric music abhinta saṁgīta kalā,  sābhinaya saṁgīta -kalā


time kālāvakāša


tone svara-māna, sura (rather than svara)


typical abhijāpaka


typography mudrākara-kalā


understanding bodhana


vehicle material vāhana-dravya, sādhana-dravya


verbal šabda-gamya


visible, visual d¤šya, d¤â¶i-gama


volume dhavni-garimā


volumes (opp. Masses) avakāškāra







            This was presented at an international workshop on conceptual structures and Model for the Encyclopedia of the Arts at Indira Gandhi national Centre For the Arts, New Delhi, March 1992.  It has remained unpublished.