Artistic Categories

This article examines the distinctions between fine art, pop art, and the decorative or "craft" arts.

Visual arts are generally divided into categories that make distinctions based on the context of the work. For example, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa would not fall into the same category as, say, a graphic poster for a rock concert. Some artworks can be placed in more than one category. Here are the main categories:

Fine Art

This category includes drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs and, in the last decade, new media that are in museum collections and sold through commercial art galleries. Fine art has a distinction of being some of the finest examples of our human artistic heritage. Here is where you will find Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, also ancient sculpture, such as the Gandhara Buddha from India, and stunning ceramics from different cultures and time periods.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona Lisa, c. 1503-19. Oil on poplar. 30.” The Louvre, Paris.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona Lisa, c. 1503-19. Oil on poplar. 30". The Louvre, Paris

Gandhara Buddha from India

Gandhara Buddha, India

Popular Art (Pop Art)

This category contains the many products and images we are exposed to every day. In the industrialized world, this includes posters, graffiti, advertising, popular music, television and digital imagery, magazines, books and movies (as distinguished from film, which we will examine in a different context later in the course). Also included are cars, celebrity status and all the ideas and attitudes that help define the contemporary period of a particular culture.

Handbills posted on telephone poles or the sides of buildings are graphic, colorful and informative, but they also provide a street level texture to the urban environment most of us live in. Public murals serve this same function. They put an aesthetic stamp on an otherwise bland and industrialized landscape.

Street handbills

Street handbills

Public Mural, Seattle 

Public Mural, Seattle

Decorative Arts

Sometimes called "craft", this is a category of art that shows a high degree of skilled workmanship in its production. Such works are normally associated with utilitarian purposes, but can be aesthetic works in themselves. Handmade furniture and glassware, fine metalworking and leather goods are other examples of decorative arts.

Ceramic bowl, Mexico, date unknown, painted clay. Anahuacalli Museum, Mexico City

Source: Christopher Gildow, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2021, 9:26 AM