Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Art refers to any skillful practice although it tends to refer to the production of imaginative cultural outputs.

explanatory context

Art essentially means skill. However, more often than not the meaning of art (as in ‘artist’ or ‘the arts’) refers to a particular type of skill that relates to the production of imaginative (as opposed to basically practical) works.


Art usually encompasses painting, drawing, sculpture, music, literature.


The term ‘fine art’ is usually reserved for those arts that have a long tradition of academic analysis, and which encompass physical skill, such as painting, drawing, sculpture and, sometimes, music, but which are not regarded as the ‘useful arts’.


Useful arts are sometimes referred to by the less inflamatory term ‘applied arts’. These are usually such things as jewelry making, furniture making, glass ware production, engraving, interior decoration, graphic design, some forms of print making, pottery, ceramics, etc. The list of what falls into this category varies considerably. Engraving, for example, was at one time, and in some cases still is, expressly exluded as the work of artisans and not artists. An artisan being a skilled craft worker but not an artist. The difference supposedly hinging on the degree of imaginative creativity involved. The distinction between artist and artisan reflects the segmentation of the notion of art as skill and the reservation of the term art for only some imaginative processes of production of cultural objects.


Those arts which actually involve the moulding of physical substances are sometimes referred to as the plastic arts; which in some references also includes (some) applied arts.


Art sometimes has a much wider connotation to include everything outside the physical, chemical and biological sciences. Thus, history, geography, languages and the social sciences along with the fine and applied arts are sometimes referred to together as The Arts (as, for example, in Arts faculties in higher education institutions). This, however, tends to be a predominantly Anglo-Saxon perspective, which rather narrowly defines the sciences. In many other countries, history, geography, the social and political sciences and linguistics are incorporated among the sciences.


The term humanities tends to overlap with ‘The Arts’.


Art is sometimes contrasted with science. The contrast however can be misleading if it is taken to imply a radical separation in the way of working. Art is sometimes linked to imagination and individual caprice while science is linked to methodic prescription. Art and science actually adopt similar ways of working, both being a working out of problems, both using imagination, and both intending to add to the development of knowledge and enhancement of human life. The fundamental differences between art and science are twofold. First, art is not required to explicate methods with a view to replication (although, of course, ways of working are copied). Art is seen as fundamentally the production of unique products. Second, the approach to their subject matter differ. Science attempts to explain the physical or social world with a view to manipulating elements of it (often with a view to control), while art manipulates elements in the social world in order to imaginatively produce novel effects and products.


Art (with a capital A) is sometimes used in an abstract sense when it is closely linked to the notion of aesthetics. Thus Art has its own internal principles.

analytical review

Belton (1996) stated:

Any brief definition of art would oversimplify the matter, but we can say that all the definitions offered over the centuries include some notion of human agency, whether through manual skills (as in the art of sailing or painting or photography), intellectual manipulation (as in the art of politics), or public or personal expression (as in the art of conversation). Recall that the word is etymologically related to artificial -- i.e., produced by human beings. Since this embraces many types of production that are not conventionally deemed to be art, perhaps a better term for them would be visual culture. This would explain why certain preindustrial cultures produce objects which Eurocentric interests characterize as art, even though the producing culture has no linguistic term to differentiate these objects from utilitarian artifacts. Having said that, we are still left with a class of objects, ideas and activities that are held to be separate or special in some way. Even those things which become art even though they are not altered in any material way -- e.g., readymades -- are accorded some special status in a describable way...

associated issues


related areas

See also



Belton, R.J., 1996, ' What is Art?' available at, accessed 12 December 2016; not found 29 May 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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