How Art is Organized on ArtGrok

How Art is Organized on ArtGrok


This website has a point of view, philosophically speaking, but has no point of view, artistically speaking. As a result, all artworks of quality are welcome on this site, as long as they satisfy an objective meaning of what art is. There are no stylistic requirements for this site. Whether one tends towards painterly or realist painting, verismo or baroque opera, film noir or film comedy, and all the rest, all such artworks have a place in ArtGrok, as long as they are excellent art. Artistically ArtGrok is a wide-open site allowing unlimited styles under its roof. However, philosophically speaking this site is not open to opposing principles -- this website is based on the absolute principles that…

  • art can be defined, and
  • standards for quality of artworks can be defined.

Ayn Rand defined art as a selective re-creation of reality that is created by an artist from his views and his judgments about human nature and about the nature of reality. For a full discussion of this way of defining art, see her Art and Cognition in The Romantic Manifesto.

For the standards used on this site see Standards for ArtGrok Artwork Entries, and see the above-mentioned Art and Cognition. Also visit our sister website,, to read a related essay, Objectivity and Subjectivity in Art which provides further details on both the definition of art and how to judge artworks.

Artistically speaking – this website recognizes that the unlimited variations of artworks (properly defined) and of people’s emotional reactions to them arises from the unlimited individuality of human beings. While there are standards for what is allowed to be exhibited on ArtGrok, there are no personal criteria of the moderators that limit what is allowed. The moderators of this site, like all others interested in the arts, have definite viewpoints and preferences in the Thematic arts, the Decorative arts, Experiential arts, and Product-Design arts, such preferences do not determine what is shown on this site. Rather it is what the users of this site choose to put on display. This will determine its overall character and direction, artistically speaking. If more people prefer to identify naturalistic novels as opposed to romantic novels, so be it; or Christian themes in paintings as opposed to pagan themes, so be it; or Egyptian statuary over Italian Renaissance sculpture, so be it; or Mahler over Rachmaninoff, so be it; or Walt Whitman over Shakespeare, so be it; or Christopher Wren over Frank Lloyd Wright, so be it; All are welcome as long as they meet the minimum philosophical standards and quality standards this site is based on.

Thematic Artworks

The Thematic arts, commonly known as the fine arts, are well-known artforms that have the following basic qualities:

  • These arts present to the viewer/listener/reader, in an emotional form, a subconscious or conscious judgment by the artist about the nature of the world, and man’s place in such a world.
  • What is communicated directly, emotionally, can, with some reflection, be identified explicitly as the Theme of the work. The theme of an artwork is the abstract meaning of an artwork, the central idea or "point" of the work. It is a simple statement of the metaphysical viewpoint of the artwork's creator, and if the work is clear, the viewer can name that theme from what is shown. Metaphysical means: "an attitude or judgment about the nature of the world, and man’s place in such a world."

This central feature, that a Thematic Artwork emotionally communicates a judgment about reality, is the key feature that determines the way this website is organized. This feature is what distinguishes a Thematic Artwork from a Decorative art or Product-Design art or especially, an Experiential artwork. This feature of certain artworks explains why "Thematic" is a more accurate way to name the Fine arts, as the major type of artworks that have some significant world-view meaning that perceptually and emotionally immerses the art beholder. Various arts that aren't traditionally called “Fine” arts, (e.g., quality TV drama, ice dancing, garden design) are in some instances "fine", i.e., strongly thematic, so rather than force this "fine art" tradition on a particular group of art categories, it is better to name all appropriate art categories for their prominent feature -- that they carry within them a strong psychological/philosophical metaphysical theme.

In the art theory that is the intellectual foundation of this site (Ayn Rand’s Objectivist esthetics), the key issue that names the wondrous category of human works, the Thematic Arts, is that in expressing some significant feature of what the world is imagined to be like, according to the artist’s judgment of the world, the artist is providing a crucial emotional and conceptual service for mankind. He is cutting through all the complicated day-to-day minutiae of life, and distilling selected details into a single image: a painting, sculpture or building, a poem, or novel, a musical work or play or film or opera or ballet. This work is a physical, perceptual product, that makes real, immediate and concrete for you (the beholder) the artist’s sense of what life is really like. Such thematic works makes real an ideal (whether positive or negative) of what life should be like.

There are additional features of the Thematic arts,

  • That the artist by his very act of creation is necessarily being selective about what parts of reality he uses to accomplish his goal. These selections can be subject-matter choices in the visual arts, or can be melodies and musical tone themes in musical works, or character details in novels, or word rhythms and patterns in poetry.
  • That this emotional communication is intended by the creator of the work (the artist/composer/writer). The intention may be unidentified or identified by the artist, that's not crucial, but in either case that intention must come through clearly in the work.
  • That this emotional connection is done with the means specially suited to the medium chosen by the artist; that a painter uses the subject and style to achieve his emotional sum, and not symbols or narrative effects, that are unsuited to a visual art; that a playwright imbues his characters with the qualities that will be directly grasped rather than simply asserting what their characters are like; that a ballet choreographer uses stylized human movement to create the emotion he wants the audience to feel, and not pantomime and symbolism.

Once this idea of the Thematic Arts is clear, it is easier to realize that all other artistic activity that artists have created throughout history falls into a few other categories that are distinct from the Thematic Arts.

ArtGrok organizes these other Art types in three sections:

Experiential Arts:

These are the many artworks that share the same media (oils, musical notes, words, actors, dancers...) with the Thematic Arts, but that do not exhibit any significant thematic judgment about the nature of the world, or of man’s relation to the world. Many paintings, musical works, buildings, operas, plays, etc. were not conceived or created with any intended "statement" or metaphysical idea about the world or human nature.

For example, an illustration for a magazine may be a beautiful drawing of a man, or woman, or a spaceship, but if it is simply for illustrative purposes, and has no theme -- no fundamental point of view that you can name -- then it needs a different category. Such a delightfully experienced work can still be appreciated for its beauty, its skill, its ingenuity. Yet, since its pleasure is primarily a perceptual, physical pleasure, with no deeper, philosophical, conceptual component, it is best to be able to directly enjoy it for what it is. Some works weren’t intended to have any significant philosophical tone. We call these Experiential, because the main point is the perceptual pleasure of the sights or sounds or characters of the work, not any deeper point.

For example: a sculpture of an angel, as the Renaissance and Baroque Italians so much loved to produce – they loved to make them for their harmonious, lovely aspects, not because the angels depicted some metaphysical view. (There are exceptions, but here we are describing the myriad lovely statues in thousands of churches all over Europe).

For example: the way many modern representational sculptors make intentionally “cute” sculptures of children or dogs or cats, which are done for sentimental reasons. The focus on the pleasant features of such children or animals, not some grander point about the world. (Again there are exceptions that are thematic).

For example: a song about dancing at the beach – that is a simple rhythmic repeating few phrases scored to a catchy beat. It can give pleasure to millions of listeners, yet since its purpose isn’t to "say" any special thing about human nature – it should be enjoyed for the simple pleasure it provides. This is naturally very different than a long, complex musical composition that has a complex theme and variations that plays out in great detail.

In Experiential art the perceptual experience is primary. There is no underlying significant concept or idea (theme) that you take away as part of the experience. (Technically, all thematic artworks are a perceptual experience and thus are experiential emotional works as well but what makes them a special subset is their evident philosophical thematic character.) Experiential works are a pleasurable experience, a sensual delight arising from aspects of the composition, or colors or textures, or melodies, or story lines, etc. with no other claim to some abstract theme.

This distinction of Thematic and Experiential is a crucial assist mentally, when you consider works that may appear to be in the same category because, for example, two paintings are both in a museum. One painting is a metaphysical work that hits you with some soul-stirring meaning or theme, while another painting -- just as well-made -- shows some subject in an entirely naturalistic and literal manner that makes the work closer to the pleasure in an accomplished photograph.

To avoid the confusion of putting such radically different works in the same category, traditionally called "fine art painting", we need to have a category that lets artists naturally have their work fall into whichever category makes sense emotionally and conceptually. Even the same fine artist often made works that were without any intended theme or soul-stirring point of view – it was simply created for a straightforward visual effect, or musical effect or literary pleasure, without any deeper meaning. Artists, even major thematic artists throughout history were not always trying to “say anything” metaphysically via some theme about what the world, or man, is like.

Figuring out whether an artwork falls into the Thematic or Experiential category requires a good introspective ability, and some experience with various artforms, to make it easier to figure out where something should be placed, classified. And even with substantive experience and introspection, there will be disputes and borderline cases about some works. Artworks are inherently rooted in their respective mediums, and sometimes it is hard work to turn their evident emotional and pleasurable aspects into a clear conceptual summary and description.

Further examples of the difference between Experiential and Thematic:
A song that has a simple beat and a repetitive lyric that is experienced as a physical pleasure by some listeners, would be an Experiential artwork since it would never likely be confused with the category of a Franz Schubert thematic musical song, expressing a feeling similar to an intense wistful longing for a lover.
Yet, there are plenty of reasons for a contemporary song that is “rock ‘n’ roll” style or jazz-based style to fall into the Thematic Art category. Elvis Presley’s song “Are You Lonesome Tonight” meets the simple criterion that it emotionally succeeds at delivering a strong theme to its viewers about the pain of lost love.

Decorative Arts:

These are all the artistic endeavors that are primarily surface esthetic effects, that most people intuitively understand are never confused with the Thematic arts.

Examples: -- the elegant composition of a jewelry necklance design, or -- a brilliant pattern and color combination in a fabric, or -- a carpet color and pattern combination, or -- the proportion and line and gathering of a woman’s dress, or -- the colors and pattern of a stained glass window.

These decorative works enrich and enliven our lives in many ways, and do this by purely perceptual means without any thought for trying to make any metaphysical statements about the nature of the world.

This category overlaps with some works in the category of product-design, since there are products that are primarily decorative, or that have a significant decorative component. Where the work is placed in ArtGrok is at the discretion of each user, along with any sensible constraints suggested by ArtGrok moderators. The categories and subcategories menus shown in the main ArtGrok home page provide some order to guide users.

Product-Design Arts:

These are all the artistic endeavors that involve creating functional objects that are beautiful as well as functional.

There is a huge category of produced objects in the world, for myriad functions. Within this vast group is a subset of objects which are deliberately designed to be as integrated and harmonious as possible for what the object’s purpose is.

For those designers who create cars or airplanes or espresso machines or computers or clothing or chairs, with an eye to excellent proportions, or to sensuous materials, or rich finishes or patterns -- this category acknowledges the esthetic pleasures they add to human life.

Since function is a crucial aspect of products, function should generally be satisfied for such works to be included in ArtGrok. If something is visually beautiful but functionally hopeless, it would not belong here.

The Product Designer who adds the value to functional objects of making their proportions attractive, or chooses textures or colors that are visually interesting or that re-imagines the way to achieve a functional outcome in a visually harmonious way is working in the field of Product-Design Arts.

Sometimes the objects of Decorative Arts can fall within the Product-Design Arts, since many decorative objects have some potential or marginal functional use. There is no hard line between them, except that items that fall in the Decorative Arts don’t historically have a substantial functional component. So, jewelry or ceramic tilings or wallpaper or patterned floor finishes or decorative interior trim or glass objects, etc. are generally the most “decorative” of the arts, since they only partially have a connection to some functional purpose in human life.