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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - Creating New Genres: Conceptual Artists at Work and Play in the Twentieth Century



What is sculpture? What is painting? Everyone's still clinging to outdated ideas, obsolete definitions, as if the artist's role was not precisely to offer new ones.

Pablo Picasso

The twentieth century was a time of extremely rapid and sustained artistic innovation. One striking feature of this is the increase in the number of kinds of art that occurred during the century. Even casual observers of the art world are aware that some of the most popular forms among contemporary artists, including video and installation, are of recent vintage. Yet although all narratives of the art of the past century discuss many new art forms, none has systematically surveyed these innovations. Doing so shows that dozens of new genres of art were invented during the twentieth century, and reveals some surprisingly strong general characteristics that unite what have usually been considered as widely disparate artistic forms, lacking any overall coherence or commonality. Overall, this survey clarifies our understanding of how and why the art of the twentieth century stands apart from earlier art.


This chapter will present a chronological narrative of forty-nine artistic genres that were invented during the twentieth century. These vary considerably in importance: some are widely used today, while others are rare or extinct. Of the forty-nine genres, twenty-two are contained as entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. Each of these, when first mentioned, will be footnoted to its OED entry; unless noted otherwise, these references will be to the second edition, as reprinted in 1991.