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genre(zhän`rə), in art-history terminology, a type of painting dealing with unidealized scenes and subjects of everyday life. Although practiced in ancient art, as shown by Pompeiian frescoes, and in the Middle Ages, genre was not recognized as worthy and independent subject matter until the 16th cent. in Flanders. There it was popularized by Pieter Bruegel, the elder. It flourished in Holland in the 17th cent. in the works of Ter Borch, Brouwer, Metsu, De Hooch, Vermeer, and many others, and extended to France and England, where in the 18th and 19th cent., its major practitioners were Watteau, Chardin, Greuze, Morland, and Wilkie. In Italy genre elements were present in Carpaccio's and Caravaggio's paintings, but not until the 18th cent. did genre become the specialty of an Italian artist, Pietro Longhi. The French impressionists often painted genre subjects as did members of the American ashcan school.
(artistic), the subdivision within all categories of art that has evolved in the course of history. Each sphere of art has its own genre differentiation, depending on the nature of the art category. Thus a genre series such as the portrait, landscape, still life, and genre painting is characteristic of painting and impossible in music, literature, or films; in the same way the song, art song, cantata, and oratorio are specifically musical genres. Nevertheless there exist principles of genre differentiation that are common to all the arts, principles that are only transformed differently in each art category.
These principles (and correspondingly the definitions of genre) diverge and intersect, thereby giving rise to many points of view on the problem of genre. The construction of a relatively integral system of genre classification corresponding to the real system of forms relative to category, type, and genre that developed in the course of history has yet to be achieved. One concept that permits an integral system of genre differentiation is described below.
Insofar as a work of art combines cognition, ideology and judgment, and imagery and creativity and insofar as each functions selectively, the identification of artistic genres proceeds simultaneously along several interconnected lines governed by definite laws. Thus, cognitive selection in art en-genders a series of genres differing in subject matter. For example, in literature, drama, and motion pictures there are historical, domestic, detective, and science-fiction genres, and in painting landscape, portrait, and still life genres. On the other hand, the cognitive comprehension of a work in many cases determines the differences in form between a novel, novella, and short story, between a play and a sketch, between a song and a cantata, or between an individual and a group portrait. Moreover, the artist’s ideas, psychological makeup, and judgments may make his work an apologia, seemingly objective, ironical, or an angry repudiation, thus giving rise to a new series of genres, for example, in literature to the ode, ballad, epigram, and pamphlet and in drama to the tragedy, tragicomedy, lyric comedy, and satirical comedy. The means by which an artistic image is constructed are so diverse that they permit the combining of the specific and the general in varying proportions ranging from emphasis on the documentary and factual aspect of narration to the complete subordination of detail to the expression of abstract thought. Thus still another series of genre architectonics is generated, ranging from artistic sketches to fables and parables, from autobiographical narratives to folk tales, from portraiture to allegory.
The concept of genre thus exists on many levels, and in each art category the concrete interrelationship between the various levels (based on different fundamental principles) of genre divisions forms the specific genre system. At the same time there also exists in each art category a specific interrelationship of genre divisions to other levels of division of artistic activity, that is, to the division of a particular art category into varieties (for example, folk poetry and literature, poetry and prose, or vocal and instrumental music) and types (for example, the epic, the lyric, and the drama in literature; easel, monumental-decorative, and miniature painting).
The study of the interrelationship between these and several other levels by which artistic creativity may be differentiated is still in its initial stages, so the very terms “genre,” “type,” “category,” and “variety” are often used interchangeably and have not acquired precise meanings. What is essential here is not the resolution of the problem of terminology in itself but an understanding of the rules of the morphology of art and the historical dynamics of the interrelationship between different genres, types, and other modifications of art. This interrelationship clearly undergoes changes in the historical-artistic process. Thus, the art of the Renaissance did not recognize strict boundaries between genres; in the 17th and 18th centuries the aesthetics of classicism established rigid rules to ensure the purity of each genre in the general hierarchy of genre systems (it was at that period that the term “genre” came to be used in France); and with the 19th century came the process of interaction between genres, their intermingling and fusion so that rigid boundaries began to be eroded. Some contemporary theoreticians regard genre differentiation as being outdated and even ignore the concept entirely.
The development of genre theory in Marxist aesthetics must be free both from the surviving classical notions that there are eternal and absolute boundaries between genres and that genres are not of equal worth aesthetically and in terms of the ideas they present and from the relativistic negation of objective and relatively fixed indicators of genre.
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M. S. KAGAN