Why “Seven”? Why “Lively”?

Some of you may ask: What on earth is “Seven Lively Arts” supposed to mean?

Well, that’s a reasonable question. And there’s a short answer, and there’s a long answer.


Short answer:

It’s the opposite of Seven Deadly Sins! (I kind of love the idea of the arts being the opposite of death.)


Long answer:

“The Seven Lively Arts” was a book written by respected cultural critic Gilbert Seldes in 1923. It was the first time that popular entertainments were given the intelligent appraisal and analysis that is usually afforded to the fine arts.

2014.7.17 Gilbert Seldes

Gilbert Seldes | Photo by Carl Van Vechten


The book included chapters on jazz, silent comedies, comic strips and more. What it did not include, however, was a definitive list of which particular arts to which the “Seven” referred.  He wrote, “There were those who thought (correctly) that you couldn’t find seven and there were those who felt (stuffily) that the seven were not arts. Lively was for the most part unchallenged. The sacred 7 came from the classics, from ‘the seven arts’… and I never tried to categorize the contents of the book to conform to the figure.”

So that is where the name comes from—both the intelligent analysis and application of popular art forms, and the embracing of a wide variety of art forms under that umbrella.

Is theater one of the seven lively arts? Filmmaking? Street performance? Museum design? Historical reenactment? Taxidermy? Science fair projects? Jewelry making? Penmanship? Origami? Line dancing? Anthropomorphic insect shadow box making?


2014.7.17 Insect Shadowbox

Photo by ObservatoryRoom.org


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