- The fine arts and literature, considered together.
- The fine arts, performing arts, and liberal arts, considered together.
In some cases (e.g., "College of Arts and Letters"), "arts and letters" is more or less a synonym for liberal arts. In other cases (e.g., in any of several publications titled Arts & Letters), the term seems to encompass only the fine arts and literature, sometimes including theater and music. In other words, "arts and letters" is not a precise category, and may include almost any loosely defined cross-section of fine arts, performing arts, literature, and traditional academic disciplines. (The sciences, mathematics, professions, and technical disciplines are presumably excluded.)
The term is missing from the Oxford English Dictionary, but it occurs in English since at least 1820. It may be a translation of the French arts et lettres.