What is Fine Art?

artist dips paintbrush into paint for fine art

The Arts are a set of disciplines or productions existing for aesthetic and symbolic purposes, and are based on a certain set of criteria, rules, and techniques. The Arts seek to represent, through different means, universal, yet nuanced human concerns, whether real or imagined, and address them via different creative mediums, symbols, and allegories.

Fine Art, in a broad sense, is defined as a set of artistic manifestations, creative in nature, holding aesthetic value.

Currently, Fine Art is currently grouped into seven disciplines -- painting, sculpture, literature, dance, music, architecture, and, since the turn of the 20th century, cinematography.

However, many ask specifically, what is Fine Art? Conceptually, the term “Fine Art” applies to those artistic disciplines intended for contemplation, and those that do not necessarily fulfill a utilitarian function. It is for this reason that the broad heading of Fine Art does not include the Applied Arts or Utilitarian Arts, as well as omitting in its inclusion, many kinds of crafts which are indeed art, but not considered Fine Art, in general.

What is Fine Art? - Term Origins

In Ancient Greece, the term “arts” referred to creative endeavors as well as trades, from the sculptor to the saddler. To differentiate, the Greeks distinguished between the arts that appealed to the “Higher Senses” (hearing and sight) and called them higher arts. Those that were directed to the

“Lower Senses” (touch, taste, or smell), were called minor arts, among which included perfumery, gastronomy, carpentry, among others.

The concept of Fine Art also dates back to the 18th century. The Frenchman Charles Batteux was one of the first to define fine art in his work entitled Les Beaux-Arts réduits à un même Principe ("The Fine Arts Reduced to a Single Principle"), published in 1746. In this text, he proposes the unification of the arts under the concept of beauty and good taste. Until then, only six fine arts were included:

  • Painting

  • Sculpture

  • Architecture

  • Music

  • Dance

  • Literature

In the 20th century, specifically in 1911, Ricciotto Canudo published a text entitled The Manifesto of the Seven Arts. In it, he argued for the addition of cinematography to the list of fine art, which was beginning to develop fully in those years. As a result of Canudo’s efforts, cinematography was called the seventh art.

What is Fine Art? - Characteristics of Fine Art

The fine arts, at least in their original conception, are characterized by the following aspects:

  • They are strictly intended for contemplation.

  • They have no practical use, unlike the arts applied to everyday objects or those designed for entertainment.

  • They are enjoyed through the visual and auditory senses, considered superior, which leaves out those practices directed at touch, taste or smell.

  • They have been deliberately conceived in the context of a consecrated aesthetic tradition, either as continuity or as a rupture, which excludes popular art.

  • They focus on aesthetic values.

What is Fine Art? - Fine Art Classifiers

The classification or division of fine art beginning at the turn of the 20th century, refers to the seven