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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

types of modern artistic manifestations, including cinematography, the last discipline to be incorporated. As such, and at present, The Seven Fine Arts are painting, sculpture, literature, music, dance, architecture, and cinematography. Let's get to know each of them separately.

1. Architecture

Although architecture is related to a utilitarian function, it has been recognized as one of the fine arts because as an idea, it projects and erects lasting and functionally and artistically valuable buildings. Not all architecture qualifies as art, but that conceived as a space of collective meanings, with a socially recognizable symbolic and aesthetic function. Such architecture includes temples, churches, memorials, and certain public buildings.

2. Painting

A painting is an artistic manifestation of the visual, embodied in a two-dimensional surface, the composition of which combines elements such as shapes, colors, textures, harmony, perspective, among others.

3. Sculpture

The sculpture is the art of creating shapes in three-dimensional space, be they molded, carved, sculpted, or embossed. There are records of sculptural activity from the prehistoric period which makes sculpture and painting arguably the oldest forms of art.

4. Music

Music is the art of combining sounds by applying principles of melody, rhythm, and harmony, either through the human voice or through musical instruments.

5. Dance

Dance is an art of an expressive bodily nature, made up of rhythmic movements of the body that may (or may not) be accompanied by music. Currently, it is also considered one of the performing arts.

6. Literature

Within the fine arts, literature refers to the art of the written word, governed by the forms of poetry, narrative, rehearsal, and theater.

7. Cinematography

Cinematography is the last of the arts to be added within the category of fine arts because it synthesizes other Fine Arts, adding elements through technical resources and forms of discourse composition.

What is Fine Art? - New Artistic Disciplines

Questions asking what is fine art are today, quite controversial due to the emergence of new artistic

media and thereby, new disciplines. Many of these border the parameters of other Fine Arts, as do video art or street art. At the same time, the repertoire of works that make up the canon of fine art often leaves out popular expressions.

In light of this, conceptualizing what is Fine Art may seem elitist or hierarchical, even reinforcing the notion of ​​superiority of contemplative arts over applied arts and border artistic genres, as well as over expressions not legitimized from The Academy.

In response, the nebulous terms such as the “Eighth and Ninth Fine Arts” are currently used to elevate disciplines not yet thought of as Fine Art. This is the case, for example, with Photography and Comic Art. Using these terms provides a way of giving prestige to these artistic disciplines that do not find a place within the traditional classification. However, this nomenclature has not yet been established.

Just as Art remains always in flux, so will the definition and composition of Fine Art forever be in a state of change. Art defies being nailed down to rigid parameters and tedious tenets of logic alone. As an expression of humanity, Art will always defy precise measurement and the need of some humans and organizations to classify and define past broad terminologies and inclusions. Because humans, in part, create Art, it will never be bound tighter than humanity is bound, with regard to individuality and shifting meanings. Art created by Nature herself certainly will never adhere to human rigidity or boundaries. As such, perhaps the term Fine Art serves human needs only, not the needs and purposes of Art itself. Before charging that this concept is too theoretical or philosophically dense, one should consider that Nature, the author and origin of humanity and all Art, is a beautiful and complex entity. Therefore, why should one of her most poignant, meaningful, and necessary expressions, Art, be any different?

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