The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines fine art as “art produced or intended primarily for beauty rather than utility.” Other sources point out the word fine as not describing the quality of the work in question, but the purity of the method used to produce it. These definitions sound perfectly reasonable in describing the conventional academic approach to drawing, painting, or sculpting, but what about the pieces we see made of mixed media, recycled materials, plastic, or preserved animal parts?
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The meaning of fine art is blurred by the use of novel and stylistically unconventional mediums, as well as modern technologies and techniques. Changing views in society, culture, taste and education also skew the traditional meaning. I have a hard time with the term fine art in modern context. Art today goes far beyond idealized classical beauty, pure technique-driven works, and because of that, the meaning of fine art has been blurred.
Art is a diverse realm of visual communication. Whether the goal is to depict sublime beauty, exhibit flawless technique, or highlight social, political, or global concerns, the artist’s point is valid in and of itself, and perhaps the vision should not be limited to the ways things have always been done. Recognized characteristics of fine art include its uniqueness, creativity, fresh perspective, and ability to communicate to the viewer, so perhaps those values should stand as the benchmark.
The term fine art often brings to mind a standard of quality and skill. This should not be discounted. Artworks need to meet general standards of quality, design, and execution. The artist should show a fully developed concept, execute it with skill and intention, as well as show quality in material usage, design, and construction based on their level of experience. The work should feel complete and communicate to the viewer.
Art, fine or otherwise, has always been defined by the eye of the beholder. That may seem too simple for today’s logic, but it is true. Defining fine art depends on what you personally hold dear. If the classic works of western European art are your standard, then Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst are not anywhere in your wing of the museum. If you are a member of Generation X or later, those diamond-encrusted skulls might just be sprinkled into the mix along with manga, digital art, and large format photography.
Is fine art still relevant? Yes. The words lead us to recognize our artistic past and consider the extensive knowledge it takes to create a successful work of visual art. It gives us appreciation for classical techniques executed to perfection, and it questions where today’s artists are headed.
Some think fine art is defined by history as the best art produced in a generation. Will the visual art of today be tomorrow’s fine art? Only tomorrow will tell, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and ….
EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in Shelley Tate Garner’s commentaries are her own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Texoma Living! Magazine its parent company, management or staff. We encourage you to respond with your own ideas using our blog.