Friday, May 6, 2016 | Subscribe

What qualifies fine art anyway?

Are we even allowed to write about alcohol on the arts page? Weddings? What about facial hair? Each of these topics has dom­inated the arts page at some point or another, printed clear as day above the fold. But are they, strictly speaking, art?

When most people with the benefit of a classical edu­cation think of the word “art,” painting, sculpture, music, lit­erature, or theater spring to mind. But not “painting” in the sense of graffiti, or “theater” in the sense of a Las Vegas bur­lesque show. Rather, art is con­sidered the forms of these things that are done skillfully and point towards the good, the true, and the beautiful. Beauty for the sake of beauty.

Inter­estingly enough, the Oxford English Dic­tionary only defines art as “skill in doing something,” not even applying the word to anything regarding an “aes­thetic principle” until the eighth and ninth definitions.

So, in that case, graffiti cer­tainly is an art as long as it is done well, along with mixing drinks, orga­nizing a wedding, teaching a class, laying a brick, or grooming one’s mustache.

The idea that the arts, by def­i­nition, “are con­cerned with ‘the beautiful’” and “appeal to the faculty of taste” inhibit many from appre­ciating such quo­tidian crafts as art. The phrase that matches the def­i­nition that they may be looking for — also provided by the OED — is “fine art.”

There is a definite dis­tinction between Bernini’s “David,” and Duchamp’s “Fountain” or the work of Alexander Calder. However, that is not to say that the modern is not art. Banksy is not Rembrant, but he doesn’t have to be. There is art, and there is fine art. The appre­ciation of the latter should not impede one’s ability to perceive the former, even if it is something as simple as a well-crafted martini.

vcooney@hillsdale.edu