What qualifies fine art anyway?

by Tory Cooney on February 23, 2012

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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 (331)

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