What is "Fine Art"

Being a professional photographer, I have the opportunity to see the work of many other photographers. I find it ridiculous the number of people who label their work as “Fine Art”.

Peruse the countless photography websites out there and it will become obvious that in order for a photograph to be considered “Fine Art”, it must fall into one of two categories; Naked Chicks in Black-and-White, or Anything Else in Black-and-White.

Call me naive, but it seems extremely arrogant to label one’s own work as “Fine Art”. That is not for you, the artist to decide. The audience will decide if your art is to be considered “Fine” or to be considered “Crap”.

How is it that the term “Fine Art” has become a distinction that any schlub with a camera (or paint brush, or whatever other means of artisitic creation) can simply slap onto any old piece of garbage?

As an artist, and a degree holder in Fine Art/Sculpture I’d say that is one DIFFICULT question to anwer. My personal criteria for Fine Art are as follows. It ought to be free of socio-political messages. It must be executed with a HIGH degree of craftsmanship. It must be aesthetically pleasing, or disturbing, respective to intent. It must not convey a sense of ambiguity unless that is the deliberate intent of the artist. It should be executed for it’s own sake.

Now I’ll add a few loopholes in to further confuse the issue. I view art on a sort of “Sliding Scale”. You can violate the above criteria if the others are met with superiour or better rating. For example: A piece of sculpture that is politically motivated might be raised to Fine Art if it’s craftsmanship is exceptional. (think some of the old master’s work) Conversely, a piece executed for it’s own sake, maight not make the cut because of childish technique and execution.

It’s highly subjective. In the end I usually classify things into “Pop art” (everything not executed for the sake of art), “Art” ( things of mediocre quality) and “Fine Art” (see above). A lot of creative work I don’t even classify as any sort of art and gets filed under “general media”.


“Fine Art” can simply mean something that is not commercial art (i.e. illustration, cartoons, etc.).

The notion of “craftsmanship” is a judgment call, to be sure.

I can get very, (very) picky about what I consider to be good craftsmanship. I don’t know if my standards should be everyone’s standards, though. But I will say that a lot of work that many people consider to be “crafted” well actually falls quite short, in my opinion. Some people don’t have a clue. (And I should say that about myself as well. In some areas of art, I have no clue either!)

I have a similar irritation with the terms “Serious Music” and particularly “Art Music”…like anyone can decide what is ‘serious’ or what is ‘art’!!!

So, does that mean that you don’t consider Picasso’s “Guernica”(for example) to be fine art?

While you are entitled to your opinion, the no “socio-political” messages seems rather limiting - many of the masters had an agenda with their art work and I would consider many of their pieces to be “fine art”.

However, perhaps I missunderstood what you meant by “socio-political”.

Anyhow, to the OP - I think the level of execution is key - I can fob off a drawing or painting that accurately depicts the subject matter, and might even be interesting to quite a few people, but there’s no way I would compaire my sketchings to those of Picasso, for instance.

Check the second Paragraph, I did say that if something was done with sufficient skill, or novelty that the intent could be waived and the piece given a pass.

Those were my personal criteria, and not meant to be taken as law.
Personally, I don’t care for Picasso and most of his contemporaries. Is it “Fine Art” ? I’m not sure. It’s certainly interesting, but i’m not entirely sure if i’d pass it, or not. To me, that looks like the stuff that stays in my sketchbook waiting to be refined into something more finished. Same goes for pollack and a good majority of other abstract works.

Most of my objection to social commentary, or political messages is that the intrinsic creativity is overshadowed by the message. While art has a long and rich history of such mixing (at least in the west) I personally don’t care for pieces that were politically motivated. All too often for me the message is too strong and the talent gone to waste. I prefer pieces that give me an insight into the artist’s mind, Who he or she is, and not their political or religious affiliations.

My personal tastes align pretty nicely with Deagan’s - but I think most of what is classified as “Fine Art” has a socio-political element to it, even if it’s not something easily recognizable. Guernica is obvious, Pollack not so much, but both artists were making a statement - Picasso in his subject matter, Pollack in his execution.

To me, “fine art” is indistinguishable from “just art” - where I see boundaries is between art, and craft. I am personally unmoved by art that does not involve craftsmanship, but I’m a craftsman (and yes, I’m female, but “craftsperson” to me implies “one who does crafts” and does not carry the same weight in terms of skill.)

I have deduced from what others say that what is considered “fine art” is simply non-functional art; that is, its only function is aesthetic.

I agree. The level of pretension at the corner art gallery surprises me anew every time I visit. The “Artist’s Statements” usually crack me up. A lot of very pretty photographs hang on the wall - I’ve even bought a couple - but few of them are the sort of thing that will be celebrated classics years from now.

Of course, I say this as someone who has had no training or education in anything artistic, beyond the standard public school education.

Well, if you take “fine art” as a category rather than a quality level, there’s no inherent contradiction; a piece could perfectly well be crappy fine art. I think yosemitebabe got it - I think the people who label their stuff “fine art” are explaining - in a crude and annoying way - that their main goal is to be seriously artistic, rather than commercial.

Frequently that turns out to be a fib, though. The paintings and photographs in the gallery are the product of hundreds of hours of work and often thousands of dollars invested in materials and equipment; the artists quite eager to make a few bucks back.

As a musician who has performed both so-called “art music” and more popular music, I can’t easily define the difference. But my rule of thumb is: look at the size of the audience at a performance. If it’s tiny, it’s “art music.” If there’s a good crowd, it’s not. Also, if the blue-haired ladies wince, it’s art music. Not that I’m cynical or anything…

The other way to tell the difference is the hairy/suit ratio:

3 hairy scruffy guys in the audience, and 3 dozen men in suits, it’s art music.

3 dozen scruffs and 3 suits, and it’s popular.

I agree with the OP about the black & white thing being overdone. I was in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts a few months back, and there was an entire section of utterly dull black & white photos. It irked myself & my mom to no end and we just skipped the whole section.

‘Serious art’: you have to be explained why you should like it.
Other art (aka Fun art): you simply like it.

They’re not saying that their art is “fine” or good or beautiful. They are saying it’s fine art photography - photography to be used or sold as art - as opposed to commercial photography.

Kind of like if someone gets a Masters in Fine Arts and his specialty is what you consider to be ugly paintings. It doesn’t matter if they’re ugly. Paintings in oil, for example, that are created and sold as “art” and for the purpose of being an art piece are considered fine art.

Maybe some of those people in the galleries have a BA or MA in Fine Arts and thus feel perfectly justified in calling their work fine art? Even if it’s ugly to you?

It’s called marketing, dude. Kind of like how packaged foods promise you “home-cooked flavor.” Uh, I think not. IMO real artists never call thier own works “fine art,” leaving that distinction to the public and/or critics to bestow.

Fine Art is primarily produced for it’s own sake, for a mainly aesthetic purpose. “Beautiful” rather than useful. As opposed to say graphics or illustration for reproduction or photography. The word “fine” isn’t a judgment on the quality of that production It just distinguishes it from say, the commercial arts.