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The Muse Of Fine Arts

When is art fine? When not so fine?

Drawing, graphics, painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts are examples of the so-called visual arts. Painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, graphics, and architecture are examples of the so-called fine arts. Both of these kinds of art involve visual expression; they put the artist in contact with the audience by means of the eyes and the faculty of sight.

What is the difference between the visual arts and the Fine Arts? Quality and purpose are two of the most important ones. Fine Art is visual art that has been created primarily for aesthetic purposes and is judged for its beauty, meaningfulness, and expressiveness. Artistically speaking, a piece of Fine Art is thought to be an end in itself, whereas a piece of visual art is thought to be created for commercial, industrial, or other purposes.

Most people occasionally have trouble deciding whether a piece of art is visual art, Fine Art, or another kind of art. Fine Art is about what's aesthetically or artistically fine, where fine means of superior or best quality, high or highest grade, choice, excellent, or admirable, as in a fine painting. Deciding what's fine is a matter of opinion; sometimes it's considerably more difficult that deciding what's merely visual.

Unfortunately, one of the most vital and useful distinctions one can make about an art object is whether it is Fine Art or only visual art. Why is that important? Because in some arts circles, Fine Art is regarded as automatically "better" than other kinds of visual art. The answer determines whether the art object in question is worthy.

One saving grace seems to be that modern ideas about art seem to be generally more accepting than in the past. Many modernists seem willing to decide whether art is worthy whether it is created for aesthetic reasons only or for utilitarian purposes.

Nevertheless, as with much else in the arts, many issues are still troublesome at base. The age-old philosophical questions about the nature of art are still being asked. There is still plenty of room for pondering philosophy and the meaning of art. Aesthetic questions like the role of beauty and ugliness in art still give cause for debate. How to objectively decide what is beautiful or ugly also is still moot. Even the meaning of beauty and ugliness is up for grabs. Many such aesthetic distinctions are still difficult to draw plainly and lines between aesthetic categories are sometimes still hotly debated.

a few thought-provoking questions about the nature of fine art and design art

Perhaps the best reason to ask oneself fundamental questions like these is to sharpen one's own perceptions and opinions about the nature of art. The Muse invites you to enter the arena by formulating a position on the some of the following questions:

  • Is any particular field of artistic endeavor an Art or a Fine Art? Is it an art in any sense? For example, consider and compare haute couturier, architecture, ballet, and automotive design.
  • Ralph Lauren is famous for his classic car collection as well as for designing high-fashion clothes; he claims that at times his car collection has inspired his clothing designs and vice versa. In what sense are practitioners like Lauren an artist, if any?
  • Are movies Fine Art? They fit the definition offered by The Muse: "...a particular kind of art in which the emphasis is on visual expression, on communicating through the eyes, the faculty of sight." But is that reason enough to classify film as an art form?
  • What's the precise difference between Art, Fine Art, decoration, commercial art, industrial art?
  • Think of a particular art object at home or work. is it an object of Fine Art, commercial art, or industrial art? Is it a craft object?
  • Is a Botticelli silver compote cast for table use merely tableware? Is a fine Steuben crystal paperweight molded for the desktop an office supply? Is a beautiful hatrack or toilet not a work of art just because you can hang your hat on it or sit on it?
  • When is an art form an Art and when is it a Fine Art? For example, is a set design or lighting scheme created for an opera, drama, or movie a work of Art or a work of Fine Art? Is an opera a Fine Art because it incorporates these elements?
  • What about hybrid art forms? For example, an opera melds orchestral music, ballet (dance), song, drama, painting, set design (painting, scenery construction) and lighting. Is an opera Art or Fine Art?
  • With his so-called "ready-mades," Marcel Duchamp tried to show us that even the criterion of utility need not disqualify an art or art object from the appellation "fine." He saw visual beauty and spiritual qualities even in so mundane an object as a mass-produced toilet. Was he right?

Are final answers necessary for progress?

Traditional classifications in the arts seem to be becoming more blurred as time goes on, as artists become more diversified in their work, strike out into new fields, find new sources of financial aid, employ new media, find different venues, encounter open-minded or other-minded audiences, and adopt new techniques and technologies. Yet some still argue these and other time-worn questions vigorously. Sometimes resistance to change is sincere. Sometimes resistance is caused by vested interest, personal or institutional vendetta, prejudice, ignorance, indifference, or mulish stubbornness. Sometimes resisting change is the right thing to do.

Questions about art have plagued society since ancient times, but that hasn't prevented artists from innovating or art-lovers from changing, growing, and accepting. The Muse holds the opinion that none of these kinds of questions need disturb us unduly or limit our exploration of the Fine Arts.

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