Part II: “How do I know when I’m looking at ‘fine art’?”

Summary of the first part:

On the first part of this article I proposed a guideline called the Guiding Star, to help you identify fine art from other types of art.

We have discussed so far three parameters out of five.

The first parameter was Depth of Meaning. fine art has the ability to unfold or hint to deeper layers of truth or perspective about a particular subject compared to other types of art, which makes it more emotionally and intellectually engaging.

The second parameter was Intention: fine art is normally intended to be appreciated for its own sake, and not for the functionality or practicality derived from its use. 

The third parameter was Craftsmanship: what matters here is the quality of the work presented through great mechanical skills, or know-how, independently of any meanings or context whatsoever. 

Now, let’s take a look at the other two parameters. 

Historic Relevance

Recorded history is made by people who wanted to record certain instances about certain times due to its clear or potential relevancy to humanity years down the road. 

The same goes with the history of fine arts, which is almost exclusively about the great masters of art, and those that were iconic enough to make it to the art history books and that most of us have heard of many times.  

The above comment does not mean, however, that fine art which is not found in art history books is not fine art.

It only means that such art, the ones excluded from art history books, were not relevant enough in the big scheme of things as far as the art market was concerned. 

But the art market is not the only one with a vote as to when a fine artwork is relevant or not. 

We all have a say in what we consider important.

Fine art crafted today by relatively unknown artists is still relevant.

If not because it did not happened under perceived grandiose-life changing circumstances, because in them a piece of the human experience was aesthetically captured, which in itself there is intrinsic value to be found, appreciated, and needed by others.

With the historic relevancy of an artwork in mind, identifying fine art becomes somewhat easier. 

Compared to other types of art, fine art regularly has a greater degree of historic relevancy attached to it.

Such historic relevancy can take the form of, for instance, the meaning of an artwork, the context under which it was created, the life of the artist himself, the impact it had upon the art industry or any other industry for that matter, the unspoken tabu it alludes to, or any other interesting facts surrounding that particular artwork that would make it memorable.

It is worth noting that to be fine art it does not have to be qualified as “historically” relevant in order for it to be memorable to you.

Like beauty, which is primarily found in the eyes of the beholder, ultimately what is or is not historically relevant to you as the art collector is up to you. 

To illustrate this point, suppose you only had one chance to choose paying five thousand dollars to either buy a fine artwork made by one of the great masters, or the only drawing your kid made for you before he passed away… 

Historic relevancy in fine arts is ultimately in the heart of the beholder.



Suppose I come up to you and tell you I just heard a rumor of someone who got caught in a car accident on the other side of the world and is probably going to pass away due to the severity of their situation. 

You will think about it for the first few seconds, and after concluding you definitely don’t know anybody on the other side of the world that you care about, there is a high probability you will respond (or think to yourself) something like: “Okay…so? Why should I care? What’s the point?”

The thing is that, as humans, we only have the capability to care about a finite numbers of things and people. 

We try to save our valuable attention to those things or people we find somehow relevant to us. This extends to art as well.

We know art does not just pop up out of nowhere. Therefore, it is natural to care about the person, the artist, behind the art.

Since art and artist are so intertwined, you have the hope that by getting to know the artist better, you will be able to better understand the art in question, and thus develop a greater appreciation for the artwork.

This makes the whole art-artists-collector situation very personal. 

As you start getting to know different artists, you will identify who you care most about. 

Naturally, you will start paying more attention to these artist's journeys, what they are working on, their lives, their challenges, their victories, their losses, and much more. 

The opposite is true: the works of those artists you don’t care about will fade in the background as mere white noise. 

This phenomenon happens on a much bigger scale with the art market, as well. 

Interestingly, I consider this parameter of the artist to be the least influential of all the parameters mentioned before regarding objectively identifying when an artwork becomes fine art. 

Meaning, fine art could be recognized regardless of who ended up creating it. 

Conversely, this parameter might be the most relevant parameter of all for you as the art buyer. 

Meaning, all things equal, if you were to choose between two great fine artworks, you will choose the one coming from the artist you care the most about. 



By keeping the Guiding Star guideline in mind when trying to identify high art from other types of art, recognize that only a small percentage of the artwork you will find will have a “perfect” star like shape. Those that have, are most probably in the art history books. 

This guideline is organic by nature, with some sides of this imaginary star being bigger or smaller than others, and rarely equal on all its sides.  

The great majority will be disproportionate star like shape, with one or more sides smaller or bigger than the rest. 

Normally, these uneven stars will compensate their smaller sides with being really great at their respectives bigger sides, whichever they end up being, thus claiming their right to be considered fine art.  

Keep in mind that those stars that are not big enough or not fully developed does not mean they lack value, though. 

After all, when looking up to the sky the bigger stars might get your attention first, but that does not mean that the small ones are not worthy of your appreciation. 

Like we all, they too play their roles in their respective space and time.

Final words

I started writing this two parts article after hearing others' complaints about certain artworks that were, in their words, too awful, or simple, or “stupid” to be considered fine art, let alone to be considered art at all. 

To be honest, my wife and I, both artists, have had the same reservations about certain artworks. Actually, we still do sometimes. 

To some extent, I will venture to say that such reservations are natural in the art industry. 

Unlike other industries, such as real estate, medicine or law, the art industry does not have any standardized regulations upon which everything else is subjected to. 

Meaning, in the art world there are no strict parameters to navigate all the artworks created by every artist. There are only points of reference to use as guidelines, and even these guidelines can be quite hard to pin point due to their flexibility. 

That’s why I took the time to share with you some sort of framework upon which to “judge” all the art available out there and identify those fine artworks you might want to acquire for yourself and your collection as an art buyer.  

I hope the light of each work of art illuminate the corridors of your heart to help you in deciding which artwork will be most relevant to you.


Author: Jason Berberena

Visual Artist, writer and co-founder of Kreation Artzone.

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