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

The kid who draws in class 

As a kid, I had what I would call a need to do two things in my classroom: to draw, and to show the drawings to my teachers. 

Normally, I would finish up with my tasks very quickly, which would give me a few minutes to spare to look for some inspiration around the classroom.

Walking to the desk of whoever the teacher happened to be, there I was holding in my hands the paper with the drawing, while trying to hide my excitement. 

“Once my teacher sees my drawing, she will be so impressed”, I would think smiling for my own amusement. 

They would look at my drawings, smile, tell me how good artist I was with that “Aw.-Look at-him.-So-cute” look on their faces, and sent me back to my chair, which I would do with a proud heart. 

I repeated such procedure almost everyday, since first grade all the way to fourth grade. 

However, although I had talent and was able to create things that were quite impressive for my age… it was still art made by a kid. 

That couldn’t be possibly be considered “fine art”, could it?

Well, many years have gone by since those times, and now my wife and I, while in the process of growing our own brand as professional artists, we find ourselves pondering about such things: when does “normal” or “recreational” art becomes “fine” art?


Common Ground

Very hardly you will find straight cut definitions in the arts, and even harder is to find a consensus about them. 

Meanings and definitions in art can mean something for someone, and another thing for someone else.

The concept of “fine art” is one of such examples. 

Among the definitions I researched, the following by Eden Gallery made the most sense:

Fine art represents a form of visual or auditory art relished solely for its aesthetic and intellectual depth. The term "fine art" can also applaud an artist's prowess, denoting a piece that showcases immense skill or mastery.”

Analyzing the above definition and many others found, as well as reflecting and expanding on them, I will give my own perspective on when does “normal” or “recreational” art becomes “fine”, or “high” art.

 

The Guiding Star

In an attempt to systemize this issue which is very abstract by nature, I would like to propose a guideline, which for our purposes here we would call the “Guiding Star”, intended to be a mental tool to identify “fine art”, although not the only one for this purpose, and definitely not a bullet proof one. 

The Guiding Star guideline consists of five parameters which form each leg of an imaginary star. 

On this article we are going to discuss only three out of the five parameters first.

 

Depth of Meaning

You and I have experienced that moment when talking about a movie with our friends that we did not like, we say it was either too superficial, cheesy, or just plain

The message was not powerful enough. Too weak to trigger strong emotions in you, or at least some emotion.

The technicalities of the movie might have been good, even great… but what they were about was just not inspiring enough in any way.  In other words, the meaning of the movie was not fully developed. 

This is what I consider depth of meaning refers to: a greater development of the message and of most, if not all, its layers. 

Messages, like truths, have layers: the more layers you unfold, the deeper you are. 

Think of kids when asked how everything was at school. 

Almost every time my dad would ask me that question as a kid (okay, I’ll admit it, maybe even as a college student), I would respond with something like: “Normal”. I was not lying. Everything was “normal”.

My dad was only trying to connect with me, but my answer, or message, wasn’t fully developed. 

Therefore, it was hard for my dad to connect with me because my answer, or message, was superficial. I wasn’t unfolding all or many of the layers of truth about my day at school, making it difficult for him to connect with me meaningfully.

On those days I felt like it, however, I would unfold layers of truth about my day to my dad, and I would explain why certain situations were important or exciting or frustrating to me, and he would listen, laugh, get frustrated as well or give me some advice.

By me further developing the message, in this case, how was my normal day at school, both me and my dad engaged and connected on a deeper level.  

In that sense, fine or high art has that peculiarity of being able to unfold or hint to deeper layers of truth or perspective about a particular subject compared to other types of art. 

Fine art, like really good movies, is more engaging emotionally and intellectually. 


Intention

Fine arts don’t tend to be regarded as functional. 

A great piece of furniture can have a beautiful design, but it won’t be considered fine art because the furniture was created mainly with the intention to be used, let’s say, as a chair and not to be appreciated as a piece of art. 

Fine arts don’t tend to be regarded as therapeutic art.

During a therapeutic session, the art created was meant to be used for the mental wellbeing of the person in question, so the purpose of such artwork was placed outside of the art itself and was not the focal point.

Fine arts don’t tend to be regarded as decorative art.

The importance of a fine artwork is not dependent on how nicely it fits with the rest of the room space or the popularity of an interior design trend. 

Fine arts don’t tend to be regarded as commercial art.

Its intrinsic value is not dependent on how high or low the price tag is at any particular time and the money exchanged between hands. 

As you can see, there is a common thread in the above examples.

Fine art is normally intended to be appreciated for its own sake, and not for the functionality or practicality derived from its use. 

High art will want to retain the attention to itself, and everything will revolve around it. It becomes "the life of the party". 

Think of this for a moment: what is the difference between the urinal that men use when they go to the dirty bathroom at a gas station and the well known urinal “Fountain, 1917" by Marcel Duchamp, which was considered fine art?

The answer lies in the intention behind how the same thing was looked at under different contexts. 

On one hand, those men were lucky they had available at the gas station the thing we use to urinate at: a regular urinal. 

On the other hand, we have an object which, if looked at it carefully and with the right mindset, presents a design that in all its right, could be appreciated aesthetically if we just take the time for such contemplation: a fine art urinal.  

In this way, its easy to identify fine art: if the intention behind the creation of an artwork is to keep the attention within the artwork itself, or if it circles back to itself at the end of the day (regardless of all intellectual analysis), it may be considered fine art. 

 

Craftsmanship

Some of the drawings that I would make in my classrooms when I was a kid were about cars.  After seeing my drawings of the car, my teachers would congratulate me. 

However, it was obvious that the drawing was made by a kid, or someone that was not skilled enough in the techniques of designing cars. 

Definitely, the subject matter of my drawing was clear: it was a car. Now, the drawing of an actual car designer would also be identifiable: a car.

The quality of the technique executed on both drawings, however, would be vastly different. 

One would have poor quality technique executed, the other great quality technique executed.

Great craftsmanship is all about knowing how to, through great “technical” skills, bring the best light of the work in question.

Not only great craftsmanship denotes a profound know-how of certain materials,  procedures, and best practices, which would talk about the professionalism of the person. 

Great craftsmanship also shows the dedication and care put into a determined work, which would definitely increase the work’s intrinsic and perceived value. 

With the parameter of craftsmanship in fine arts, what matters is the quality of the work presented, independently of any meanings or context whatsoever. 


Next

On the second part of this article, we will discuss the remaining two parameters you can use in order to identify fine art. 

 

Author: Jason Berberena

Visual artist, writer, and co-founder of Kreation Artzone

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