What Qualifies as Fine Art?

There is an old saying: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and this can be applied to art. Merriam-Webster defines art as “…the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects”, while Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “…the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

We generally understand art to be the creation of something unique which appeals to our senses (most commonly our eyes, but more recently includes our ears in the designation of music as art). 18th century philosopher David Hume believed that educated and sophisticated (hint: wealthy) created all important works of art, and then enlightened lower classes of people on the value of said art. With the rise of modern art in the 19th and 20th centuries, this ideology is not as pervasive, and there is a culture of the value of individual appreciation of art.

But is it FINE ART?

However, to state without hesitation that a specific piece of art qualifies as fine art is something completely different. Therefore, what is fine art and who is qualified to make that distinction? Judging the quality of art is somewhat subjective; if its purpose is to incite feelings and thoughts in the viewer (as it did to the artist while creating it), that determination would be based on the individual’s opinion. The use of the word fine with art translated from the French “Beaux Arts”, meaning delicate, excellent, and finely made, when based on what was considered the classical interpretation. Further, with increased use of visual effects (dare we say “art”?) in consumer products and services, is there a distinction between various designations of art?


Artist’s Qualification as Fine Artist

One of the qualifications of a work to be considered fine art would be based on the artist himself (herself). Has the artist been trained in the study of art? Did the artist study previous artists (themselves being considered fine artists), take art classes, or even study at a school to nurture their abilities at creating art? Is the work superior to that which an average person could create? There is no denying that there are those who can, and those who can’t, create memorable works of art which others may want to view and display in their homes and other locations. Although there may not be official standards to determine what labels someone a fine artist, there certainly are considerations when it comes down to selling their work to others.

Factors in the Determination of Fine Art (Questions to Ask)

When making a veritable judgment call on art work at its base, ask these questions. Does the artwork….

  • Tell a story?
  • Make a public statement?
  • Evoke a memory for the artist?
  • Commemorate an event?
  • Express imagination?

The art’s success in moving the viewer, to encourage a reaction, instigate intellectual thought and consideration, and even spark conversation between enthusiasts are all considerations when determining the status of a piece of art. Another aspect is the phrase craftsmanship; the attention to detail, even causing the viewer to feel part of the art itself. Each of these factors brings some value to the piece, and thus increases the price.

Commercial Art not Fine Art?

All art likely begins the same way, as a way for an artist to express an emotion or thought. However, where commercial art differs from fine art is in its intention. Even when subtle, the purpose behind commercial art is to be used as a vehicle to guide the viewer to something else, whether it is to sell a product or service, or to simply draw attention to something. And although it may be unique enough to stand on its own merits, the goal is to lead consumers to the final product. Commercial art includes the following:

  • Advertising
  • Illustrations
  • Graphics
  • Logos

These pieces may express some of the same qualities of fine art, including making a statement and expressing the artist’s imagination, but are not necessarily designed to be viewed and appreciated on their own, except in the context of the product or service they are selling. They are also most often created in mass quantities, with the goal to be reproduction. Fine art, on the other hand, is either created as a unique piece or reproduced in limited quantities (as multiplicity reduces the value) for the sole purpose of appreciation.

Can Commercial Art BE Fine Art

There will likely always be discussion surrounding commercial art and its potential value or labeling as fine art. It may have value for its craftsmanship, attention to detail and superior use of the medium it is created in, and there is certainly education to be had in commercial art. However, if works of art are created for the sole purpose of enticing consumers to want to buy, attend, or experience something; those pieces will likely never step out of the categorization as commercial art.

The term fine art today encompasses many different works and a growing menu of mediums. You will always contend with experts in art: historians, art market professionals, museum and gallery curators, and students and professors of art. However, we always return to the basic attitude: that fine art appreciation is subjective, and if it inspires you as an enthusiast, causing emotions or thoughtfulness in the viewer, it can be considered fine art, even if only by you, the owner.

Sybaris—Our Collections of Fine Art

Let Sybaris Collection guide you, from browsing and selecting a piece to inspire you, and share with you our mission of discovering art and design pieces by talented artists from around the globe. We have unique pieces in many mediums and styles to start, complement, and complete your fine art collection.