Defining Fine Art Historically and Today

Defining Fine Art Both Historically and Today

It appears that the definition of Fine Arts has changed over time, historically breaking it down into narrower, less complex categories than we currently attach to art work.  Basically Art was used to document or represent historical and cultural events.  The Oxford Dictionary defines it as:

“1. creative art, especially visual art whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content.”

The “art for art’s sake” movement came along later at the turn of the 19th century.  The basic historical definition held that art that was commissioned or functional arts, which fell into the categories of crafts or arts for decor, were not considered Fine Arts.   The definition of Fine Arts emerged over time as works that were aesthetic and a means of artistic expression, so technically the work of Michael Angelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Gustav Klimt were/are not considered Fine Art as many of their works of arts were commissioned.

Defining Eras Of Artwork

During the Rise of the Romantic Era in the Arts, artwork flourished depicting more beauty and the sublime subject matter as artists were seeking to be more detached from utilitarian works, or functional arts.  Abstract arts was beginning to emerge, making a less traditionally classic statement than in eras past.

With Modernism, artwork became more about exploring a broader point of view in Artists and Artwork than the aesthetics of the Romantic period.  There were less restrictions imposed from patrons and Artists could express their artistic vision with a much freer hand.  

Can Fine Arts Really Be Defined?

Looking at  Wikipedia

One definition of fine art is a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic and intellectual purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness, specifically, painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, graphics, and architecture.”  


“The word “fine” does not so much denote the quality of the artwork in question, but the purity of the discipline according to traditional Western European canons. Except in the case of architecture, where a practical utility was accepted, this definition originally excluded the ‘useful’ applied or decorative arts, and the products of what were regarded as crafts. In contemporary practice, these distinctions and restrictions have become essentially meaningless, as the concept or intention of the artist is given primacy, regardless of the means through which this is expressed.”

Visual Arts

According to, most Visual Fine Art today include:


pen and ink
book illustration


encaustic painting
tempera painting
ink and wash
oil painting
watercolour painting

– acrylics





– silkscreen-printing

Other Fine Arts

Photography But see: Is Photography Art?
Manuscript Illumination

Music and Performance Arts are also now considered Fine Arts.

So then, how does one define “Fine Arts”?  It is hard to say as it is ever evolving as Artists and Artwork is ever evolving. New technologies and new artistic techniques continue to “stir the paint”, which changes the definition of “Fine Arts”.  I suppose one could let the Curators of Museums and Art History scholars of Western and European cultures pose the definitions, but really, isn’t what you consider to be Fine Arts “in the eye of the beholder?” 

Find more of these beautiful works of art and details about the artists on this website:

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