What is Fine Art?

The classic definition of the term "fine art" is intended to distinguish artistic efforts that are imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual from art produced merely to decorate or to be used for commercial purposes.  But I believe that definition cuts too wide a swath across the landscape of available art by not giving sufficient weight to the word fine, which means of "high quality."

Because let's be honest.  The vast majority of art available to a collector is not of high quality. There are far too many examples of artists whose works fetch a pretty penny that I think most discerning collectors would agree is not very fine.  But does this mean that identifying fine art can only be left to the eye of the beholder?

Perhaps so. Because to the proud parents paying half their disposable income to the best preschools in town, the rambling scribblings of their precocious angels are truly "fine." So what is it that distinguishes such art from the similarly scribbled images of Cy Twombly, the darling of so many contemporary art museums and wealthy collectors?

For collectors like me who actually appreciate the former more than the latter, this is another question not easily answered.  However, this comparison of extreme variations in commercial value illustrates why fine art should never be judged by how much it costs.  Instead, contrasting two works of art at the opposite ends of the value spectrum suggests at least one way to define fine art: by what it is not:

While any of the above forms of art could be decorative and appealing to the eye--or perhaps they could even be in great demand and provide an artist a handsome living--this is not my definition of fine art.

Thus, I don't necessarily believe it is only in the eye of the beholder that one will find the definition of fine art.  The better test is the test that no form of art, architecture, music, or literature can avoid--the test of time.

Put another way, fine art is best defined by original works of work from the art eras, movements, genres, schools, and styles that will endure.  This is in contrast to art genres or styles that are at risk of fading away once the concepts underlying the transient nature of those art forms begin to wane in popularity.  The lesson for those seeking to create personal art collections that will last and be cherished by future generations--even at the reasonable price points offered within this store--is to be cautious of embracing contemporary art fads that will not last.

At Wesley Barrett Fine Arts, we are committed to supporting you with these very subjective choices. Our eclectic collection begins at the dawn of the modern-era in American fine art, and generally ends at the start of the post-modern era. Although these offerings are not intended to suggest that all post-modern art genres and styles will fail to endure, we will always remain cautious for the ultimate benefit of customers seeking to build collections that will stand the test of time.

Wesley Barrett
Director, Wesley Barrett Fine Arts

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