The term “fine art” refers to an art form practiced mainly for its aesthetic value and its beauty (“art for art’s sake”) rather than its functional value. Fine art is rooted in drawing and design-based works such as painting, printmaking, and sculpture. It is often contrasted with “applied art ” and “crafts” which are both traditionally seen as utilitarian activities. Other non-design-based activities regarded as fine arts, include photography and architecture, although the latter is best understood as an applied art.
The FINE ARTS of painting consists of the arrangement of shapes, lines, colours, tones and textures on a two-dimensional surface, thus creating an aesthetic image. More than that one cannot say, the sheer variety of possibilities precludes any more precise definition. The finished painting may be wholly representational and naturalistic – such as those of the photo realists (eg. Richard Estes) – or wholly abstract – comprising only geometric shapes (like those by Piet Mondrian, or Bridget Riley) – or anywhere in between. In genre terms, it might be a narrative history work, a portrait, a genre-scene, a landscape or a still life. It may be painted using encaustic, tempera or fresco paint, oils, acrylics or water colours, or any of the new contemporary mediums. And as art critics and historians can testify, there are countless conflicting theories about the function, design, style-hierarchy and aesthetics of painting, so perhaps the safest thing is to say that as “visual artists”, painters are engaged in the task of creating two-dimensional works of visual expression, in whatever manner appeals to them.
In addition to creating a visual object, an artist also aims to infuse it with a degree of intellectual content, in the form of symbolism, a moral or social message, or some other meaningful content. Thus, the famous American critic Clement Greenberg (1909-94) once stated that all great art should aim to create tension between visual appeal and interpretive possibility. The history of art is full of examples of interpretive content. For example, Egyptian art is noted for its iconographic imagery, as are Byzantine panel paintings and pre-Renaissance frescos.