What is Fine Art? Learn About the Definition and the Different Types of Fine Art

What is Fine Art

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If you've ever taken an art course or visited a gallery, you've likely come across the term “fine art.” Though it may sound like this describes the quality or value of the art, it actually relates to the purity of the artistic pursuit. Unlike crafts or decorative works, fine art is created solely for aesthetic and intellectual purposes.

When thinking of examples of fine art, famous paintings like the Girl with a Pearl Earring or sculptures like Michelangelo's David usually come to mind. However, this phrase actually encompasses several different disciplines: painting, sculpture, drawing, installation, architecture, and fine art photography. And the list continues to develop.

Here we will learn about the different types of fine art and take a look at some examples.

What is Fine Art?

Raft of Medusa by Gericault

Théodore Géricault, “The Raft of The Medusa,” 1818–9 (Photo: Louvre via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Fine art traditionally refers to types of art that primarily serve an aesthetic or intellectual purpose. This usually applies to visual arts, such as painting and sculpture, but has also been used to describe other creative disciplines including music, architecture, poetry, and performing arts. In this case, the use of the word “fine” refers to the integrity of the artistic pursuit.

The definition of fine art excludes arts that serve functional purposes, most notably crafts and applied arts.

 

Types of Fine Art

Drawing

Portrait Drawing by Ingres

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, “Portrait of Victor Baltard's Wife (born Adeline Lequeu) and their Daughter Paule,” c. 1800s (Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

With a history tracing back to Paleolithic times, drawing is one of the oldest forms of human communication and creativity. It denotes the practice of making marks on two-dimensional surfaces like paper or board with the aid of a utensil, such as a pencil, pen, charcoal, etc.

Drawing is one of the fundamental elements of art, serving a variety of purposes for creatives. While it can be an art form in itself, it is also used by artists to explore ideas and concepts and to prepare for final artworks in another medium, like painting.

 

Painting

A Bar at the Folies Bergere by Edouard Manet

Édouard Manet, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère,” 1882 (Photo: The Courtauld Institute of Art via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Painting is perhaps the most well-known form of fine art that can be viewed in museums around the world. It describes the act of applying paint or pigment to a hard surface, usually through means of another device, such as a brush or palette knife.

Like drawing, painting has roots dating back thousands of years, making it another age-old form of human expression. Its evolution from cave decorations to depictions on canvas can be credited to developments in painting materials.

In Western art, painting has evolved through numerous art movements—using the medium to explore different aesthetics and ideas triggered by the historical context. Additionally, some of the most famous works of fine art are also paintings, including The Mona Lisa and The Starry Night.

 

Printmaking

Etching by Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Dürer, “Melencolia I,” 1511 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Printmaking is a practice that transfers ink from a matrix onto material—typically paper—making multiple impressions of the same image. Matrixes can be made of different materials, including wood, metal plates, linoleum, aluminum, or fabric. While there are different printmaking techniques (each having its own distinct characteristics), the end result is the ability to make several impressions of a single image.

In modern times, prints are issued in editions. Each edition will have a limited number of impressions, though artists sometimes issue open editions. Once the edition is done being printed, the matrix is destroyed and every single impression is considered an original work of art. Traditionally, once printmaking took off, prints were also often used to illustrate books or were sold in small bound collections.

 

Sculpture

David Sculpture by Michelangelo

Michelangelo, “David,” 1501–1504 (Photo: Jörg Bittner Unna via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

A sculpture is a three-dimensional work of art created from an additive or subtractive process of the material. In this discipline, artists usually carve or assemble a form from stone, marble, wood, clay, metal, and ceramics, among other materials.

The practice of sculpture has existed for centuries. In fact, one of the oldest known works of art, titled The Venus of Willendorf, is a miniature statuette carved from limestone between 30,000 and 25,000 BCE. Western sculpture as we know it now, however, first blossomed in ancient Greece, when artists captured the human figure with anatomical realism. Since then, it has developed over the course of different art movements, encompassing a range of styles and approaches.

 

Installation

Spiral Jetty Installation

Robert Smithson, “Spiral Jetty,” 1970 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5)

Installation art is a modern movement characterized by immersive, larger-than-life works of art. Usually, installation artists create these pieces for specific locations, enabling them to expertly transform any space into a customized, interactive environment.

 

Fine Art Photography

Fine Art Photograph of New York by Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz, “Old and New New York,” 1910 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Fine art photography runs contrary to what most of us think about when thinking about how we use a camera. Most amateur photographers use their cameras to document important events and capture memories without artistic motivation. Instead, a distinguishing feature of fine art photography is that recording a subject is not the main purpose. These artists use photography as a means to express their vision and make an artistic statement.

 

Examples of Famous Fine Art Paintings

 

Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434

Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck

Jan Van Eyck, “The Arnolfini Portrait,” 1434 (Photo: National Gallery via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
The Arnolfini Portrait
Artist
Jan Van Eyck
Year
1434
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
32.4 in x 23.6 in (82.2 cm x 60 cm); panel 33.3 in x 24.6 in (84.5 cm x 62.5 cm)
Location
National Gallery (London, England)

 

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c. 1484–6

Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli, “The Birth of Venus,” c. 1484–1486 (Photo: Uffizi via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
The Birth of Venus
Artist
Sandro Botticelli
Year
c. 1484–1486
Medium
Tempera on canvas
Size
67.9 in × 109.6 in (172.5 cm × 278.9 cm)
Location
Uffizi Galleries (Florence, Italy)

 

Leonardo da Vinci, The Mona Lisa, c. 1503–1506

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, “The Mona Lisa,” c. 1503–1506 (Photo: Louvre via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Title
Mona Lisa
Artist
Leonardo da Vinci
Year
1503-1506
Medium
Oil on wood panel
Size
30 in × 21 in (77 cm × 53 cm)
Location
Louvre (Paris, France)

 

Raphael, The School of Athens, 1509–1511

School of Athens by Raphael

Raphael, “The School of Athens,” 1509–11 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
The School of Athens
Artist
Raphael
Year
1509–1511
Medium
Fresco
Size
200 in x 300 in (500 cm x 770 cm)
Location
Apostolic Palace (Vatican City, Rome, Italy)

 

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656–7

Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez

Diego Velázquez, “Las Meninas,” 1656–1657 (Photo: Museo del Prado via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
Las Meninas
Artist
Diego Velázquez
Year
1656
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
125.2 in x 108.7 in (318 cm x 276 cm)
Location
Museo del Prado (Madrid, Spain)

 

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Night Watch, 1642

The Nightwatch by Rembrandt

Rembrandt, “The Nightwatch,” 1642 (Photo: Rijksmuseum via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
The Night Watch
Artist
Rembrandt van Rijn
Year
1642
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
142.9 in x 172 in (363 cm x 437 cm)
Location
Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

 

Johannes Vermeer, Girl With a Pearl Earring, c. 1665

Girl With a Pearl Earring Painting

Johannes Vermeer, “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” c. 1665 (Photo: Mauritshuis via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
Girl with a Pearl Earring
Artist
Johannes Vermeer
Year
c. 1665
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
17.5 in x 15 in (44.5 cm x 39 cm)
Location
Mauritshuis (The Hague, Netherlands)

 

Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix, “Liberty Leading the People,” 1830 (Photo: Louvre via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
Liberty Leading the People
Artist
Eugène Delacroix
Year
1830
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
102.4 in x 128 in (260 cm x 325 cm)
Location
Louvre (Paris, France)

 

Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe, 1863

Painting by Manet

Édouard Manet, “Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe,” 1863 (Photo: Musée d'Orsay via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
Artist
Édouard Manet
Year
1863
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
81.9 in x 104.1 in (208 cm x 264.5 cm)
Location
Musée d'Orsay (Paris, France)

 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bal du moulin de la Galette, 1876

Impressionist Painting

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Bal du moulin de la Galette,” 1876 (Photo: Musée d'Orsay via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
Bal du moulin de la Galette
Artist
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Year
1876
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
52 in x 69 in (131 cm x 175 cm)
Location
Musée d'Orsay (Paris, France)

 

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–6

Post-Impressionism Painting by Seurat

Georges Seurat, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” 1884–6 (Photo: Art Institute of Chicago via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Artist
Georges Seurat
Year
1884–1886
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
81.7 in x 121.25 in (207.6 cm x 308 cm)
Location
Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, USA)

 

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, “The Starry Night,” 1889 (Photo: MoMA via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
The Starry Night
Artist
Vincent van Gogh
Year
1889
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
29.01 in x 36.26 in (73.7 cm x 92.1 cm)
Location
Museum of Modern Art (New York, USA)

 

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, “The Scream,” 1893 (Photo: National Gallery of Norway via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
The Scream
Artist
Edvard Munch
Year
1893
Medium
Oil, tempera, pastel, and crayon on cardboard
Size
96 in x 92 in (243.9 cm x 233.7 cm)
Location
National Gallery and Munch Museum (Oslo, Norway)

 

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907–8

The Kiss Painting by Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt, “The Kiss,” oil and gold leaf on canvas, 1907–1908 (Photo: Belvedere via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
The Kiss
Artist
Gustav Klimt
Year
1907-1908
Medium
Oil and gold leaf on canvas
Size
71 in × 71 in (180 cm × 180 cm)
Location
Galerie Belvedere (Vienna, Austria)

 

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907

Painting by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,” 1907 (Photo: MoMA via Wikimedia Commons, Fair use)

Title
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
Artist
Pablo Picasso
Year
1907
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
96 in x 92 in (243.9 cm x 233.7 cm)
Location
Museum of Modern Art (New York, USA)

 

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory, 1931

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Upper Midtown.

Title
The Persistence of Memory
Artist
Salvador Dalí
Year
1931
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
9.5 in x 13 in (24 cm x 33 cm)
Location
Museum of Modern Art (New York, USA)

 

Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930

American Gothic by Grant Wood

Grant Wood, “American Gothic,” 1930 (Photo: Art Institute of Chicago via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Title
American Gothic
Artist
Grant Wood
Year
1930
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
33 3/4 in x 25 3/4 in (78 cm x 65.3 cm)
Location
Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, USA)

 

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942 

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper, “Nighthawks,” 1942 (Photo: Art Institute of Chicago via Wikipedia, Public domain)

Title
Nighthawks
Artist
Edward Hopper
Year
1942
Medium
Oil on canvas
Size
33.1 in x 60 in (84.1 cm x 152.4 cm)
Location
Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, USA)

 

Check out our full list of famous paintings.

 

Books About Fine Art

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is fine art?

Fine art traditionally refers to types of art that primarily serve an aesthetic or intellectual purpose. This usually applies to visual arts, such as painting and sculpture, but has also been used to describe other creative disciplines including music, architecture, poetry, and performing arts. In this case, the use of the word “fine” refers to the integrity of the artistic pursuit.

The definition of fine art excludes arts that serve functional purposes, most notably crafts and applied arts.

What arts are considered fine arts?

Today, fine arts is usually applied to visual arts like painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, installation, and fine art photography.

 

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Margherita Cole

Margherita Cole is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and illustrator based in Southern California. She holds a BA in Art History with a minor in Studio Art from Wofford College, and an MA in Illustration: Authorial Practice from Falmouth University in the UK. She wrote and illustrated an instructional art book about how to draw cartoons titled 'Cartooning Made Easy: Circle, Triangle, Square' that was published by Walter Foster in 2022.
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