What comprises art, much less fine art (rather than crude), is a perennial question, a somewhat stilted one perhaps for snobs exclusively limiting the term fine art to political contributors adept at sliding payola under the table from offshore banks, etc. When I was in college I took an independent study philosophy course on aesthetics that eventually morphed into the philosophy of art after I made a trip to the Louvre and the Parthenon to look things over. People have asked if art is symbolic and representational, one or the other or both at one time or another.
Art has differed into classes of those comprising graven images of real or imagined persons or creatures and those that are representational, yet not necessarily of animate objects including people, and those that aren’t, as in certain Islamic art.
In Oregon the Portland Art museum had an unusual art piece set like a table that was a lifelike statue of a naked man named The Gaul. It would have been representational art, representing a human obviously, as a model airplane or a carving of a bear might represent an airplane or an actual bear. The Gaul was a graven image or not, depending upon one being a humanist, sociopath or cynic perhaps, and to what degree one worshiped human beings as a kind of center-of-the-Universe, mankind as measure of all things, instead of one with God or at least other beings of equal stature in a hierarchy of man an his place in the phenomenal Universe.
I’d learned that just 1% of the marble statues carved in ancient Greek- Attic Greece, by sculptors such as Phidias, and of the Roman statuary too, survived the ravages of historical recycling into use in building or were lost to history through other causes not excluding iconoclasm and artillery I would guess. In their day those statues were painted with lifelike colors and would have been a remarkable sight. Art can be symbolic and representational simultaneously as might Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker represent a human in a posture of thought yet also symbolize the characteristic of being human differentiating humans from animals. If one encountered The Thinker in an extra-terrestrial art museum with sculptures of many sorts of animals one might guess that humans can think abstractions or regard them as slow and stupid pondering simple things before moving as deliberately as a sea cucumber might if it could think or a wood chuck would if it wanted to calculate quantities before chucking wood.
One learns from history that artisans were craftsmen. Sculptors and painters of the renaissance often were one in the same with artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci working in both fields. We learn they apprenticed as youth skilled in sketching were exposed to the building trades craft works including painting, and if showing exceptional ability were trained with the materials for what classically is regarded as artistic painting. Great murals such as cover the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were made, yet there were probably thousands of lesser quality wall coverings in villas by sundry artists that preponderantly didn’t survive. Numerous other artisan’s works such as tile floor murals and tapestry utilized inter-craft skills.
Over time the term art became detached from its initial meaning grounded in building trades and decorating surfaces that were aesthetically satisfying and became an eponym for things-in-themselves that were decorative perhaps, yet made with skill for an aesthetic thing-for-itself. Portrait, landscape and historical paintings were regarded as art. Opera too became thought of as of the arts because it combined painting scenes, costumes, plays and music together in a superfluous production. Art had the quality of being fundamentally superfluous and non-functional in comparison to practical skills like farming, medicine, soldiering, engineering or educating others with ideas of best ways to think (philosophy). Apologists have countless times defended the superfluity of art by saying that mankind needs music, paintings and other distractions for relief from the mundane etc. There are basic arts though, that require no defense; such as the art of building a fire below zero or sailing a boat through a storm, that may save one’s life if only in the temporal. I believe that expanded, practical paradigm for the meaning of art formed the core of the expansion of the range of the word art. The Art of Peace is more valued than the Art of War in its season.
Modern art changed the idea of what art is. Jackson Pollock’s splattered paint on canvas exemplified the idea of aesthetically pleasing images without forms. French impressionists and other modernist painters had changed the nature of presenting images with new techniques, and Cubists such as Pablo Picasso presented the subjectivity of perception and ideas of others externally. If Picasso had known Freud well the result might have been some odd collage of Jungian archetypes in a macabre El Greco dreamscape infused with special relativity.
With the evolution of art to formlessness as well as forms, and to atoms, ideas and nominalism lapping on the shoreline of universals, art returned to its roots as a general term for structured aesthetic presentations in building trades. The term art wasn’t limited to aesthetic surfaces for the eyes. It expanded to include architecture like that of Antonio Gaudi’s la Sagrada Familia and Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre and etchings like Malcom Escher’s paradoxical images of architecture and landscapes.
Like the word professional, art became universally applied to describe any sort of activity well done from cake decorating to reasoning. Is fiction writing an art? Language has two basic elements; the syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes; structure and meaning. Like prosaic constructions in contrast to artistic, ordinary language may be skillfully worked to an artistic level of expression.
I read a book on classical, predicated, propositional and term logic several times named The Art of Reasoning. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a famous written work of the era. Herman Hesse’ Steppenwolf probably tipped the scales toward Hesse be awarded a Nobel prize for literature. The art of fiction writing is art in fact and perceptible in great works such as Stendahl’s The Red and the Black or August 1914. Words are an art form capable of expressing ideas in-themselves rather than representationally, although words have a syntehtic nominalist-realist character necessarily interpreted in part, subjectively. With Jean Paul Sartre’s The Condemned of Altoona one experiences; one sees where captives are kept awaiting execution and discovers their thought. Not only in fiction is art in writing present. It is found in non-fiction works such as Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.
Writers may work on their writing project for a lifetime and never capture the aesthetics or ideas they wished to convey in the form they want (I wrote five novels and five books of poetry while unemployed and unable to find work-for-others without being satisfied that I couldn’t have done much better).
It is somewhat amusing that some sectors of society including government do not recognize writing for-oneself (rather than working for an industry or employer doing technical writing) as work or an occupation. Some states and alumni associations do not recognize writer as an occupation or an art. All of that creative activity, editing and developing structure for contemporary electronic publishing is what, unskilled idleness? If Shakespeare’s plays were not fine art, would they at least be a sort of granular art as much as The Art of War might be regarded? Should writers consider themselves to be not artists or even workers if they don’t turn out product like War and Peace or Brothers Karamazov up to a government standard book of the month club? Writers could regard themselves as actors in real life like Vladimir and Estragon players Waiting for Godot ; trying to rhyme like broadcast journalists and politicians and perform to keep an administration’s minions happy with very fine art.
The art of boxing and of counter-punching would be an art if Floyd Mayweather Jr. was using it, yet not so if a less skilled fighter was putting up a defense. If Carmello Anthony or Kobe Bryant were shooting jump shots that might be an art, yet not Wilt Chamberlain shooting free throws as line drives to the hoop. The art of constructing a universe from a concentrated and undifferentiated monistic field that expands in pre-determined ways inclusive of an element of uncertainty when observed from within the universe seems quite artful, yet in retrospect Einstein’s discovery pf special and general relativity seem artful and aesthetically satisfying even if not being the Dictum de Omni for every possible configuration of fields, waves or pluralism that could ever arise in cosmological theories or observations within mathematics or without.
Some people need be satisfied with the art of cooking, and like basic elements such as meat and potatoes as much as delicate novelties concocted by a French pastry chef infusing carbohydrates and sweets with special sauces into game birds. Fishing and hunting have elements of art, yet so do optimal social designs for progress, prosperity and environmental health when they escape from the jaws of censorship into the body politic.
In the modern world mystics and romantics still see art in nature, in particular in sunsets, mountains, flowers caressed by a breeze and in life itself. Philosophers and experimentalists advanced knowledge of design, so an art of design arose, as if Gregory Mendel learning of plant genetics and Ludwig Van Beethoven synthetic combined variations of abstract structures not only to solve every encoded natural construction from sound to light; went further to formalize heterodox recombination of Aristotelian substances as genetics in all compositions. The art of God in presenting nature, brought man’s place within it to a sentient plain, and with sufficient reason in mankind allowed a coefficient in law to draw human society toward order- structure, that would bring the beings grown from the ground of becoming toward himself with the Lord Jesus Christ providing the moral and ethical genius to overcome the original sin of thermodynamic clashes to obtain energy implicit in the temporal Universe.
Modern art flowed into reason and the overlapping arts of reason and design. Multi-dimensional aesthetics could be used by mathematicians as solutions to puzzles and tests of modal logic universes. Physical scientists might design and actualize quantum splices and super-positions of structures from photons, to quarks and perhaps fields sustaining them as long-term, entangled virtual particulate emanations of fields. Yet fine arts might be deposition of new materials on computer chip memory or china cups collecting sunlight to keep coffee warm. Art might be a promise of life after death recollected on a sunny day when light is short and time fleeting. It may be a smile in the sky persisting unto dark.