Fine Art Definition

Fine Art Definition – Explore the Meaning of the Types of Fine Art

The meaning of the term “fine art” has evolved and transformed over time. Fine art is generally understood as something that appeals to our visual or auditory senses and is produced through a creative process. This short article will take a closer look at how we define and understand the term “fine art”.



What Is Fine Art?

Fine art, sometimes also called high art, commonly refers to a form of art that is aesthetically pleasing and that takes a certain set of skills to achieve. Examples typically included painting and sculpture. This understanding of fine art is often also called “art for art’s sake” and it is generally seen as being superior to functional art, such as decorative vases.

Fine Art Examples Salvator Mundi (c. 1499 – 1510) by Leonardo da Vinci, located in the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fine art is also generally seen as superior to “applied art” or “craft”, which are commonly also seen as utilitarian activities. This understanding of fine art is, however, quite limited and has been challenged and extended as new philosophies and technologies emerge.

Because of the ever-evolving nature of art, it is nearly impossible to provide a fixed fine art meaning or definition.


Types of Fine Art

Just as the definition of fine art is blurred and ever-changing, so are the lists of mediums used by fine artists. The list below of fine art examples is thus sure to change over time as technology changes and with the emergence of new artistic inventions. However, based on our current understanding of fine art, we can include the following fine art examples in our fine art definition:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Printmaking
  • Sculpture
  • Installation
  • Fine art photography
  • Conceptual art
  • Textile arts
  • Performing arts
  • Digital art
  • Mixed media arts

What Is Fine Arts Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, located in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France; Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Fine Arts vs. Crafts

There used to be a quite rigid understanding between fine art, which was seen as purely aesthetic, and craft, which was seen as functional. In the 20th century, when the term “visual art” became more prolific, the lines between fine art and craft became blurred. Mediums like silkscreen printing, which was predominantly a functional medium used for advertising are now also considered a medium of fine art.

Ceramics is another example of a medium that used to fit exclusively as a craft but can now also be considered fine art.

Types of Fine Art Covered ceramic Chinese teapot or wine pot with “powder-blue” glaze (between 1662 and 1722), located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, United States; Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons



A Shift in the Fine Art Definition

The biggest shift in our understanding of fine art happened in the 20th century. One of the seminal moments that challenged our understanding of the meaning of art is when Marcel Duchamp submitted a porcelain urinal as his artwork to an exhibition in New York City in 1917.

The artwork, titled “Fountain”, asked the public to consider what we define as art. Duchamp made a statement saying that anything can be seen as art when it is placed in the right venue.

Fine Art Meaning Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), photographed by Alfred Stieglitz at the 291 art gallery following the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibit, with the entry tag visible. The backdrop is The Warriors by Marsden Hartley; Marcel Duchamp, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

With this, Duchamp not only challenged the dominant fine art definition, but also the power that art institutions have to determine what is considered art. Artists continued this kind of intellectual experimentation in movements such as minimalism and conceptual art.

By the 21st century, there were many more mediums that were included in the fine art definition.



Famous Fine Art Paintings

Below is a list of some of the most famous fine art paintings. This list includes fine art painting examples from the enlightenment era to modern art and the avant-garde. Below are 30 of the most famous paintings from western art history. 

DateArtistArtwork TitleArtwork Medium
1434Jan Van EyckThe Arnolfini PortraitOil on oak panel
1484 – 1486Sandro BotticelliThe Birth of VenusTempera on canvas
1495 – 1498Leonardo da VinciThe Last SupperFresco painting
1508 – 1512MichelangeloCreation of AdamFresco painting
1503 – 1519Leonardo da VinciThe Mona LisaOil on popular panel
1642Rembrandt van RijnThe Night WatchOil on canvas
1656Diego VelázquezLas MeninasOil on canvas
1665Johannes VermeerGirl With a Pearl EarringOil on canvas
1767Jean Honoré FragonardThe SwingOil on canvas
1801 – 1805Jacques-Louis DavidNapoleon Crossing the AlpsOil on canvas
1818 – 1819Théodore GéricaultThe Raft of the MedusaOil on canvas
1863Édouard ManetLe Déjeuner Sur L’HerbeOil on canvas
1872MonetImpression SunriseOil on canvas
1876Pierre Auguste RenoirBal Du Moulin De La GaletteOil on canvas
1889Vincent Van GoghThe Starry NightOil on canvas
1893Edvard MunchThe ScreamOil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard, including a lithograph
1899Claude MonetThe Water Lily PondOil on canvas
1907 – 1908Gustav KlimtThe KissOil and gold leaf on canvas
1910Henri MatisseThe DanceOil on canvas
1912Marcel DuchampNude Descending a StaircaseOil on canvas
1929René MagritteThe Treachery of ImagesOil on canvas
1930Grant WoodAmerican GothicOil on beaver board
1931Salvador DaliThe Persistence of MemoryOil on canvas
1937Pablo PicassoGuernicaOil on canvas
1950Jackson PollockLavender MistOil, enamel, and aluminum on canvas
1954Mark RothkoNo 1 Royal Red and BlueOil on canvas
1962Andy WarholCampbell’s Soup CansSynthetic polymer paint on canvas
1972David HockneyPortrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)Acrylic on canvas
1981Jean Michel BasquiatUntitled (Skull)Acrylic and oil stick on canvas
2005Cy TwomblyUntitledAcrylic on canvas



Reading Recommendations

The book recommendations below are chosen to broaden our understanding of the meaning of fine art. These books introduce different types of fine art and show how the definition of fine art has changed over time.


Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? (2020) by Jessica Cerasi

This book gives the reader a delightful and logical insight into the art world today. While decoding “artspeak”, the author explains and demystifies conceptual art. The book aims to make the sometimes-daunting scene of contemporary art more accessible for a wider audience to enjoy.

Who's Afraid of Contemporary Art?
  • Contains 40 color illustrations of artworks
  • A playful introduction to the world of contemporary art
  • The perfect go-to guide for looking at contemporary artworks
View on Amazon


How Photography Became Contemporary Art: Inside an Artistic Revolution from Pop to the Digital Age (2021) by Andy Grundberg

In this book, Andy Grundberg, who used to work as a critic for the New York Times, unpacks the development of photography as an art medium through the years. Grundberg knew many of the artists he wrote about personally, including Cindy Sherman and Gordon Matta-Clark, making his writing even more personal and engaging. Grunberg writes about his own experiences while he tells us about the 70s and 80s through the medium of photography.

How Photography Became Contemporary Art: Inside an Artistic Revolution from Pop to the Digital Age
  • Part memoir and part history
  • This perspective is given by one of the period’s leading critics
  • Tells a larger story about the crucial decades of the 70s and 80s
View on Amazon


This article aimed to answer the question “what are fine arts?”. While there is no clear fine art definition, we can look at what is historically considered fine art and expect that definition to change over time. Artists and thinkers are constantly challenging our ideas around art and shifting the boundaries of what should be considered fine art. Art enriches our lives and we should try to be open-minded and enjoy the development of art through the years.




Frequently Asked Questions


Is Graffiti Art?

Graffiti is often accused of being vandalism, but it has a very complicated relationship with art. While some graffiti artists are jailed, others, like Banksy, have received record sales. This is a difficult question that has no clear answer. It might be necessary to consider each piece of graffiti separately by looking at the intention and quality of the work. 


What Is the Most Expensive Work of Art?

Many pieces of important art can be found in the permanent collections of museums worldwide, making them, in some way, priceless. Of these works that were sold in the past, the most expensive one was Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, painted between 1499 and 1510, which was sold for 450.3 million dollars.


Why Are There So Few Famous Female Artists?

You might have noticed that our list of famous fine art paintings included no female artists. Most people can likely count the number of female artists they know of on one hand. These artists might include Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, Marina Abramovic, or Yayoi Kusama. And all of these are artists that emerged only during the modern era. Part of the reason for this is that female artists were often overlooked in the past and they were also not allowed in art guilds and academies. This has started to change drastically in the 21st century, and for the first time ever, in 2022, the Venice Biennale has more female artists being represented than male artists in their main exhibitions.


Cite this Article

Chrisél, Attewell, “Fine Art Definition – Explore the Meaning of the Types of Fine Art.” Art in Context. July 26, 2022. URL:

Attewell, C. (2022, 26 July). Fine Art Definition – Explore the Meaning of the Types of Fine Art. Art in Context.

Attewell, Chrisél. “Fine Art Definition – Explore the Meaning of the Types of Fine Art.” Art in Context, July 26, 2022.

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