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December 28, 2010 > State of the arts

State of the arts

By Margaret Talt

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." Picasso

Fine Art. Ask a dozen people how to recognize Fine Art and you'll receive a dozen different answers. What is Fine Art and who gets to define what it is? One East Bay curator answered frankly, "The definition eludes me." An artist stated, "It's an intriguing question and one which I actually prefer to avoid."

Can the term be applied to quilting, jewelry making, found objects combined into sculpture, basketry, or any of the items usually referred to as crafts?

Artist Diane La Mountaine, commissioner for District 2 of the Alameda County Arts Commission and a member of the Union City Public Art Board, thinks the term can be applied to most created items. The artist must be very aware of the surrounding world, and that the basic training of the mind and ongoing exercise of any particular skill leads to a higher level of art. La Mountaine says, "A practiced artist, in any field, brings forth a higher level of art, or 'Fine' art." She further offered, "If one studies the masters, art history, and spends time in fine art museums, it is easier to understand what it took and still takes to create a piece of art that will stand for hundreds of years as an example of Fine Art."

From Patty O'Rourke, president of the Fremont Art Association, comes this thought: "When an artist's work evolves... offering a compelling, appealing and inspiring form... it may be considered Fine Art. However, if the Fine Art form brings a smile to your heART, then the heck with 'Fine,' call it 'Divine.'" O'Rourke believes the term "Fine Art" is no longer restricted to the visual arts of painting and sculpture, and that it can be applied to almost all forms of creativity.

On the other hand, from Milpitas comes still another response."... if a two-year-old produces a drawing that produces a tremendous emotional response, it may be more important than the work of a professional artist... this is what makes art so fantastic and important to the world. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Larry Voellger, president of the Milpitas Alliance for the Arts, goes on to express his feeling that art is for art's sake, not for any utilitarian purpose, and that crafts do not fit that category.

Defining what constitutes Fine Art is difficult, even for artists, and the status of the crafts is up in the air too. As you can see, artists do not agree on whether crafts can be Fine Art, even though creative and beautiful. La Mountaine believes the term Fine Art can be applied to most created items, Voellger thinks the term cannot be applied to crafts, and O'Rourke goes for whatever makes you happy.

If you would like to weigh in and comment on what does or does not constitute Fine Art, or if you wish to call attention to a particularly nice piece of public art in your area that you think qualifies as Fine Art and why, e-mail the Fremont Cultural Arts Council at

In the final analysis, perhaps it is the public who decides what Fine Art is, the people who buy or view the creations of artists. Time, culture, place, and a little luck too may all play important parts in the process. The oft-heard expression, "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like!" may be the deciding factor. Fine Art, like beauty, may indeed be in the eye of the beholder.

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