What is Fine Art?

gallery photo by Sonja Quintero

Gallery Standing – Sonja Quintero – Squint Photography

What is fine art? This is a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately. All this came about when I was chastised by an art consultant for calling my photography “fine art.” He quickly informed me that he had sold “fine art photography” for over 30 years and “fine art” is collected and printed by hand. He said that the majority of photos today are easily reproduced and go for cheap.

Now, while I have to agree with him on some of that and I do see where he was coming from, I’ll have to admit I was somewhat offended by his words. He has never seen my work or spoken to me before. How did he know whether my work was “fine” or not?

In this world of mass production and digital photography, my chosen medium of expression has it tough. Photography had a rough go at first and for many years was not considered “fine art”.

But, I digress….I don’t really want to talk about whether photography is considered fine art or not, but what constitutes art in general as something “fine” and collectable.

Just yesterday the subject came up again when I introduced myself to a woman and said I was “a fine art photographer”. Her response was: “what is fine art photography?”. Another woman’s response was to ask if that meant I photographed weddings. Oh geez.

All this talk got me thinking about my own definition of fine art, versus, let’s say decorative art. I do some of both. I’ll use photographs as examples, since that’s what I know and do, but this of course would pertain to any kind of art.

This flower image, for instance, would it not be considered “fine art” because it’s simply a photo of flowers and is pretty?

nature photo by Sonja Quintero

Ranunculi – Sonja Quintero – Digital Print

And this abstract image – is it “fine art” because it’s non-representational and contemporary?

Minimal Blur - Sonja Quintero - Squint Photography

Minimal Blur – Sonja Quintero – Squint Photography

Is this image “fine art” because it was created on film, developed and printed by me in a traditional darkroom?

gelatin print by Sonja Quintero

Tri Star Holga – Sonja Quintero – Gelatin Print

Or is this image “fine art” because it seems to have a deeper context and elicits a response?

Unmade - Sonja Quintero

Unmade – Sonja Quintero

For me, it can be a little tricky to define “fine art”. If I had to say it simply, I would say it is an art piece created from a personal desire of expression. It tells a story, produces an emotional response, and is often a piece of a larger theme.

Ok, that being said, who am I to determine whether a piece of art is “fine” in your eyes? What I might find uninteresting and flat, you might find exciting and full of feeling. Maybe the flower photo really resonates with someone, maybe it reminds them of their grandmothers garden and the smell of her hair. Or maybe it’s just a nice picture, that matches their bedding perfectly. One person might consider it a “collectable” piece and another just a photo to fill a blank wall, therefore, making it’s significance merely decorative. But essentially, they are both the same piece, they just mean something different to the viewer.

On the flip side, a piece I would consider to be part of my “fine art work” on abandonment and decay, might just look like a dirty, unmade bed to someone. What’s so fine about that? Why I consider it my finer art, is because it makes me feel a sense of loss and mystery. It was created from a more personal space within me and I am expressing that in the subject captured. It’s not really decorative at all, but serves to evoke emotion.

And as far as something being “collectable” to determine whether it’s fine art or not, seems like a moot point. Again, it’s all subjective, really. Some of the work out there that’s collected, is simply so, because someone told someone else it was a piece that has “value”. “Another man’s junk, is another man’s treasure” as the saying goes!

So, what do you think determines whether a piece is fine art? Have you had experiences where you were told your work was not “fine”? I’d love to hear about it, tell me!


2 Responses to “What is Fine Art?”

  1. fine art, it is not that difficult, it is all about Marketing…

    Marketing… this remembers me about a short conversation we had in Cuba. My wife told the people where we stayed in her proffesional life she is in Marketing. The landlady asked her husband: “What is marketing” after some thinking he replied: “a kind of propaganda”

    So, if I connect these thoughts, fine art… it has to do with propaganda!

  2. it’s all propaganda!….I like that! 🙂

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