This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Several months ago, I read an opinion piece by Rose Fredrick entitled “Redefining Contemporary Western Art” . In the article, she addresses the topic of Western Art and asks if it is valid. In developing her opinion (most of which I agree with), she returns to the ongoing debate of illustration vs. fine art.
She says that fine art should “advance art for art’s sake.” Real art (fine art) should “further the movement and evolution of art; to leave a lasting mark on society.” It needs to be “honest work.” Near the end of her article, she writes that art that doesn’t “further and advance society is of little importance.”
When taken in context of her argument, I understand her conclusions. However, I have pondered some of these ideas frequently and am not sure quite where I stand.
For now, I will attempt to understand some of my varied and divergent ideas regarding the topic of “advancing art for art’s sake”. What does that really mean? I don’t have any true answers here, but just random thoughts.
To be considered fine art does the art itself take on a higher level of importance than the creator’s idea? Or does the strength of the idea automatically contribute to the advancement of art for art’s sake? If there is honesty in a work of art, by virtue of the intent, does that art promote the advancement of art and leave a lasting mark on society?
What about an honest work that lacks skill? Is it still a true work of art?
In the article, she chides historical painters (she specifically mentions Howard Terpning among others). She argues that they are “reiterating” works created by past artists. These, she suggests, are illustrators telling a story, not fine artists expressing a genuine, honest idea from within. She cites intent as the motivating factor. But couldn’t such artists have a genuine and honest reason for painting such scenes? Or is her assessment correct?
This brings up a question in my mind. Michelangelo painted by commission. Certainly his works have contributed to the advancement of art and has had a lasting effect upon society. But, much of his work depicted biblical events which took place long before he lived. Does that mean that his works weren’t true art because he didn’t observe the events? Was he just a historical illustrator feeding nostalgia? Or does his deep faith provide that link that makes his work true and honest expressions of art?
Taken his example, can an artist working today paint (or sculpt, draw, etc.) true and honest expressions of something that happened long ago if there is somehow, in some way a deeper connection – like Michelangelo’s faith?
What about someone who purposefully sets out to advance art for art’s sake? If that is their goal and driving force, then is it a true expression from within or is it inauthentic and contrived? Logic tells me that it is like recognizing your own humility. As soon as you do, you are no longer humble. I don’t think you can purposefully try to advance art for art’s sake. I think that motivation overrides or dilutes any authentic voice from within.
Anyway, those are just a few thoughts that I had. This only scratches the surface. But I hope it causes you to ponder a bit and consider what art really is. I’m interested in your thoughts. Share them.
 Unfortunately, the article is no longer on Rose Fredrick’s website. It really was a thought provoking article. And as said, I agreed with most of it.