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Are we even allowed to write about alcohol on the arts page? Wed­dings? What about facial hair? Each of these topics has dom­i­nated the arts page at some point or another, printed clear as day above the fold. But are they, strictly speaking, art?

When most people with the benefit of a clas­sical edu­cation think of the word “art,” painting, sculpture, music, lit­er­ature, or theater spring to mind. But not “painting” in the sense of graffiti, or “theater” in the sense of a Las Vegas bur­lesque show. Rather, art is con­sidered the forms of these things that are done skill­fully and point towards the good, the true, and the beau­tiful. Beauty for the sake of beauty.

Inter­est­ingly enough, the Oxford English Dic­tionary only defines art as “skill in doing some­thing,” not even applying the word to any­thing regarding an “aes­thetic prin­ciple” until the eighth and ninth def­i­n­i­tions.

So, in that case, graffiti cer­tainly is an art as long as it is done well, along with mixing drinks, orga­nizing a wedding, teaching a class, laying a brick, or grooming one’s mus­tache.

The idea that the arts, by def­i­n­ition, “are con­cerned with ‘the beau­tiful’” and “appeal to the faculty of taste” inhibit many from appre­ci­ating such quo­tidian crafts as art. The phrase that matches the def­i­n­ition that they may be looking for — also pro­vided by the OED — is “fine art.”

There is a def­inite dis­tinction between Bernini’s “David,” and Duchamp’s “Fountain” or the work of Alexander Calder. However, that is not to say that the modern is not art. Banksy is not Rem­brant, but he doesn’t have to be. There is art, and there is fine art. The appre­ci­ation of the latter should not impede one’s ability to per­ceive the former, even if it is some­thing as simple as a well-crafted martini.

vcooney@hillsdale.edu