The Daily fine arts section has an identity crisis. Call it the dumping ground for anything that isn’t film, popular music, television or video games – but is sufficiently “artsy” enough to find its way into Daily Arts.

Andrew Skidmore

It’s easy enough to classify Mozart or Picasso or Arthur Miller as “fine arts” – anyone will throw you that bone. But what about everything else?

On the other end of fine arts legitimacy is the coverage of fashion shows, culture shows, a cappella concerts and even modern interpretative performance (think “The Vagina Monologues”). Can these really be considered “fine arts?” The definitive answer: It depends on whom you ask.

The phrase “fine art” was first used in 1767 to describe art that was “concerned with beauty or which appealed to taste.” The phrase was only applied to visual arts – sculpture, painting, etc. – and usually only for art of the classical style. The “fine” designation referred not to quality but rather to the purity of the art’s creation. In short, it’s art produced for the sake of art, with no deference to practicality or utility – much like the study of pure science.

Through the work of modernist activists, the definition of fine art has broadened throughout the 20th century. The phrase began to refer to classical music, established plays and traditional dance (ballet, for example).

Nowadays, even established institutions like the University have fine arts degrees for a wide range of mediums. You can get a Masters of Fine Arts at the School of Music for choreography and performance; in the English department for creative writing; and, of course, from the Art School for all things visual. Here is the “pure art” concept applied to academics – instead of theory and analysis, this is creation, even in the most modern of mediums and styles.

The progression of “fine art” is analogous to the changing visions of art itself. In the 1920s, jazz was considered vulgar trash, and abstract art’s earliest viewers were similarly horrified. Now, the jazz greats can be heard at Hill Auditorium with little grumble from even the most uppity of art fans, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art wouldn’t hesitate to display a Miro.

And the Daily – the progressive organization that it is – has taken the next step and turned these definitions on their collective heads. There is one editor and one columnist assigned as the be all, end all for classical music, jazz, plays, musicals, poetry, culture and fashion shows, painting, sculpture and dance. While the inclusiveness of the fine arts section was a matter of practicality (there just aren’t enough editors), the system makes a twisted sort of sense.

Culture shows – while also a statement of politics and culture (obviously) – is also a display of beauty, just one that hasn’t been accepted by the Western mainstream. For example, traditional Indian dance is to India what ballet is to Russia.

Then there’s fashion – regardless of what straight men say – which has been written off as a little too utilitarian to be considered fine art. But consider fashion at the highest levels. Beautiful, graceful – and in couture shows of Galliano, Versace or Dolce & Gabbana – totally impractical. This is pure art that just happens to be displayed on the human body.

And finally, “The Vagina Monologues” is a political statement, which could disqualify it as a fine art, but think of all the politics involved in some of the 20th century’s best plays. Some examples: “The Crucible,” “Streetcar Named Desire” or “Macbeth.”

Maybe I’m totally off my rocker at this point, but time seems to change all. Perhaps by the time I’m permanently planted on a real rocker, the Daily fine arts section will have paved the way for college fine arts writers around the country.

But more likely than not, long after we’re all ancient history, future generations will figure out new ways to challenge the status quo. In short, vita brevis, ars longa.

Life is short, but art is forever.

– Go wishes her Daily Arts career was forever. She wishes the future generations of Daily writers the best of luck in sticking it to the man. She will miss almost everyone desperately and hopes the whole thing doesn’t fall apart without her. Thanks for giving me everything I never knew I never wanted. E-mail her at aligo@umich.edu.

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