Differentiating Fine and Applied Art in the 21st Century

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This presentation begins with a critical, 21st century look at the Donis A. Dondis’ essay, “The False Dichotomy: Fine and Applied Art”, a first chapter section from her 1973 book, A Primer of Visual Literacy. A review of theoretical perspectives from luminaries such as Immanuel Kant, John Dewey, Suzanne Langer, Rudolph Arnheim and Alan Gowans was drawn upon to define as best as possible art’s function, identifying factors that ultimately contributed to the placement of arts on a continuum that seeks to separate arts fine from applied. This proposed continuum will be shown. It is built in recognition of the current trends in art disciplines that were recognized by Dondis (i.e., what has happened in painting, monuments, and graphics, for instance), while doing its best to hurdle what she considered to be “the greatest stumbling block … the categorizing of the visual arts into polarities of fine and applied art.” It does so with consideration of digital and other media not yet mainstream or conceived in 1973, such as video art and web design. It looks at the arts not only for their utilitarian or aesthetic function; but also with a passion for the applied arts specifically, adding texture and information to help with their identities, which the presenter senses to be regarded as less valuable than its fine art counterpart. All arts were treated as equal however, looking specifically at the characteristics of each to enable a thoughtful placement on a continuum for continued, quite possibly endless discussion.


Keywords: Applied Art, Fine Art, Function of Art, Digital Media
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Randy Howe

Associate Professor, Communications Media, Fitchburg State College
Fitchburg, MA, USA

An associate professor at Fitchburg State College, former graphic designer and researcher for several firms, Dr. Howe's research interests include creativity and visual communication with a focus on print and interactive media. Professional interests include instructional design and technology, information design and advertising. In the past year Dr. Howe spoke at the International Visual Literacy conference and the Association for Educational Communications and Technology symposium on visual arts related topics. Dr. Howe is currently writing a book on visual literacy.

Ref: A09P0267