Is There Room for Digital at the Fine Arts Table?

Digital art is fairly new; it really didn’t take hold until the 2000s. During this time, Gicleé prints and other convenient new methods of distribution have disrupted the art scene. There are still some critics who believe the term “fine art” is thrown around too loosely, especially concerning photography and digital design. Others (Wikipedia, for one), say that the restrictions and distinctions that traditionally distinguish fine art from decorative arts and crafts, are practically meaningless in the contemporary art world. Let’s attempt to scratch the surface of this debate and figure out whether digital art, in fact, has a rightful place at the fine art table.

What Does Fine Art Really Mean?

Digital fine art : What does fine art mean? The definition of fine art via @illumaglass
Screen shot sourced from Google search results July 13, 2016.

The definition implies that fine art is visual artwork that is not commercial / commissioned. So, even cathedral paintings done by the great medieval artists would not fall into this exclusive category — they were created with input from outside sources (religious leaders who organized the projects). With fine art, you are responsible for the idea and creation of fine art works. If the idea comes from an outside source, such as a company or client, this is not considered fine art.

The most viewed writer in the Fine Art category on Quora, Owen Caterwall, says that fine art is a “conceit,” implying that artists are the “sole agent of creative invention.” So, it would seem that the medium is not the deciding factor, and that digital art can easily be labeled “fine.”

But, Why Do Some People Argue Against Digital Being Fine Art?

What is it that makes people say this?:

To someone who has never spent hours painting in photoshop or months shooting and editing a photo series for a showcase, digital may seem like it’s “cheating.” Airbrushing photographs of models is commonly said to give young people body image issues, skewing their perception of beauty. Digital film effects are often referred to as “fake.” So, it’s really just a matter of preconceived ideas and beliefs that lead people to think digital isn’t fine art. There’s nothing definitive, however, that makes this true.

What is Digital Fine Art and What is Not?

Only some digital design is fine. As stated above, the intention of the artist is what makes the distinction.

Dr. Martens Ad Sourced From The Inspiration Room Digital Design via @illumaglass
Dr. Martens Ad Sourced From The Inspiration Room


Digital Fine Art : The White Beauty Angel By annemaria48 on Devianart via @illumaglass
The White Beauty Angel By annemaria48 on Devianart

These two images, though similar in composition, are on opposite ends of the fine art spectrum. The art in the Dr. Marten’s advertisement is high quality, but it’s commercial — instantly disqualified. “The White Beauty Angel” was created from pure inspiration, which makes it completely eligible for a seat at the fine art table.


Digital has definitely earned its place at the fine art table. So, it can now sit comfortably with the other creative visual media created solely for imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content. Subscribe to our mailing list for more articles that explore digital design, photography, and more.

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