|THE CLASSIFICATION OF THE ARTS|
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
THE conventional classification of the arts into useful, mechanic or industrial, and liberal, polite or fine is unscientific. It will not stand before even a superficial examination. Fine and useful are by no means mutually exclusive terms. The fine arts are useful, and the useful arts should be fine. The art that paints a picture or chisels a statue satisfies the desire for beauty. It is, therefore, useful for the same reason that cooking or farming or making shoes is useful. All that the word useful implies is satisfaction of desire, and this is the object of all the arts. On the other hand, the word fine, as applied to art, does not signify the absence of utility, but merely that the art has been brought to a certain degree of perfection (polite-polished), and that its practise is associated with gentility. There is no inherent reason why a useful art may not become a fine art. Obviously, then, the division of the arts into fine and useful is not dichotomous. One might as well divide the sciences into practical and interesting.
But are not the fine arts to be distinguished from the useful arts on the ground that the former involve the use of the imagination and the realization of the beautiful? It is true, of course, that the fine arts are par excellence the imaginative arts, and that they minister chiefly to the esthetic sense. Still, even this fact does not distinguish them wholly from the useful or industrial arts. Intelligence, imagination and pleasure are elements to be found in all the arts. Art really implies intelligence, and it is clear that imagination and pleasure may enter into invention as well as into the so-called creative arts.
What, then, is the basis of the familiar classification? It is the relative historical circumstances under which the respective arts originated and have been developed. The useful, mechanic or industrial arts are allied to productive labor, and their history is the history of labor; while the liberal, polite or fine arts have always been associated with leisure and culture.
Now productive labor, as everybody knows who is in the least familiar with industrial history, was originally imposed by the conquering upon the conquered. It was a function of the slave. Hence to labor has attached the odium of slavery. A life of productive labor was, in the earlier history of mankind, prima facie evidence of subjection and inferiority. This was true not only among barbarians, but