The Charles De Koninck Project

Is Architecture a Fine Art?

With the uploading Monday of Art and Morality, with a Note on History, a lively exchange took place in the commentary section of its posting on Facebook, directed at the following observation:


What has been said of poetry applies to other arts insofar as they are concerned with human action, passion, or character. Poetry itself is a term that can include all imaginative writing concerned with human action. To this we can add the drama, music and the dance, and even, to some degree, all the fine arts except architecture. (Art and Morality [Original Version])


Is architecture really a species of fine art? As a help toward answering this question, I offer the following link to a catena of texts from Aristotle and St. Thomas on the division of the arts, with supplementary excerpts from various writers of the Laval School on associated questions.

  1. It seems to me that the distinctions between the servile, fine, and liberal arts are really distinctions as to whether the work is oriented towards the good, beautiful, or true, receptively. I’d have a hard time saying that, looked at it from this perspective, any of these arts are inherently superior to any other, unless we want to say that some transcendentals are greater than others.

  2. I understand the distinction of the arts first of all according to differences in their ends, but also according to the type of work they produce (these being proper principles for making such distinctions, whereas the transcendentals, being concerned with being as such, fall outside the consideration of art). With respect to the former, inasmuch as the fine arts are recognized as species of imitation, and so are produced for the sake of pleasure and recreation, they necessarily differ from the servile arts, whose end is their usefulness for the necessities of life. With respect to the latter, the liberal arts produce their works within the mind, being “immediate to reason”, as St. Thomas explains, and so, having been produced for the sake of knowledge, cannot be the same kind of art as the other two. For these reasons, at the end of the text I link to, I argue that the three species of art are mutually exclusive. I also offer reasons for understanding architecture as a useful art. Why, in the article occasioning the present blog-post De Koninck places it among the fine arts, I have no idea. Perhaps an answer is to be found somewhere among his many unpublished writings on art.

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