The definitions of fine arts and what disciplines are included therein vary, but a common thread among the definition of what comprises fine arts is the thought that they are "art for art's sake"--objects made or performed for their beauty, intellectual value or aesthetic appeal. In a broad sense, the fine arts encompass certain forms of dance, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, drama, poetry and other disciplines. Sometimes the term "fine arts" is used to refer solely to the visual arts--painting, sculpture, lithography, photography--while theater, dancing and music are referred to as the performing arts.
An early definition of fine arts included objects that were beautiful but not useful, a distinction that stemmed from the belief that useful objects were the domain of working people and art belonged to the elite aristocracy. This distinction between beautiful and useful has certainly blurred over the ages--ceramics, textiles, furniture and architecture (inarguably useful) are often included under the umbrella of fine arts.
Objects of art, whether a painting, a photograph or an opera or ballet, usually have been created with consideration for the following: style, aesthetics, design, perspective and rhythm. There are seven elements of art in regard to visual arts: line, space, color, texture, value, form and shape. These elements of art are critical tools for evaluating and describing an object of art.
The fine arts are often classified into periods, styles and movements. Familiarity with these styles and periods (Baroque, Classicism, Dada, Expressionism, Fauvism, Impressionism, Renaissance, Romanticism, Surrealism, etc.) can also be helpful in learning art history and in evaluating art. The term "movement" is often used to refer to modern art, and references a tendency or style with a common goal or philosophy behind it practiced by a group of artists during a specific period of time.
The fine arts are alive and well today; most major cities have at least one museum dedicated to the visual arts and a cultural institution dedicated to the performing arts. Not only the definition but the field of fine arts is constantly changing as new styles, techniques and technology are introduced.