How Can We Define “Good Art”?
People come to art with very different definitions of “great art.” Some of them use vague phrases, like, “it’s a revolution that makes people feel good,” or “it gives the ability to express the nature of being alive.” Others prefer more earthly expressions, like, “if it’s called art, it’s art.” However, these definitions do not seem to be helpful and practical.
How can the general public distinguish a piece of modern art from, as the critic Arthur Danto calls it, “a hole in the ground”? While art galleries and critics have exhaustive lists of criteria to evaluate any kind of artwork, a regular viewer can be confused when it comes to evaluating modern paintings, sculptures, and movies. In general, there are three reliable criteria to assess a piece of art: idea, aesthetics, and uniqueness (novelty).
Sharing an emotion or idea with the viewer is a primordial task for any piece of artwork. Contemporary artist Matt Shlian claims that “a piece of art needs to connect” (qtd. in Stewart). Even when you don’t understand the meaning of the painting, but the artist managed to provoke a visceral reaction from you, you know that it is real art.
When it comes to the aesthetic value, the general public can also face problems with identification. “Aesthetically pleasing” doesn’t always mean “beautiful.” A true artist can find aesthetics even in the most horrible things and events like war, death, or dissolution. Guernica by Pablo Picasso may serve as an appropriate example. Picasso depicted the horrors of the bombing: screaming people, wounded animals, and dead bodies. Despite its terrifying content, this painting is considered as aesthetically pleasing and impressive.
It is hard to discover something new and unique when it seems like everything has already been created. However, contemporary artists always have tricks up their sleeves. Technological progress provides art workers with new tools every day. Society gives artists more and more tendencies, events, and topics to display in their artworks. Without novelty, a piece of art is just a copy.
The mentioned criteria are quite subjective and vague. Every regular viewer and connoisseur of art may have his or her own methods to assess pieces of art. But the most important for any artist is to be able to provoke emotions and new ideas in the minds of the audience. American art writer Linda Weintraub once said: “If art doesn’t sensitize us to something in the world, clarify our perceptions, make us aware of the decisions we have made, it’s entertainment” (qtd. in Wallach).
Stewart, Jessica. “12 Contemporary Artists Tell Us What It Takes to Make a Great Piece of Art.” My Modern Met, 24 Apr. 2017, mymodernmet.com/what-is-great-art/.
Wallach, Amei. “ART; Is It Art? Is It Good? And Who Says So?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Oct. 1997, www.nytimes.com/1997/10/12/arts/art-is-it-art-is-it-good-and- who-says-so.html.
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