Thursday, August 2, 2012

What Makes Great Art Great?

I stumbled across this particularly fine two-pronged answer to the eternal question: What Makes Great Art Great? at artist Brandon Long's blog. It's worth sharing and thinking about.

I do agree with his simple take, though I disagree with his view of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. My reasons: The brow, the smile and the hands. (Also: a tech point: Can you appreciate how extraordinarily difficult it is to paint eyes looking in a sideways direction without making the sitter look slightly cross-eyed?)

At any rate, most art is quicksilver. Great art is bedrock. Don't you think?

The artist only needs creative genius. The viewer only needs to be receptive and able to recognize genius, talent and craft even if he or she doesn't completely understand the object. On some level there should be a kind of mutual reciprocity. Minus that, pass it by.

Emotionally, great art should make you gasp or at least, hold your breath. Something about it should dazzle you. It should stop you dead in your tracks. The first time I saw a Jackson Pollock splatter painting at the Museum of Modern Art, I knew my life had been changed forever. Why? Because the painting altered my view of the world. I wanted to genuflect. But wisely, a friend led me from the room - I was practically in a daze.

Here is Brandon Long's take:

"What makes a great work of art? Monetary value? The "brand name" of the artist who created it? The technical precision? A lot of factors come to mind when considering the great masterpieces of the past. In the current wave of art and the internet - the constant deluge of images and content with each voice crying "look at me," it could be said that there are no "masterpieces" of the 21st century.

It seems that anyone can promote anything anywhere and that the filters of content - the "tastemakers,"  if you will have been removed from the equation. With that being said, what makes a great work of art great? I like to consider two main factors:

1.  Is the work of art greater than its absence? This can apply to music, painting, sculpture, dance - any form of art. I know that I have heard many songs on the radio that could not compete with the value of the silence given by pushing the off button. I have see a lot of paintings that are far less preferable than a blank wall.

2.  If you were the last man [or woman] on earth, would you put the work of art in your collection? You've got no one to impress, no intrinsic value, no brand name, no art history or art future - just you and the art. Would you still want it? 

I'd have to say that my post-apocalyptic gallery would contain a lot of things, and the Mona Lisa would not be one of them."

What do you think?


  1. Art is such a personal taste isn't it. However if I am the last person on earth, I hope I will be in Amsterdam where I will be amongst all the flowers and I will be then have removed some of the Van Gough paintings and put them on my walls. Nice to think about. The peace and quiet would be lovely too. :-) Interesting thoughts. Pam

  2. I have a very expansive view of art, including the great European artists and U.S., too.

    However, I'd include art from all over the world in whatever mediums the people of that country and era had to use -- from cave paintings to murals, architecture, sculptures, pottery, whatever.

    Whether it's the gorgeous Celadon horse produced in China in 400 BCE or quilts created in the U.S. South or pre-Colombian or Inuit sculptures, it's all good to me.

    P.S. The friend to whom I gave Instruments of Darkness told me today that she loved it. Now I have to find the second book, which I actually found at Abe Books for a reasonable price, including shipping. She adored Ariana Franklin's books, but was raving about Imogen Robertson's book. So, a new fan, thanks to you. (I have to borrow it from her.)

  3. Dear Yvette -

    I'm late to this posting, but I'll add my perspective.

    As an artist with both friends and relatives who are artists, I've bought very little art. Much of the art that I live with is either my own, or has been gifted to me.

    Ocassionally, though, I've bought art, and in almost every case the purchase has been precipitated by my lying in bed unable to sleep as I thought about it!

  4. It is interesting to note just how personal taste in art is, Pam. We all see out of different eyes. But it's more than that. I really do think that art and our reactions to it is very much about how we view the world in general.

  5. Kathy, I'm so glad that the news about INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS is getting around. Thanks for spreading the word. I've been unable to get my hands on the third book in the series. But I keep trying.

    I'm not as expansive in my art views as you, Kathy. I'm more parochial.

  6. Mark, almost all the art I have is either my own work or bits and pieces I bought years ago. Most of what's on my walls are copies - posters. But copies of paintings I absolutely love and have had framed.

    I agree that if a piece of art is keeping you awake, you'd better get your hands on it. No question.

  7. I have struggled with this idea for 30 years, since my days as a music major. I think there are five things that make a great work of art. It has to be:

    Powerful – It has an affect on your mind and emotions and is compelling.
    Accessible – The affect it has on you is worth the effort you put into appreciating it.
    Elevating - When it moves you, it moves you toward personal growth.
    Universal – It can move people from different cultures and different time periods.
    Perennial - It has the same power the second and third time you experience it.

    I have posted an article that expands on these on my own blog and am curious what others think.



Your comment will appear after I take a look.