What is GOOD ART?
by Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky http://www.StoneHollowStudio.com
Someone recently remarked to me, “Even when I see what I know is great art, I don’t know what makes it good. I just don’t know much about art.”
That comment prompted a discussion. It caused me to realize that my non-artsy friend is probably not alone in wondering what determines ‘good’ art, that many people stroll through museums without understanding why certain works are lauded as great. And, sometimes notable art can be intimidating. There can be embarrassment in saying, “I just don’t get it.”
The feeling that one is not knowledgeable about art also prevents the purchase and collection of art from contemporary artists. And that’s a real loss, both for today’s artists and for those who surrender to the ennui of décor. Who knows what future-great artist is working in your area? What great works might a collector scoop up but doesn’t because of a lack of confidence? Art investment can be a gamble but it’s a risk that can also enhance your abode.
Learning the fine skills of art appreciation can take years, indeed a lifetime, to fully develop. University courses offer wonderful in-depth study of the intricacies involved to understand art.
My intention here is not to diminish that study at all, but to simplify it for those with limited time or interest. It is my strong opinion that anyone can develop an ability to appreciate art.
After much consideration, I think that which makes art ‘good’ can be distilled down to five basic questions that I believe remain true for all works.
Do you like it?
Certainly, personal taste determines what comprises a private art collection. There are simply things we like, and things we don’t, things we are drawn to and things that repulse us. The initial question need not be “Why do you like it?” but simply “DO you like it?” Of course, the reason why you like a work can generate extensive examination and debate. And, because this particular qualification is so extremely personal, it should be restricted to private art collections. Without a doubt, the art you privately collect should be work you like. Nevertheless, for the museum visitor, this question can also lead one to cultivate a list of favorite works as well.
Does it draw you in for a closer look?
The urge to get closer to a work of art is a sure sign that it’s speaking to you.
Why does the work draw you closer? Is it because you are intrigued by the artist’s technique (brush strokes, manipulation of the material, etc.) and wish to study its detail? Some works have the ability to immerse the viewer when viewed closely. Good art pulls you in; it does not allow a viewer to pass it by. Equally, the urge to step far back and spend some time viewing the overall work can similarly denote quality.
Does it cause you to think?
Good art is not necessarily pretty art. It does not match your sofa nor blend into your color scheme. It might make the viewer uncomfortable. But, whether disturbing or delightful, good art triggers consideration. Even if the work is not understood, the very fact that it prompts you to wonder about it indicates a depth of meaning. Good art reaches beyond the canvas or the clay or whatever medium it may be.
Is it innovative?
Innovation can be simple or complex. The cave paintings of Lascaux, France remain avantgarde even after 20,000 years. The Impressionists of the nineteenth century continue to engage us, as future art-lovers will be intrigued by the technological elements being utilized today by contemporary artists.
Does it compel you to return?
This final proviso is closely related to the very first offered in this list. Whether you like a work of art or are repulsed by it, if the work lures you back, it has touched you. Think of a work you have seen but didn’t like. You remember it, don’t you? If you disliked it, why do you remember it? Art stirs the viewer. Art connects with you. If unable to revisit a work in person, study it in a book or online.
Art is much more than five simple attributes. Arguably, there are many, many additional components that can be employed to qualify ‘good’ art. I believe, however, that the above facets offer a solid starting point for art appreciation.
Armed now with some indicators of how to evaluate art, let’s consider how to experience art, particularly in museum collections.
Again, I offer my opinion and encourage you to consider this:
Who goes to a restaurant and orders every item on the menu in one sitting? So why then do we feel that we must see everything in a museum in just one visit?
Understandably, a person may visit a particular museum only once in a lifetime, perhaps while traveling abroad, for example. But which is better? To say that you set foot into all the exhibition spaces in The Prado, or to personally know the powerful emotion portrayed in Goya’s El Tres de Mayo (The Third of May)? To have sprinted upstairs and downstairs in the Chicago Art Institute, or to experience delight as if on the picnic in Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte?
To maximize your artistic experience to a museum, rather than racing through every gallery, select one or two exhibition areas (or perhaps only a few individual works) and visit just those, as you would visit a friend. Take your time to get to know them better. Observe what you have not before seen in the work. Think. Remember. Return to revisit those works, or to view different works in the same manner. If unable to return, explore online options. Your artistic experience will definitely be enhanced.
Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky is an award-winning artist whose work includes murals, drawing, illustrations, sculpture, painting and photography but, for the past 39 years, she has carved herself a reputation as a master of the early American art form of scrimshaw.