Quality in Art <- Deep Thought Thursday

How do you define quality in art?

How do you know when something is good?

Is it measurable? Or is quality in the eye of the beholder?

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24 comments to Quality in Art <- Deep Thought Thursday

  • I have to go with ‘Eye of the beholder’ on that. Defining quality in anything is difficult, let alone quality in art! I think it all comes down to the perception of the viewer (that includes the artist of course).

  • My instant answer to this question relates only to my own work. I want the technical quality to be enduring and to hold the image well: technical craft of clay, paint, or drawing that enhances the image and message. I am often critical of how close I came to what I wanted. Then someone buys it. They love it, the energy works on them. The work implants itself in their heart and desire. Does that have anything to do with quality? I don’t think so. It’s the way it is with my work. My not quite perfect pieces can move people more than the ones I deemed perfect.

  • I think quality IS quantifiable objectively. Good art is the synthesis of masterful technique with an innovative point of view -the new vision. the content is more important though for greatness….a raw true vision executed poorly might trump a perfect painting of some predictable image.
    Great art is when you have an image that is uniquely the artist’s own, but is universal in some way that it resonates with the viewer. I think what i am getting at is the the “trueness” of the work.

  • Art is so subjective. When I taught art, we had to come up with a ruberic for grading each student’s work to avoid subjective grading (a very challenging task).

    I agree with Eric. Value is based on the beholder. Everyone has styles that appeal to them more than others, remember, there have been great masters whose work wasn’t accepted at first, but eventually led to a new style.

    I say, keep doing what you love and don’t conform.

  • Good art has a power, a presence a monumentality that comes through despite its physical size. It is achieved through the quality of the ideas and the innovativeness and mastery of the artist to convey those ideas. While walking through the Louvre recently, it became clear to me why artists like Titian, da Vinci or Veronese are considered great masters. Their work dominated the galleries in which they were hung. They showed the other works hung around them to be lesser, weaker, diminished. Each of these artists has his own strengths which contributes to his achievement and holds the viewers interest. These are the elements of the work that make it memorable and keep it fresh every time you look at it.

  • I think technical skill and quality of the craftmanship is somewhat less subjective. For me, that’s the part of a painting or sculpture that can be more easily judged and establishes a level of quality.

  • It depends. :) Interestingly enough, Seth Godin posted about a similar topic this morning in the post Are You Rational? where he talks about how there are times to take a rational approach, and times to take an intuitive approach. It’s important know when to do which.

    I think there is a certain science to what is visually appealing as well as what is emotionally compelling. But if you become formulaic and do the same thing over and over, people get bored and move on. Which explains the music industry’s Hit Machine’s decline. People get tired of the same old stuff.

    But if you want, you can get all metaphysical and dig into the deeper questions of what Quality is. Save yourself a nervous breakdown and read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

  • I’m not sure that you can try and define ‘quality in art’ from a single perspective. Others have already posted here about this to a degree. You can judge the quality of the techniques used, but then have the quality of the idea in direct opposition to the quality of the technique.

    I think you also have to take into account the artist when you are trying to determine the quality of a piece of art. I’ve always felt that the circumstances in the artist’s life at the time of creation have to be considered when making a judgment about a piece (if you know, or can find out, those circumstances). An artist creating something under duress and succeeding, to me, has created something of a higher quality than one created by an artist with no interference and all the time in the world.

  • Art is good when it accurately mirrors the imagery active in the artist’s unconscious. And at the same time does so in ways that stimulate the unconscious of the viewer. It is a way, like music, where we can talk to each other on a more basic, elemental level than we do when we use words alone.

  • There seems to be so many facets to art (visual arts, language arts, culinary arts, whatever arts) that it’s difficult to assess “quality”. There seems to be different aspects to judge quality spanning the whole continuum from b/w fact to grey and nebulous opinion.

    Just like in writing, you can asses quality in grammar and sentence structure, you can assess it in content and meaning, and you can also assess the subjective poetry of it.

    Perhaps the “… certain science to what is visually appealing as well as what is emotionally compelling …” Brad refers to is a combination of these?

  • To me, the term “quality” refers to technical competence and is measurable. What makes “good art” is entirely subjective. So it depends on your definition of terms as to whether quality can be measured. Once again, it’s all in the semantics.

    Do other fields have so many semantics questions about how their filed is defined or what people should call them? I notice that in the art and craft world this is one of the biggest (and controversial too) topics that we talk about.

  • I sometimes wonder if this question even matters?

    Part of why something is art is because it’s questioned on whether it’s something done with skill or something “my 3 year old could have done”. None of that matters if you like it. It’s one of the many beauties of art. For example, we went to a show in Bonn, Germany last year. The artist had 3 old cooking pots on the floor – strategically placed of course (or not) – and this was about it. Maybe some lines drawn or a piece of pipe…can’t remember. But, I do remember laughing out loud! Art? Good? Sure, why not? This is one of the things I really love about art.
    I know a horse painting, painted realistically, recognizable and in a nice frame is good – I don’t even have to question it. It’s the pots on the floor that makes me question and think. (or the horse painting tossed onto pots on the floor, or…)

  • Jennifer, when I look at something and think, “I could do that,” I realize that “anybody” could do that. I know, there are some people who will never be able to do any sort of art, but I’m convinced that most people can at least learn to improve their drawing (or whatever) skills to a level they are happier with than their current state. For me the thing is not so much that anyone could *do* something, but that they have the frame of mind and creative momentum to *think* it. Which I suppose by extension diminishes the actual craft and gives rise to concept, which is a lot of what’s behind artists like Damien Hirst. (I’ve read he’s actually a very poor draftsman.)

  • I re-read the original question about defining quality in art and suddenly the thought popped into my head about defining quality if food. Would anyone spend much time pondering that one, or would they just haul out their fork and a napkin and go at what ever is on their plate?

    Of course there’s no harm in speculating about the nature of quality, but it always comes down to the sensual experience of “tasting” the art.

  • April Field

    Some of it is objective. However, as a jewelry artist, quality is important, in how a piece is worn and constructed to be worn. If the workmanship is bad, it won’t last. So in the quality of workmanship, there is an objectiveness if you are knowledgeable about durability and technical parts of it.

  • I love that idea, Philip, ‘sensual experience of “tasting” the art’

  • Oh, Philip, don’t get me started on food. I think people should spend a lot more time contemplating the quality of their food. Thinking is the key here for me. Lots of contemplating about life and the stuff in it – I feel it’s important to explore the ideas about what is around us: art, food, values, etc.

  • terri

    It’s a combination of things, this quality art stuff. It’s the presentation, or packaging. It’s the execution of the work. It’s the message, and it’s the viewer participation or response to what is being shown.

    It’s also the intent of the artist. Is it clear, or fuzzy? What does the artist ask of us as we view the work? What do you walk away with? Emotionally and intellectually?

    Is this something like that good meal that lingers a bit, and then with a small or large belch remind you of the experience? (Good, bad, indigestible, etc.)

  • If I view an artwork which permits me “entrance”, allows me to take a visual/ emotional journey inside the piece, demonstrates discovery and resolution- well, that, for me, is high quality art. I see so much stuff that is cranked out, and in my vocabulary, is “thin”, that I find nowhere to move inside the work. So, these are determining factors for me. Vision and skill of execution seem to work in tandem, but sometimes rough, raw work, with the fresh energy of discovery, is far more exciting to look at.

  • This is an important question, and just by the way it was posed I see at least two meanings hiding behind “good” or “quality”. Sometimes someone means by this, “Is it well done?”. Several people above who emphasize workmanship and skill are taking it down that road.

    When someone means instead, “Is it intriguing, stimulating, entertaining, or enjoyable?”, this is another road. One can find surprising stuff sometimes that keeps us looking and wondering, that is still not necessarily technically good. It may be handled naively or show little skill with the medium. It may even lack good composition or color harmony, etc. But it has something that strikes the viewer, which I believe makes it good art.

    Others above refer to looking at listless stuff that is technically all right, just nothing new. It may show all the elements of a well planned, well executed, art work, but doesn’t seem inspired. I think we have to give such work its due: it is “quality” art. One need never be ashamed to buy it or hang it.

    It takes a certain confidence in understanding the art-making process to brand something good that has technical flaws. Not everyone has the experience or training to judge this. But I think in the end this kind of quality is the central nugget in the idea of good art.If something has both kinds of quality, that is artistic genius!

    Anyway, enough about this great topic, except to say that I have looked at too many local art shows judged by artists who don’t know good art is something more than skillful planning and execution.

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