Art World FAQs # 3 – Good Art

Stuff Sep 25, 2006 No Comments

How do I know a work of art is good?

This is the most difficult question to answer because the various factors that go into considering the worth of a work of art cannot help but be subjective. Like Bad Art, Good Art has a number of individual factors that should be considered or rejected when making a judgment. But where do you start? What should you consider? It all seems so hard… Luckily, The Art Life has formulated a 10 point rating system that can be used to score a work of art. When each score for each of the 10 categories is tabulated and compared to our completely objective measure of your subjective responses, you will finally, once-and-for-all be able to confidently say “this is a good work of art.”

1. I know I like it…

Just because you like something doesn’t mean its any good – yet you know you like it. Somewhere in the back of your mind, however, you know the art work is probably crap, it may not be very well done, or be visually appealing, it might be on sale for $2 and they might be everywhere – and no one else is likely to appreciate it on your level – but despite all this, you still like it… [See also #10]
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2. Other People Say It’s Good

For reasons that seem obscure to you, there are a lot of people going around saying the work of art is good. There are people in newspapers, the web, on TV and radio all agreeing. Although, to you, the work seems weightless, pointless and disposable, the conviction of other people’s opinions appears rock solid – maybe these people see something you cannot see… and maybe they’re right! [See also #4]
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3. It’s Historically Relevant
The work of art was already considered good long before you were born. You grew up looking at the work of art in books and on TV and hearing a lot of very clever people explaining why the work of art is historically relevant because [etc]. Does the work actually embody some particular idea or time that has now passed? Does the work still have some relevance now? If so, score accordingly [See also #2]
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4. The Work Is Relevant to Contemporary Debates

Just because something is fashionable doesn’t mean it’s therefore bad – it just means a lot of people agree about something at the same time. In this context, a work of art may be superbly illustrative of a particular view, idea, philosophy, emotion or sentiment that is a la mode. If a work of art successfully engages with debates surrounding Post Colonialism, Post Modernism, Commodity Fetishism or [fill in today’s debate] it may achieve a high score in this category. [See also #3]
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5. Technically, The Work of Art Is Very Well Made

For many people, this is the beginning and end of the question of whether a work of art is any good– but taken alone this category only proves that the artist has craft skills and little else. A subjective value judgment of whether something is well made usually also leads to the presumption that it looks good too – but that isn’t always the case. Asking if something is well made will perhaps also suggest that it will last through the ages [See #3] but might mean the work in question is a painting or a sculpture. But what if the work is an example of Land Art, or an ‘action’, or some other fast fading, temporary installation? The question then is about the appropriateness of a particular technique… [See also #6]
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6. The Work Is Visually Appealing

When a work of art is visually appealing it is because you like its deployment of individual characteristics – but that doesn’t mean the work is pretty. In fact, it might be downright fugly, yet the artist made deliberate choices that the work should look the way it does. And it looks good! [See also #4]
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7. The Work is Now an Icon

Like it or loathe it, the work of art has now reached complete ubiquity. Whether it has been around for yonks [See #3] or just arrived [See #4] makes little difference to the fact that you cannot escape it – in fact, the work of art’s ubiquity will now also mean it is historically relevant and will encourage contemporary debate. On the other hand, the work’s ubiquity might also be a pleasurable experience – make you laugh, make you cry, make you kiss $10 museum entry goodbye! [See also #8]
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8. It Is Extremely Rare

There was only one. They found one in a very remote place. The person who made it is now dead. It is extremely expensive and/or hard to make. It is made from unusual materials that won’t last [except under special lighting]. Although once common, it is now kept in a safe and people are only allowed to look at it on special occasions. It was made a very long time ago. It was made for a different purpose but people now appreciate it on aesthetic grounds. [See also #7 #5 and #3]
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9. The Work Of Art Is Worth A Lot of Money

There are people in the world who are prepared to pay extraordinary amounts of money for a work of art. All of the other categories come into play here and inevitably add more weight to other considerations when cold hard cash is on the table… I like it, but does anyone else? [#1]. If I pay big bucks, is it going to last? [#5] Is it beautiful to me? [#6] Is the work backed up by opinion and scholarly learning? [#2, #3, #4] You say no one else owns it – and it’s the only one of its kind?!! [#7, #8] Do you accept MasterCard, Diners or American Express? Kaaaa-chhing!
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10. You Feel Something When You Look at It

Of all the imponderables of good art, this is the most perplexing, allusive and troubling – the work of art provokes an actual emotive response when you look at it – and strangest of all – it may not be the same response twice… What’s going on here? Why am I feeling this way? And how could this thing make me feel anything?!!
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Just How Good Is It?

0-15 – Not Good – The work is actually quite bad but it has qualities you like. Just don’t fork out a lot of money for it and if you do, don’t expect to ever get it back.

15-30 – Just Ok – A lot of people like it and it seems ok – so it probably is ok. Most likely you will find this work in ok galleries done by ok artists and maybe in ok biennales. There is a lot of ok art.

30-60 – Average – it probably won’t last [in any sense] but it’ll do for now. It adequately fulfills a lot of requirements and is often mistaken for the next level of excellence, but it also has a level of durability and is probably aesthetically pleasing [in this year’s colours]. Enjoy while you can.

60-75 – Above Average – Not very much of this art actually exists and, in a rush of excitement, can get confused for art in the 75-100 range. Above Average art is usually made by mid to late career artists with a handle on what they are doing and, crucially, what they mean to do.

75-97 – Very Good Indeed – Any half decent public museum or [more likely] private or corporate collection will have a lot of very good art since they are the ones with the money to afford it. Since an inverse ratio applies here, very good art is often disliked for many spurious reasons. However, it is still very good indeed.

97-100 – A Masterpiece – Rarely if ever encountered, the “masterpiece” may be an illusion, but like heaven and the afterlife, a nice idea to cling to if most art scores in the 15 to 50 range. Rarely, consensus agrees that a work of art truly is a masterpiece and then we may all bask in its warmly glowing warm glow.

Andrew Frost

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