Determining Excellence in a Piece of Art

I have always loved the arts.  Since the day that I could hold a crayon I was obsessed. To this day I love looking at art, there is no question about that.  Even if its bad art I want to see it. I have this driving desire to absorb as much art into my brain as possible. In my 30 years on this planet I’ve seen ALOT of art.  So when I am schmoozing about the art museum there are a couple of factors that I take into account when determining excellence in art.

Uniqueness: Now this term is thrown around a lot in art circles.  I feel someone who says a piece is “unique” can be giving a rather shoddy, off handed critique or compliment.  It’s often too likely to be tacked with implications of kitsch or naiveté.  Let me rephrase it in a more suitable term; a more sufficient tone for what I look for in “uniqueness” in art is how much does an art piece altar the course of history? 
One example of this is Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon).”  Though it was initially met with adversity by the public (which is not wholly uncommon to revolutionary art)  it was the turning point for what would further be considered cubism.  By abandoning three point perspective for a flat two-dimensional depiction Picasso radically changed the course of art history.


Initial Impact: When I approach a piece of art I am reading it, just like when I am beginning a piece of  literature.  I am looking for a certain immediate affect that it has on me. A good piece of art is just like a good book. It sucks you in.  Take for example the beginning of the timeless classic “A Tale of Two Cities:”

 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

There is something memorable about that quote. It is succinct, yet at the same time it is suggestive. And just as the beginning of a good book draws you in so should a strong piece of art.

I ask myself:  “Why do I respond to this art piece like this?”  

Emotional & Intellectual Resonance:  The artist Marcel Duchamp defined the artist as: Someone able to rethink the world and remake meaning through language rather than someone who produces hand crafted visual objects for ‘retinal’ pleasure.  

Duchamps’ art focused more on the conceptual ideas related to a work rather than traditionally held aesthetic assumptions that arts philosophical focus was “beauty.” Instead the avant garde movements challenged traditional notions and brought a new kind of intellectual art. It didn’t just have to be beautiful but it could be riveting and provocative.  It proves its own worth.


Some general principles:

Often we may be lead to believe that we are supposed to like a certain piece of work.  We are, after all, very influenced by society and its expectations.  I like to ask myself: Can this art stand on its own beyond our own western assumptions of  what art is supposed to be?  If a remote tribe found this piece would they still value it for its inherent quality as art?  Just be aware that sometimes we like a piece of art or not because someone else told us we should.

There are plenty of very famous artists out there.  Just because they are famous does not mean that they are great.

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