What is Good Art

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September 3, 2010 ARTH 300 Good and Bad Art While many people disagree about the aspects of good versus bad art, famous art historians and critics agree that good art is classified very simply, if the viewer experiences a strong emotion, whether it is positive or negative, it can be considered good art. To really appreciate good art it should draw the viewer in. Art in and of itself is very subjective. People in today’s society are sometimes afraid to express their own opinion of good and bad art in fear of being criticized. The truth is that good merely means “I like” and bad means “I dislike. The art world requires the concepts of subjective good and bad, because that is what drives the desire for improvement and the hard work that goes into it. Without judgments, we would be surrounded by mediocrity,” writes artist Giff Constable. The definition of good or bad art has changed over the centuries.

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Imagine showing sixteenth century artists, the painting by Sarah Irani titled Mama and Babe. This painting would have appalled them with its grotesque lines and very unrealistic facial coloring, but in today’s society it can, and is, considered so bad it’s good. In earlier times when the mass majority of people could neither read nor write, art was used to document historical facts, occurrences, or to send an unwritten message. If we take a look at the painting of Queen Elizabeth I, titled Rainbow Portrait, the artist was subtly tying to send a message to the Queen. When looked upon by a casual viewer this portrait is very well done and quite beautiful, but to a trained eye a message is clearly visible. Often when we look at a piece of art, we associate it with the artist. For instance, when you look at the Mona Lisa most times you will think or say “that’s a Da Vinci,” because you subscribe to the adage that the artist and the work are one. We focus on the artist, the age of the painting and its value and often times stop there. Works of art completed by the masters are generally considered good because they are pleasing to the greater majority of viewers. Good art needs structure and all the other elements such as form, line, shape, color, texture and value. Form is the three-dimensional element of art that encloses volume. Line refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. It may be two dimensional, like a pencil mark on a paper or it may be three dimensional or implied often it is an outline. Shape is an enclosed space defined by other elements of art.

Shapes may take on the appearance of two or three-D objects. Color is an element of art with three properties, hue (the name of the color), intensity, or the purity and strength of the color such as the brightness or dullness. Value describes the lightness or darkness of a color, value is needed to express volume. Texture refers to the surface quality or “feel” of an object, such as roughness, smoothness, or softness. Actual texture can be felt while simulated textures are implied by the way the artist renders areas of the picture. Space refers to the distance or area between, around, above or within things. Besides these essential elements, art also needs that certain something that makes it powerful. Art should evoke feelings in the viewer; these feelings will be different from person to person depending greatly on the life experiences of that individual, take for example, the painting by Leonardo da Vinci the Last Supper. If all the religious connotations were removed from the Last Supper it is still a strikingly well done and powerful painting. Atheists and Christians will get a totally different sensation from viewing the Last Supper. Once we start talking about the audience Art becomes very subjective. You will most likely find that your friends are drawn to the same type and style of art as yourself. Then you may find that some art appeals to your age group, some to your culture and some to almost all humans. Art has the ability to transcend generations; True masterpieces stand the test of time and more about the painting can be revealed as science and technology gives us the ability to see what was on the original canvas. To be able to look at the artists first draft gives the painting new meaning. We can then ponder the question as to why the artists change the painting. Was it that the artist did not like it or that the individual who commissioned the painting wanted it changed? All of these things are tied to the creation of art and can make it very intriguing. A lot of philosophers have had a hard time believing it was possible for there to be objective standards for art. It seemed obvious that good art was defined by the individual viewing it, not something that was a property of the art. It is therefore subjective rather than objective. But if you narrow the definition of beauty to something that works a certain way on humans, and you observe how much humans have in common, it turns out to be a property of the art after all. You don’t have to choose between something being a property of the individual or the art if subjects all react similarly.

This can be very misleading though; artists use a variety of methods to deceive the viewer. The shading or color used in a specific area of the painting can be used to distract you from the otherwise boring or uninteresting part of work. Color is widely used to fool people. If we consider today’s modern art with all of its vibrant color and focus only on the use and placement of that color we miss out on the truly simple, and quite frankly boring, aspect of the painting as a whole. We can also be tricked into liking some works of art by its popularity. When works of art are constantly reproduced and put on display we tend to think that the majority believes they are good as well. Why else would someone reproduce an artwork if they did not believe it to be good or visually stimulating? If we see these images often enough or read many enthusiastic reviews about the art we can be swayed by our desire to see in the image what others must see. Humans in general are very social and we tend to follow the norms and folkways of society. There is such a thing as good and bad art. Good art is that which interests its human audience, and bad art is that which doesn’t. Since humans have a lot in common, what interests them is not random.


  1. Boddy-Evans, Marion. “More Opinions on What Makes a Painting Good or Bad. ” About. com
  2. Painting — Learn How to Paint, Painting Tips, Creativity. New York Times Company, 2010. Web. 06 Sept. 2010. <https://painting. about. com/>.
  3. Graham, Paul. “How Art Can Be Good. ” Paul Graham. Dec. 2006. Web. 06 Sept. 2010. <https://www. paulgraham. com/articles. html>. “The Question of Good versus Bad Art. ” Artists on Art Constable. net Home.
  4. Giff Constable, 26 Jan. 2001. Web. 06 Sept. 2010. <https://www. constable. net/>.
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What Is Good Art. (2017, Sep 20). Retrieved December 8, 2022 , from

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