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The Column icon The Column: Issue 29

The Library > The Column Archive > The Column 029

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

Good Art, Bad Art
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Art surrounds us at every turn. Some we consider good, and much we consider of no particular value. Can anyone produce art? What is 'good art'?

The Art Maker

Before art comes the maker of art. Some who produce art call themselves artists, some are named as artists by others, yet many makers of art neither consider themselves artists, nor are viewed of as artists by their contemporaries.

Many artworks for example were not originally intended to be 'art', but have come to be known of as art today. National art galleries around the globe present objects that were originally created for their functional, religious, or cultural significance, Objects produced to connect an individual to a deity, or functional objects which, through their form and beauty, are now considered as 'art'. These objects are displayed in the rarefied world of the gallery as our categorisation of the world has changed since their production.

More recently the word 'Artist' (pronounced 'artist' rather than 'arteest') has undergone another transformation to include singers who neither compose music, nor in many cases have any creative input in the production of their music. These are not 'artists' as I would define the word. My view is that an 'artist' must be the originator of a creative work rather than someone whose primary activity is to perform. The act of performance is very different than that of creation. Performers replay the artwork of another, be it dance, drama, or music. The root of these activities, choreography, writing, and composition, are the primary occupations of artists whose work is performance oriented.

A Definition of Art

Grab a deep breath for this next sentence, I'm trying to define art in a more inclusive way than I have in the past:

Art contains special significance which may be related to: beauty or its opposite (aesthetics); expression; personal enrichment; or the communication of ideas (political or otherwise) in a symbolic context (for example, poetry, fiction, and other written texts).

This is an extension of my previous definition of 'art' as 'the products of human creative activity which often hold special significance'.

Good Art

Now we've got a definition of art it's easier to say what for me is good art. The simple answer is 'art I like'. Art I like supports my criteria of what art is, and follows my personal taste. My taste is of course different than yours, and it's easy to assume ones own taste is 'better', especially when it's based on lengthy experience and consideration of a particular art medium. Art works however on a personal level. It interacts with our experience and feelings about the world. If an art object like a painting doesn't connect with our 'world picture', it will not be 'good art' for us, no matter what the strengths of argument another may have in its favour.

Unfortunately, this flexible view of what good or bad art is, does not sit easily within a formal learning environment. In schools, colleges, universities, and other places of learning, knowledge is tested so achievements can be recorded. As with many areas in life, methods of recording achievement through examination often fails to record the understanding of the individual, and the 'examination of understanding' is far more problematic than the recollection of knowledge.

By arguing 'good art is art I like', I am trying to be honest about the way most of us experience art and view its status. It seems important not to assume certain learned responses about what good art should be.

The Art Critic and Teacher

Art which does not seem good to you may however be presented by others as good. For example, art critics and art teachers may spend many hours in justifying their view of a given work as good or bad art. Critics and teachers of art have a vital role in formally presenting and persuading us about their view of art. Their views may be supported with reference to other works, and to certain 'principles of art' they adhere to (for example, they may reference a body of previous similar works, or research on a particular art medium to promote their case).

It makes no difference however what others have said to justify art as good, although others may well come to change our view about an artwork and may even alter our experience of it. In other words 'bad art' may become 'good art', but only if we are convinced about the strength of another's view, and are willing to change our own.

An Open Mind

One of the most important characteristics of being creative is the ability to see the world with a flexible and open mind. As soon as we restrict our view, our possibilities and potential wither. When someone likes an object we don't, it is far better we ask ourselves why we don't, rather than ask them why they do...


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author. Mike is also a Director of 2BrightSparks, a software company producing award winning backup solutions.

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