What Makes Good Art

I have a secret for you.

There is no such thing as “good” art.
There’s only art that is good for you.
And the art that is good for you today, may not suit tomorrow.

In the 30 something years I’ve spent as a full-time artist, I’ve had opportunities to write and speak about many things. Today, it’s a topic that is close to my heart. I want to talk about people’s responses to art, and about a way of interacting with all art that is kinder to the artist, and easier on those who engage with art, on any level.

Everyone has an opinion about art, but I am most challenged by one statement I hear often. “That’s good,” people say.
What they really mean is that they like it. They can relate to the image, the technique, or the story. They recognise the time that’s gone into it, the skill level, or it compares well to other artists’ work. It’s a good example of what they think art should be.

People also dismiss my work as derivative, old fashioned, irrelevant, “so” last century.What they mean is that it doesn’t match what they think art should be. That art for them is only “good” (effective, relevant, purposeful) if it makes them think, or challenges them, or is somehow new.

Which of my audiences are right?
Both are valid responses, though of course I’d prefer the former.

Which response is the most helpful?
Art cannot be all things to all people. It’s like television, or movies, or sport, or what we’ve planned for dinner tonight. Some things we enjoy, others we don’t. Sometimes we just don’t feel like that thing today.

No one expects us to like the same food each day; it’s the same with art.
However, if we like it, that doesn’t mean it’s “good”. If we don’t like it, it’s not “bad”- it’s just different. Different from what we expected, what we think art should be, what we feel like today.

We can adjust our experience to it by how we describe it.
As we walk around a gallery, see a mural, listen to a busker, watch live theatre, look at a child’s drawing, let’s be mindful of the language we use.

Instead of “good”, we could say effective, enjoyable, skilled, appropriate.
Instead of “bad”, we could say: “It’s not how I’d do it, or I don’t feel like this today.

Art is not good if it’s simply well-made or effectively told.
It’s more than that. Across the spectrum, art gives us a chance to stop and experience the world through someone else’s eyes. Today we might feel like the full-on experience. Tomorrow we might need something easier. When we recognise we don’t have to like everything, that we can choose which art to engage with, then Art stops being “good” or “bad” – it just is.

The main thing is to get out there and experience it anywhere we can.
That’s what makes Art good for all of us.

Every single day.

A Practice Visit

This weekend bring a friend to your local gallery. You may have a regional or public gallery in your town, or a commercial gallery or gift shop. You might just know someone who has a few artworks on the wall. Visit them. The following process with all types of art appreciation opportunities.

  1. Have a quick glance around. What catches your eye? Go closer.
  2. Spend a full minute -set your phone alarm (on vibrate). Concentrate on the work. What can you see, feel, imagine?
  3. Look around. What are you noticing?
  4. Study a few more works closely, browse the shows. Then go to a café and drink some tea.. Share your experience. Was there one you liked best, or least? Ignore fancy art-speak – there’s no right or wrong answers, just opinions and stories. Art is a conversation – let’s start one today.

A Question

This video is of a part of my recent exhibition at Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery, a body of work about the shearing shed at “Nundubbermere”. One part is the sketches that I made at the beginning of the project. It’s different to the very small works where I learnt how this particular shed is put together. Likewise it is very different to the large completed paintings that make up much of the rest of the show. Each section serves a different purpose within the process and in the completed exhibition.

What is your opinion? Should the drawings have been included, or just the “good” paintings? Notice how you reply to this question.

The answer? There is no right or wrong answer, just as there is no good or bad art.
That’s the  secret of enjoying art.

First Published

The Stanthorpe Record August 27, 2021 p11 

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