Defining Aesthetics

What is “good art”?

The experience of art is a subjective one. Aesthetics range from one individual to the next, despite an overarching cultural conditioning. That’s why people have different favorite colors or patterns and why some people are bored by classical portraits or intrigued by impressionism or confused by contemporary installations.

Yet despite personal and cultural preferences there exists a canon of art which is the established pinnacle. The best.

But what makes it that way? Is it flawless brushwork, excellent color choices, elegant form, critical subject matter? Is it the execution of one of these things or the perfect recipe of some combination?

Perhaps. Though maybe good art is also defined by the experience of the work. Perhaps it is notable for the way it transports you to a foggy world, or dwarfs your fragile human frame. Perhaps it enrages you or leaves you thinking about it after it is no longer in your immediate presence.

If art is about experience though, then how do you separate good  art from successful art? Is there even a difference at all?

If a piece makes you react – whether in awe or disgust, then the artist has successfully engaged you. But does that merit the label of “good” or simply “provoking”?

For me, good art is always provoking, though not all provoking art is good. I may react strongly – viscerally – to a piece, and thus it is successful. But it still may not grip me. Whereas any piece that I love will make me react: it will inspire and engage and inform me of something. I will hear what it tells me. I think good art relies on that element of conversation. And because of that even some art that is widely accepted as good is not for everyone. Just as in normal conversation, some pieces are easier to talk to than others. Pieces of art have personalities, and some gel and some clash – this is the individuality of aesthetics, and why the discussion and debate over the definition acceptance of good art will continue to take place. People will always develop new and different ideas that challenge art, and art will in turn evolve and challenge us right back. That conversation will go on infinitely, and in that way art as a concept will always remain “good”, even if ever elusive (though perhaps that’s part of the fun anyway).

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