What Makes Something ‘Good’?

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately, mostly with myself, about the nature of ‘Good’. I don’t mean good in an ethical or moral sense, but in an aesthetic sense.

Specifically, what is the difference between Good Art and Bad Art? Can art be bad? Isn’t it all just subjective anyway?

I said to myself, It’s Got to be Inherently Aesthetic.

Perugino, ‘christ delivering the keys of the kingdom to saint peter’

Good Art uses methods which lend themselves well to a sense of beauty. These are techniques that an artist can employ, such as the Golden Ratio, or Leading Lines, or Complimentary Colours, etc. These are tools which, when put to good use, cause the viewer to feel something good.

And yet… there are plenty of things that use these techniques and that I would not consider to be Good Art. Plenty of Michael Bay’s movies are technically very good, but they make me feel sick.

So then I said to myself, It’s Not What It Looks Like, It’s What It’s About.


Good Art intends to portray emotion x, topic y, and thought z, and the consumer of the art feels emotion x, topic z, and thought z,

But then, why wrap it up in art? Why not just go around telling people exactly what you think? Why do we wrap up the intention in subterfuge? What is the benefit of subtlety? Why try to express an idea as a piece of art, instead of as a lecture or a speech?

So then I said to myself, It’s A Combination, Of Course!

Steve McCurry, Afghan Girl

Good Art is both inherently aesthetic and sure about what it’s trying to say!  Duh! Not only is it expressing an emotion, or highlighting an idea, but it’s doing it in a way that is also pleasing to the eye on a technical level.

Ok. Great. Sure.

But what about Good Art that isn’t either of those things?

Let’s stop for a moment and look at this

Jackson Pollock, Vivid Anomaly

This is a painting by Jackson Pollock. It’s not very pleasing to look it, it’s just a bunch of lines and blobs, random colours flying together with no reason or meaning, it’s not trying to say anything, it’s not expressing anything other than a frenetic energy of sorts, and yet it is Good Art.


Because, I said to myself, It Has To Take Us Somewhere New

Philippe Halsman, Portrait of Salvador Dalí

A lot of modern and postmodern art isn’t considered art by Joe Public, because they say: I Could Do That, or, My Four Year Old Could Do That. But, of course, they didn’t do that. And indeed their four-year-old didn’t do that, either. Pollock did that. He brought it into the fold of our imagination. He was the first.

When you take something that is the first of its kind, it’s very hard to explain, because there is nothing to compare it to. You can’t say it’s better or worse than other things, because it is unlike other things.

So Good Art Pushes Borders.

René Magritte The Treachery of Images

But then…. ah, but then I thought… Two Girls One Cup pushed borders, and that is not Good Art… No, sir… that is not good anything…

And then I thought, after I washed out my mind, that even IF something DID satisfy some sense of aesthetics, while conveying a thought, feeling, or idea, AND managed to push the borders of what is known AND was accessible to the public in a way that changes things  – would it even get picked up?

The world of art dealers and galleries is corrupt beyond salvage, to the point that Fine Art is now hoarded as an investment, rather than bought and sold for their Good.

I bought some art today from helenagrimes.com, a local artist with bucket loads of talent. I think her work is aesthetic, expressive, and, indeed, at times it pushes the borders just a little on what we look for when we look for art. It’s probably never going to be bought and sold for 445million dollars. Sorry. But I’d rather have some Grimes hanging on my wall than some dead painting by some dead painter.

Because at the end of the day, it really is individual. If you like something, like that you like it. Stop trying to explain everything to everyone. You just end up thinking about Two G-, no, enough, enough of that…

And anyway, stop analysing other peoples work: go out there and make some of your own. That’s where the gold lies. It’s not about the Art. It’s about the Creating.


This blog post was written by Shane ‘Artsy Fartsy’ Vaughan. If you have something to say and nowhere it, why not get in touch at stanzas.limerick@gmail.com.

What Makes Something ‘Good’?

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