Good Art, Bad Art—Who Decides?


I have thought long and hard about what makes good art, let alone great art. So, I asked artist friends, and I decided to “Google” the question. That seems to be the modern way of extracting information. Everyone and every site had a different answer.

One highly regarded gallery owner believes that museums, museum curators, a select group of critics, four or five major collectors and several major auction houses are the arbiters of good taste. They tell the rest of us what is safe to like.

My first reaction to that was, “Really—aren’t they the came collection of guys who rejected anything new that came along in the past?” James Whistler’s painting, Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket is a near abstraction that now hangs in the Detroit Institute of Arts. At the time it was painted, the renowned art critic, John Ruskin, condemned the painting and accused Whistler of “asking two hundred guineas for throwing a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Later, Impressionist artists, that we now revere, were ridiculed and refused entrance to the Académie de Beaux-Arts. I’m not aware of anyone ridiculing Monet, or Degas or Pissarro lately. Their paintings are hanging in prestigious museums. And poor Vincent Van Gogh, considered one of the most influential figures in the history in Western art, sold only one painting in his lifetime. It took a while for the critics to come around.

So did the work of these artists improve with time, or did the guardians at the gate of good taste have a change of heart? It seems that once critics rally to an artist, and his or her art hangs in museums, it’s safe to like that art and the critics move on to newer pastures.

I went to see the Minimalist show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles a few years ago. The critics loved it. I hated it. My friend, Lynn, wandered around the museum muttering, “The emperor has no clothes.” The problem for me is that Minimalism is an art form that seeks to remove any sign of personal expressivity. I happen to love personal expressivity. I want to feel something when I look at art. That’s me. The fact that I didn’t like the show doesn’t make it bad art. But I’m not sure it’s great art just because the critics say so. Time always seems to tell.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you like it don’t worry if experts hate it. However, if you want to understand art, take an art history class, visit museums and galleries, read about art—maybe even take an art class. You might surprise yourself. If you do that, you’ll have a better appreciation of art and you’ll probably do better at recognizing good art. But in the end, if you fall in love with a painting (or a sculpture or whatever), and you love it forever, does it really matter?

Haiku contest winners!

I don’t really like contests. Picking a winner is so subjective. So, why did I have one? Well, I must confess, I’m taking a social media class at the local junior college and a contest was recommended as a way to increase readership. I don’t have a lot of followers on Twitter yet, and my blog is quite new. As a result, I didn’t get a lot of submissions, but I loved reading the ones I got.

Although I’m publishing three of the submissions here and calling them first, second and third, readers may have a completely different view of the results. That’s why I’m printing all three. Writing is like any other art form—it’s personal.


First: Rich Bowen

Departed spirits

Embrace us in playfulness

Returning at will.

Second: Debbie Butterfield

I see you again

Playing with Tess, having fun

I miss your embrace.


Third: Barbara Stewart

Skeleton dancing,

Happy dog playing ball,

Autumn has arrived.


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