“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.” Oscar Wilde.
Many people in this world create all sorts of different art and they call themselves artists, which is absolutely fine. But does it mean you are a good artist? What is a good artist? What is not a good artist? The answer to these questions is subjective. The same can be asked about many other career titles, but this question is worth exploring. This article tackles the question of what makes a good artist and more importantly what makes a great artist?
This is not a simple question to answer at all because you might say what qualifies me to answer the question, to begin with. I believe most of us can actually answer the question.
Does Anyone Truly Understand Art?
Art is so broad and covers so many different things about humans’ life experiences such as ideas, thoughts, dreams, imagination, economy, politics, and so on. We like to think that we do understand art, but saying that does it mean we fully understand people and their life experiences, dreams and imagination, or that we understand how art is created? Perhaps, no one truly understands art fully for a simple reason and that is because art changes and evolves as people change and evolve.
I keep thinking of the time when the first abstract painting was created. How did people react, what did the art society, at that time, see in that painting and how did they classify it and explain it? We can go all the way back to cave paintings. Incidentally, was either Wassily Kandinsky or Hilma af Klint the first abstract painters? What about some of the cave paintings? Could they be abstract paintings?
Cave painting is a true example of the meaning and purpose of art. Just think how cave paintings have been able to convey meaning since the dawn of time. I’m not an expert on cave paintings but they are truly amazing in the sense of informing us a little about that era and the people who lived there over 40,000 years ago.
A beautiful picture can go a long way in depicting a meaning that is needed. I believe that art in general is really a way to evoke emotions and feelings that lead to making us think in a deeper manner.
Abstract art is a prime example of seeing the artwork with your feelings as it is about unfamiliar objects and subjects. Non-representational painting does not depict anything from the real world and can make it difficult for people to truly see the meaning in that painting.
What Makes a Great Artist
Great art lies significantly in the eye of the beholder. There are many artists but great artists are rare. What about famous artists, are all famous artists great artists, too? I came across this article which may provide some more information – “Study Finds Artists Become Famous through Their Friends, Not the Originality of Their Work”
Popularity (which in fact has nothing to do with the quality of art) can make a significant impact on how people claim someone is a great artist. In today’s world and particularly the technology we have at our fingertips 247, can and do seriously affect the popularity of an artist.
What is a Great Painting
But, before we define a “great artist”, we need to define “great art”.
I spend a great deal of my time reading about art and artists as well as many definitions about great artists and great art. I believe that great art is the one that can evoke true emotions and feelings, that can leave the viewer moved by what he/she experienced from that piece of artwork.
A great art is a kind of a relationship between the piece of artwork and the individual viewer. It is that individual viewer who can decide whether it was a good or a great artwork. It is not directly between the artist and the viewer, as the artist would be linked to the great artwork in the second step – when we ask “who created that piece of artwork”.
When I’m looking at a painting I always do my best not to find out any information about the artwork, who created it, when was it created, what material was used, etc. Yet, it is quite contrary to the recommendations by other artists and museums. I prefer to let the artwork draw me in to it without any other influence. Just me and the piece of artwork.
A good example is when I saw Cy Twombly’s blackboard painting for the first time and without knowing or reading anything about the painting or the artist, I couldn’t truly see (or feel) the painting. The untitled oil and crayon on canvas painting was sold for $70 million (£47 million) at an auction in 2015. Cy Twombly (1928-2011), an American artist, is considered by many to be one of the greatest artists of the past 100 years.
This is a huge question to answer and I’m sure there are so many different approaches to find the answer. I have been searching for an answer after researching several articles and I believe it is the unique ability of an artist to create timeless artwork is what makes a great artist.
There are many elements of any painting and the way each element is used individually as well as collectively makes a good painting. Elements such as composition, colour, tones, shapes and lines. It is the overall balance that bring the painting together. It is the ability of the artwork to evoke deep emotions that keep pulling you into deeper meanings only you, the viewer, create in your own mind and feelings.
Personally, this is what I find in great abstract or non-representational paintings. How could a combination of a few colours, shapes, lines, etc. that do not represent anything familiar, evoke such powerful feelings.
Realism painting includes many familiar objects, but non-representational painting is all about the unfamiliar. There are no facts, there is no right or wrong. It is created from nothing, as I have heard it many times. But it isn’t created from nothing. Abstract non-representational art is created from some of the deepest innermost values of the artist and also the viewer.
Many times, I tried to copy other great artists’ paintings, but I was nowhere even close, and I have been painting for a long time. You might be able to copy other paintings, but you cannot copy other artist’s feelings.
A great piece of artwork isn’t about looking beautiful, looking good or looking bad. It isn’t about the aesthetics at all, it is all about evoking and moving emotions, provoking a thought, making a statement or telling a story.
Only great artists can create great paintings that create all of that with colours, shapes and lines, so I’m afraid a 5-year old couldn’t have created that painting.
But the fact of the matter is, art remains subjective.
How Can Artists Create a Deep Emotional Reaction
Deep emotional reaction happens voluntarily without our conscious or control and it is caused by so many things. When looking at a piece of artwork people usually use their own ideas and imaginations which are, most likely, triggered by their own interpretation and experience of the colours and shapes they see in the artwork. Does it link to any memories, experiences, etc.
The meaning and interpretation of colours, shapes, etc. remain subjective and are greatly influenced by personal experience and culture. For example, the colour red in Chinese culture is associated with happiness, celebration, prosperity and luck. While in most western cultures, red symbolises love, danger, urgency and anger.
Different shapes can also affect and influence us psychologically. For example, a triangle may be associated with success and a square with balance. Again, different cultures may have different association to shapes.
Those effects on our mood may be consciously or sub-consciously and many everyday objects are designed to influence our cognitive task.
Great artists are masters of evoking different emotions using colours, shapes, lines and texture, but “no great artist ever sees things as they really are”.
Every artist expresses emotion in their art – that’s what they do, they are painting their own views, ideas and feelings but not necessarily using words to describe them. Great artists understand the meaning and effects of colours, tone, shape, line, texture and space. These are the basic elements of a piece of artwork. These elements are around us all the time but not necessarily together in one space.
It is the ability to use these elements, individually as well as collectively, to write a meaningful message or story, that can create deep emotional reaction.
Why Do We Like Art
I’m sure we all have our own reasons for liking art, or perhaps not, but how many of us really understand why we like or dislike art?
This is, again, not an easy question to answer but I think it is something to do directly with our subconscious. This is a very complicated area of your “self” that is extremely difficult to understand, control and satisfy. It is so powerful and amazing, yet we are not fully aware of what exactly is it or how it really works but it has tremendous influences and effects on our feelings.
Some say that we only use 5% of our conscious mind and the remaining 95% is entirely controlled by the subconscious at any given moment. It controls so many of our body vital functions, like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and so many others. It registers everything that has and will happen in your life.
And that’s where art connects and communicates with, the subconscious. I always refer to art as “the language of feelings” because if you try to use your conscious analytical mind, you will not be able to connect with the artwork. Simply because art does not use the conscious mind, it uses the subconscious. I firmly believe that this is one of the reasons some people find it difficult to appreciate art, most particularly abstract and non-representational art. Why Are We Attracted To Abstract Art.
Music and poetry are clear examples of their powers to evoke emotions. They make you feel something you have no control over. Art takes you deeper into your own soul and your own world. All our feelings are evoked by art.
I know when I’m painting, I know I’m on a journey onto a different dimension and time becomes non-existing.
Whatever reason people may have for liking art, art remains an integral element of human’s lives, whether the art is beautiful or not, whether it’s pleasurable or not – art is part of life.
Most Famous Artists Names of All Time
“I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way… things I had no words for.” – Georgia O’Keeffe.
Those are the words of a great artist.
In no particular order, here is a list of some of the most famous and great artists in the Western cultures. The list includes famous female artists and famous male artists (famous painters). I read a lot about artists and their contribution to art history of painting in the Western art. I’m sure there are many more great artists in the world:
- Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
- Michelangelo (1475-1564)
- Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)
- Hilma af Klint (1862-1944)
- Claude Monet (1840-1926)
- Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625)
- Rembrandt (1605-1669)
- Elisabeth-Louise Gigee le Brun (1755-1842)
- Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
- Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
- Artemisia Gentileschi (1597-1654)
- Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
- Judith Leyster (1609-1660)
- Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
- Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980)
- Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
- Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
- Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)
- Henry Matisse (1869-1954)
- Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863)
- Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
- Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
- Willem De Kooning (1904-1997)
- Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
- Gerhard Richter (born 1932)
At the end of the day, we can’t help it, our decision in many cases is influenced by several factors such as our personal views, other people’s opinion, history and the media. I guess, our personal preference is what counts in this matter.
Your comments are most welcome.