you're reading...
Art, Opinion

What makes “good” art?

I was asked this question by a friend about a year ago and it occurred to me again the other day while painting with watercolour after much time using only pen and digital brushes. The question then took me by surprise but after a short consideration I answered; “the amount of time it takes to create it..”.

Of course this isn’t the only factor but I still think my fast response is accurate. As much as I think that digital art is not inferior to traditional techniques, the same way as washing machines are not inferior to washing by hand, it’s still not on the ” same level”. It’s no doubt easier and often faster to paint with digital brushes with results that often make reality blush, but a) where’s the wonder, b) the time it takes until the end result is much shorter, thus eliminating a great chunk of personal connectedness to the artwork itself. When it took painters years to finish a serious painting,  their relationship to it and their approach to the creative process was much more personal.

This personal and often times emotional approach is what, in my opinion, digital painting (mostly) lacks and when it comes to art, which is always subjective, this alone can make a huge difference. Ready-made and copy-paste art can be useful and even appealing but is it “good” art? (“Good” not in the sense of quality but in the sense of being the product of a skilled artist thus being of a higher value.)

Some even argue that artworks created with digital techniques cannot be called art at all but I consider it a very one-sided attitude. Following this argument, only the cave paintings would be “original” and “traditional” enough to be called art.

Of course this debate has many more angles but I think at the end of the day what matters is the artist’s relationship to the creative process itself and how much skill the artwork reveals. Also nowadays the fusion of many techniques makes the whole debate somewhat barren.


About Flypaperpaint

Fantasy illustrations, comics, character design & children's book illustrations.


31 thoughts on “What makes “good” art?

  1. I’m not an artist. If I think about writing instead, the main difference between the digital and pre-digital versions is in what the time goes on: for example you can edit a draft without having to type the whole thing out again. So it’s possible to focus more on what you’re trying to create, and less on chores like retyping an entire page for the sake of two or three spelling mistakes. I feel that this actually makes the process more creative, because more of the time can be used creatively.

    So maybe the real question is: what would a piece of digital art be like if as much time and effort had gone into it as into a piece of tradtional art?

    I don’t think the digital medium stops art being art: from the viewer’s point of view, what matters is whether it communicates or not, and whether what it communicates is worth communicating and has any depth to it. A digital piece can’t communicate things like the knowledge that the artist’s hands have touched the paint, but it can communicate what was in the artist’s mind, or things the artist wants to conjure up in the viewer’s mind.

    By the way, do you know that John Cage didn’t consider recordings to be music? As far as he was concerned, there had to be actual performers in front of an actual audience, and the music was the shared experience and communication that took place. With a recording there was no direct communication, so it wasn’t music.

    Posted by Tim J | September 15, 2012, 7:23 pm
  2. Further thought: something is definitely missing from a digital medium in terms of what can be created. At one time, someone doing traditional calligraphy might well have mixed their own ink (a book my father had on the subject described how to do this), so everything except for the underlying piece of paper would be their work. Ready-made ink means no creativity goes into the quality of the ink,only into how it’s applied to the paper . . .

    Posted by Tim J | September 15, 2012, 8:39 pm
    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject.
      I didn’t know about J.C.’s view on recorded music and – though I don’t agree with it – I can see where he’s coming from. You’re right, in writing it’s different, the digital age helped in the creative process rather than hindered it like in your example about calligraphy & ink. That’s exactly what I was thinking about; that somehow, even though digital art can communicate a lot too, it’s still in many cases seems to lack in other areas; like the “intimacy” someone has with the artwork who, for example, mixes his/her own ink.

      Posted by Bernadett-B | September 16, 2012, 5:40 pm
      • I do think the intimacy is important: it exists on the other end too. I’ve been considering getting an e-reader, for convenience really, but I can’t imagine using it for any reason other than convenience. For a book I care about, the actual printed copy is important, and it becomes “more mine” as it acquires a few accidental marks on the cover, a little bit of discolouring where my fingers naturally hold it when flicking through, etc. If I lose the book and have to replace it, the crisp new replacement copy doesn’t seem like my book any more, but an impersonal substitute. I think the history of the physical object is part of its meaning.

        Maybe this is also why I like old books: they’re not just print on a page, but a physical connection with previous owners and the time they lived in.

        A freshly printed digital image doesn’t have that physical history.

        Posted by Tim J | September 18, 2012, 4:52 pm
  3. If I may join this interesting conversation…digital v. pre-digital. I am a photographer where this issue has been debated.

    I am primarily a street photographer, preferring black and white images.

    I believe that it helps to consider where we display our art. Online, back-lit digital photography can be beautiful. Scanned photo prints, in fact, may not ‘pop out’ like the digital ones.

    But, printed on paper, film print wins. Film prints (black and white in particular) are still far and above more stunning than digital prints. A digital print can not duplicate the silver tones, the depth of blacks and the contrasting shades of light of the film print created in the darkroom.

    On another level, as an artist I enjoy the magic of the darkroom. In the darkroom, I am a performer. I feel a closeness to my print as I cajole her image onto the paper. I am part of my print. In the darkroom, I develop a bond with my images. The immediacy of digital photography does not quite give me that feeling.

    Having said that, I love the ease of using a digital camera. I have been living abroad and away from the darkroom for many years and I appreciate the ability to take photos and to develop my prints using Photoshop and iPhoto.

    Still, I miss the smell of the darkroom. I miss the quiet. I miss the hours spent coaxing the light out of the dark with only a dim red light as a companion.

    Thank you Bernadett and Tim for this philosophical discourse. Bernadett, thank you for joining my blog and your positive comment.

    Posted by mbfitzmahan | September 17, 2012, 1:27 am
    • Thank you for your comment and for joining. I think you captured very well with the darkroom and the filmprint example what I was trying to say. The ease of using a digital camera helped photography a lot but still cannot quite compare to films in many areas. I think it’s good that there’s still both to enjoy:)

      Posted by Bernadett-B | September 18, 2012, 5:10 pm
  4. I like your point about cave art. 🙂

    I think an important distinction to be made is between the questions “What makes ‘good’ art?” and “What makes art ‘good’?” As in, what processes leads to art being ‘good’ vs. what does ‘good’ even mean when talking about art?

    I do agree that taking the personal, typically more time-invested approach is far more likely to make ‘good’ art, but the amount of time spent itself is not the quailty that makes art ‘good.’

    Posted by babelwright | September 17, 2012, 6:28 pm
    • Thank you for your comment. Of course time isn’t the only factor I just focused on this one:), but I think it’s an important factor as the more time and attention an artwork gets, the more subjective and emotional the relationship is which is I guess a bit different with digital artworks. This of course is a generalization. I used the word “good” to indicate higher valued art based not on quality but on a generalized perception of what art is, if that’s possible at all.

      Posted by Bernadett-B | September 18, 2012, 4:33 pm
  5. I love digital – especially for writing and taking photos, but can imagine that the process is different and not as good as using real paints.

    Posted by ladyfi | September 17, 2012, 7:34 pm
  6. Hmm!!! Interesting that you should mention the issue of connectedness. I am more into writing; and it’s funny how sentimental I still feel about writing with pen and paper. Talk about emotional connection.
    On another side, I am finding rhythm with typing straight into my phone and sending it striaghtway online.
    Maybe my attachment to pen and paper is just a “retention” on my part; and I’ll soon “articize” digital works too.
    All the same, the point is: look for a method that affords you connectedness.
    To conclude: shouldn’t we see days of “less real” digital art as periods of transition. And one day, we will flow a lot better with them.

    I see. Just scrolled down to see the lovely discussion between you and Tim. Nice. The time spent typing should be spent on further creativity. Imagine how horrible it would have been for me if I had to first write my 4000 word-journal(My Idyllic Village Experience), then later typed it.

    Thank you for following my blog.

    Posted by realityenchanted | September 18, 2012, 10:13 pm
    • Thank you for your comment. My remarks were more about the difference in the creative process than in how “real” digital art feels. I’m by no means against anything digital since I do produce some myself. Though neither is superior to the other, digital and traditional art do differ still when it comes to the creative process itself. This is not that evident in writing I agree:)

      Posted by Bernadett-B | September 19, 2012, 11:00 pm
  7. Interesting topic. As a painter, the involvement with the canvas or paper is very important. There’s a tactility and engagement with the process that digital media just does not satisfy. I feel removed from image making using digital media. The few digital collages that I tried, while studying for my degree, I was advised to paint. That said, I once played with photoshop on somebody else’s computer and produced amazing results. What I find myself doing is trying to replicate the marks in photoshop by hand. Because I get cramps trying to manipulate the mouse (it was an old version of photoshop) and want to improve by vocabulary in mark making – so the different mediums can feed into each other. Some digital video work can be astonishing.

    Posted by petrujviljoen | September 23, 2012, 8:48 am
    • Thank you for your comment. It’s so true that different mediums can feed into each other as well. In video art I think, digital opened up a new “genre” so to speak, so it works great there. Maybe the only true difference we can speak of is in the realm of painting and drawing really.

      Posted by Bernadett-B | September 23, 2012, 5:22 pm
      • And yet I can draw with my paintbrush if I liked. Complex discussion. When at art school (both times; different schools) they stressed that one paints as one draws. The same marks, tones, etc. Difference is a dry medium or a wet medium. Colour is obviously a lot more complex.

        Posted by petrujviljoen | September 23, 2012, 8:04 pm
    • A further thought on this—but please remember that I in no way consider myself an artist!

      I recently bought myself a graphics tablet, because I sometimes want to draw diagrams and the like for use in blog posts..I don’t have a scanner, so my my choice was:previously (i) draw on paper, take a photo, transfer it to the PC, edit it, post it; (ii) draw laboriously with the mouse. With the tablet, I effectively draw directly onto the screen, which is the image’s final destination.

      So now I’m wondering whether connection is also about what we’re connected with. Using the tablet gives me a direct connection with the screen image. Doing it on paper disconnects me from the screen version.

      I feel more personally connected to the paper version (while it’s still on paper), but what I then post feels like a substitute rather than the real thing. If I do it on screen using the tablet, I can post the real thing.

      There are a lot of aspects to this!

      Posted by Tim J | September 23, 2012, 6:39 pm
      • It’s always going to be a complex discussion. In art-making the boundaries are definitely blurring. The last art course I did, the faculty stopped making distinctions between drawing or painting etc … it’s simply called Graphic Processes. Love it!

        Posted by petrujviljoen | September 23, 2012, 8:11 pm
      • It is very complex indeed. I love “graphic process” but still wouldn’t put them in the same basket.:) Usually they teach drawing first as grounding and then painting. It does make sense, since I don’t think without a strong drawing basis you can practice good painting. I mean I think it’s like the saying, “you need to know the rules, to be able to break them..”

        Posted by Bernadett-B | September 23, 2012, 9:16 pm
      • I’ve been thinking about this … indeed, at the art school we started with drawing and then painting. Following these initial courses they started calling it graphic processes. There’s so much to say. I find I ‘contradict’ myself at almost every statement about art making. Although I’m interested in new media, I decided last night that the involvement with hands on work, getting dirty, paint and charcoal everywhere, is my first and last love. I played with a tiny graphic programme on my computer yesterday, following our discussion. After hours of cutting and pasting and resizing I decided I created a good base to draw and paint over!

        Posted by petrujviljoen | September 24, 2012, 9:20 am
      • That’s such an interesting aspect you’re raising here. I often find that when I decided to work right into the computer with a tablet, that image becomes the “original” and when I scan my paintings in, my attitude toward the digitalized image is different as the paper one is always the “original”. That being said somehow what I paint on paper is always “closer” to my heart than the digital images even those I make with the tablet.

        Posted by Bernadett-B | September 23, 2012, 9:49 pm
      • Yes, there are. I’m yet to purchase a tablet, but had a taste of what it can do. I don’t think the creativity is less real whether one works with digital media or actual pencils and paint. When I scan in or photograph an artwork to post, I’m happily left with the original artwork with it’s tactility and smudges and so on while the printout of a digital image compares to a photograph, which is also a very valid and satisfying artwork. I’m laughing at myself! I think the different media can be used together, separately with great success! Contemporaries of mine still argue whether photography can be art, never mind computer generated images. I’d like to think that art embraces just about everything. E.g. if I arrange a row of stones in the veld, and do not paint or draw or photograph it, did I make an artwork?

        Posted by petrujviljoen | September 24, 2012, 9:28 am
      • At least for me, photography, a tablet and pen on paper are all different. With a tablet it does feel more like real drawing than using a mouse, so in that way it’s more physical. But the surface I’m drawing on remains just the tablet surface. It doesn’t accumulate the work and the image, because those end up in the computer.

        With a camera it’s different. I used to take a lot of colour film photos with a manual SLR. (I hated the idea of the camera doing my job for me, and thought I’d rather the money went on a good lens than lots of electronics.) This is actually a very physical process: adjusting the focus, setting the aperture to get the depth of field you want, holding the camera in the most stable way you can . . . And at the same time you’re always thinking about how the actual physical film will respond to the settings you’ve chosen. Then (assuming you don’t process the film yourself) you send the film off and hope that you’ve coaxed the intended results out of the physical materials.

        Then when a good photo comes back, it represents the whole physical and mental process that led up to the moment you pressed the shutter. And even though there might be multiple copies of the photo, there’s ONE negative, it’s irreplaceable, and it’s the one YOU created in that moment.

        Posted by Tim J | September 24, 2012, 4:26 pm
  8. Interesting insights. I feel the more (physical) involvement you have creating the artwork, the more personal the result becomes.

    Posted by Bernadett-B | September 25, 2012, 3:53 pm
  9. Art is a delightfull media to express one’s selfishness, that is how does the artist relate to his/her end product which will be admired by many and rejected by many. If the artist can relate to the end product then in my humble opinion it is good art. If the “relating” is absent then, oh well.

    Posted by newsferret | October 1, 2012, 12:53 pm
    • Thank you for your comment. I agree that relating to the artwork is the most important, what I was pondering about was whether there’s a difference between traditional and digital methods in terms of how the artist relates to the artwork throughout the creative process.( Like the “express one’s selfishness”. How true:))

      Posted by Bernadett-B | October 1, 2012, 3:09 pm
  10. I liked your point about the artist’s relationship to the creative process. And thanks for stopping by my blog today!

    Posted by ltownsdin | October 2, 2012, 9:45 pm
  11. I will state my point of view on this subject without much elaboration. Hope that’s ok.

    The audience makes ‘good’ art.

    Love your blog 🙂

    Posted by quietgravity | October 13, 2012, 2:33 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

September 2012
« Aug   Oct »


Ask permission before you take anything from this blog for any purpose. (c)

Contact me

e-mail: bernadettbon (a) yahoo.com


free counters
%d bloggers like this: