A continuation of my post from last Monday on the Art of Collecting ART and What Makes Good Art – answers from Art World Pros. However this discussion will always be continuing because everyone’s opinion differs. Here is one more:
Scott M. Levitt, Director, Fine Arts, Bonhams & Butterfields, Los Angeles:
Quality, quality, quality. This is the mysterious and subjective key to good art. In all periods of art there are good and bad works of art. I find that defining quality in representational art is easier than in modern and abstract art. The other key word is looking. Everything looks good when you first start looking at art, as you have nothing to compare it to. As you hone your eye, you begin to distinguish between good and bad. The more you look at art, the easier it is to determine what is good and what is bad.
Also, there are two schools of thought as to what is good and bad. Some people believe that good and bad are personal distinctions and entirely in the eye of the viewer. Others believe that there is good art and crap art and no one can tell them otherwise. I think the real answer is somewhere in between, and this is based entirely on the quality of the eye of the viewer.
Each area of art requires its own set of criteria when determining good and bad, i.e. painting, sculpture, printmaking, craft, conceptual etc. Personally I hold originality to be important in this determination. For contemporary artists that can be tough. Most of what is being created today is, in my personal opinion, not very original. To me a Mark Rothko is a masterpiece, while a thousand color-field artists after him are not. I find Pop artists brilliant and Jeff Koons completely reactionary. There is originality in contemporary art, but it is tough to find.
It is also tough when the art market influences good and bad. I would like to say that monetary value determines quality, but unfortunately they are often unrelated, as many factors can influence the value of artwork other than quality. Damien Hirst is an interesting and relatively unique artist, but I don’t think his prices at auction reflect how good he is. When one of his works is worth more than a good Monet landscape, something is very amiss.
I think the best “take away” here is that if you want to know what is good and what is not, you have to get out and look for yourself and make that decision. Take a year… and make it a rule to visit museums and galleries every weekend and read art-related books and magazines as much as possible in as many art fields as possible. You will have your answer. If you don’t use this approach, you will officially have no eye or ability to make these distinctions.
If you are in this purely for your own collecting interests, then look at as much art as possible in all fields and eras as I have just said. If you are in it purely to make money, then buy a subscription to Artnet or E*Trade. It’s your call.