Art Collecting: what makes good ART – Part Two

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:

Damien Hirst's Spot Painting - Gagosian gallery, Paris. As the title promises, Spot Paintings features borrowed and newly created works of art featuring the UK-based artist’s signature dotted paintings. Different colors, sizes, and shapes were all variations on the theme
Damien Hirst’s Spot Painting – Gagosian gallery, Paris.  As the title promises, Spot Paintings features borrowed and newly created works of art featuring the UK-based artist’s signature dotted paintings. Different colors, sizes, and shapes were all variations on the theme.

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.

Claude Monet Landscape Painting
Claude Monet Landscape Painting

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.

Mark Rothko contemplation
Mark Rothko contemplation

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.

Jeff Koons Popeye Series, Serpentine Gallery Exhibiton, London. 2003, Oil on canvas 274.3 x 213.4 cm © 2008 Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons Popeye Series, Serpentine Gallery Exhibiton, London. 2003, Oil on canvas 274.3 x 213.4 cm © 2008 Jeff Koons

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.

Link from last week:

ART/Abstract or not  – Mark Rothko

click to enlarge
Mark Rothko (1903 – 1970) was an American painter of Russian Jewish descent. He is considered one of the most famous postwar American artists along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Generally identified as an Abstract Expressionist, he himself rejected this label and even resisted classification as an “abstract painter.”

rothko4The most important aspect of painting for Mark Rothko was the creation of space within it.  For him, artists were seekers of truth and he sought to communicate his understanding of the world, not through colour, as we might imagine, but through a sense of space within the work.

Mark Rothko along with Adolph Gottlieb published the Abstract Expressionist Manifesto, which read as follows:

rothko3 ‘To us art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explained only by those willing to take risks. This world of the imagination is fancy-free and violently opposed to common sense. It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way – not his way. We favour the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth… ‘rothko1

‘You might as well get one thing straight.  I’m not an abstract artist...I’m not interested in the relationship of colour or form or anything else.  I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on.  And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate these basic human emotions…The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience as I had when I painted them.’


I find them intriguing.  How about you?


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