Arts Feature

How to distinguish when you’re in the presence of great art.


Have you ever wondered, while walking through an art gallery, why the hell some paintings are worth thousand of dollars? A question that may then be followed by the unpleasant sensation that, if you tried, you could have created a similar work. Or your 7 year old cousin could do better. You’re not alone. Many people, while observing art, make the quiet — or direct — comment “I could have done that!”Yes, maybe you could, indeed. But you DIDN’T! And that’s the very first lesson in understanding the process of creation. Sometimes, like in any other discipline or practice, it’s mostly about being the first. It’s also about executing it well, staying true to your soul, and expressing something so perfectly that, just by looking at your artwork, others are able to feel something.

It’s not easy to compete for a viewer’s attention these days. In this image obsessed culture we live in, where millions of people are more or less mindlessly scrolling Instagram, inundated with billions of pictures every week, it’s hard to impress someone. The human attention span is eight seconds, which is less than that of a goldfish!

Some people suggest that it’s the recognition of the artist which makes a work more valuable. But is something good simply because it’s well known and expensive? I beg to differ. A four or five digit price tag won’t make an average piece of art any better.

Taking from the response of Justin Giarla from The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco:

“What makes good art is when you see a piece from across the room, you immediately fall in love with it without knowing anything about it and are in love with it forever.



So the next time you’re in a gallery or visiting the house of some private collector, and you’d like to know if a particular piece is a good piece of art, give yourself some time and ask a few questions: does this artwork speak to me? Does it improve my mood or makes me curious just by looking at it? Do I want to know more about what’s going on here? If, while watching a piece, you suddenly start to see different layers of it, start having some kind of a dialog with the piece of art, or are inspired to get to know the context behind the creation of a piece of art — maybe you’re enchanted to look at it a bit more, maybe you don’t entirely like the colours, or the subject is irrelevant to you, but when you look at this painting you feel something — then most likely that’s a good piece of art you’re looking at.




Your personal, true feeling is the most important tool to evaluate a piece of art. But are there also objective ways to measure how good a piece of art is, or is it based on multiplied shared opinions? Of course, like in any discipline, art has rules. There are certain — and even quite strict — rules when it comes to a composition: the selection of colours and how they pair, the confidence and precision in the brush strokes, which can say a lot about both the experience and the personality of the artist, as well as their honesty and strength of expression. An understanding of the technique and materials is important too. But as is true in life, in art rules are there to be broken.

I personally love when an artist is able to express a unique imagination combined with the intensity of experience. I felt this while observing a painting of flowers, coloured with a pink and willow-green pallet. The brush strokes were so strong and aggressive that, despite the delicacy of both the subject and the colour pallet, I had the impression that there was more war than peace going on there.


The way an artist achieves a work should not matter so much in my opinion, the effect is what counts. And you as a viewer either like it or not. Maybe some people have greater intensities of experience or imagination than others. For those, the homeland of art should stay open. And for you as a viewer, if it truly touches you, then it’s a good piece of art.