Thursday, April 15, 2010

Does your art have soul?

I wrote an article for a website called Empty Easel
and they published it!
Here is the article they published, but you can click on the link if you want to read it there.

I’ve been pondering for a while on what makes a work of art good or not. I won’t say I’m the world’s expert on this subject; after all, I failed art criticism and had to repeat it the next year—though you could look at this positively and say I got an extra year of study on the subject.

So what makes art good or not? Here are the things that are important to me:

1. Art needs to be interesting.

Does it have something to say? Is it able to hold your attention? As a collector, I look for art that won’t bore me after it’s been on my walls for a while.

2. Art shouldn’t try too hard to be “deep.”

I don’t believe good art has to be particularly deep, or political, or philosophical. Sometimes it can be about quality of light or how colours work together. Or it can be about the subject—capturing the essence of a person for example.

I prefer that it make me think a bit, but it shouldn’t be so esoteric and out of reach that it needs an essay to explain it.

3. Art shouldn’t be strictly commercial.

Technically slick art leaves me cold—especially when you just know in your bones that the artist made it just for profit, and it has an overtly commercial ring to it.

4. Art should be unique.

Just making a beautiful, perfect copy of a photograph isn’t enough. There needs to be something more, something that you couldn’t find in a photograph alone.

5. Art needs to show the artist’s heart.

I want to be able to see that the artist put his or her heart into the work; that it meant something to them. I want to feel that they will miss the piece once it has been sold.

I once chatted with a well known artist (this was a long time ago), who was happy to have sold some fabulous prints to a collector until she found out her prints were kept in a special drawer along with works by other artists for investment purposes only.

She was pretty dismayed to realize that her work was bought not for display but as “money in the bank.”

6. Art needs to impress.

Not only should there be some evidence of heart, it needs to make me think, “Wow, I wish I had done that.” This is where great technical skill comes in, and if not that, then great thought and purpose.

When a work of art has all six of these things, it becomes so much more than just an image. A great work of art has soul.


  1. Spot on Karen, and as I writer, I agree that the same principles applies, and probably to all forms of art, be it, sculpting, making music, movies or even cooking! Well said!

  2. I totally agree. Its disappointing when you see art that is way too commercial and is a blatant profit piece or tries so hard to be deep it leaves you shaking your head.And not because you were impressed but just lost for all reasons. It makes me think the artist has lost touch with the other key points in your article and those are the key components for true expression. Great post!!

  3. a beautifully written piece...with much thought behind it. we think that it should be required reading for all people who are in the business of judging weekend fine art festivals around the country. thanks for posting such a wonderful piece.