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The distinction between great and mediocre art Essay (Critical Writing)


The distinction between great and mediocre art is often subjective and it often cannot be accurately determined by any qualitative or quantitative measurement. The articles presented in this packet touch upon a series of questions such as artistic taste, evaluation of art, and creative courage.

The central idea that the authors emphasize is that artists and critics should focus on what they consider to be beautiful, but not on the assessments made by other people who often can be biased, prejudiced, or simply superficial.

Both evaluation of art and creativity require freedom of mind, courage, and ability to go beyond the limits of convention. This is the main idea that permeates each of the readings.

The idea that the value of art cannot measured objectively is eloquently illustrated in the article by Jamie Katz who shows that how a seemingly ordinary painting can be transformed into a real masterpiece only because its authorship was attributed to Diego Velazquez (Katz, 62).

The main paradox is that for a long time, this picture did not attract the attention of art critics or historians, even though it was not hidden or concealed from them (Katz, 61).

It grew to fame only because a single person liked it and conjectured that it could have been created by a famous Spanish painter. The issue is that the painting, itself remained unchanged; it did not acquire any new qualities.

Although the author does not pose the question explicitly, the readers may ask themselves what might have happened to this painting if its authorship had not been ascertained. This example suggests that the value of an artwork is often determined on the basis of very subjective criteria.

This is why people should primarily pay attention to their own feelings about a certain work of art, rather than to the authoritative opinions of critics. The thing is that these people often change their opinions. People, who prefer to blindly follow popular trends, deprive themselves of an opportunity to see the value of art.

This idea is also reflected in the article Alice’s Wonderland written by Rebecca Mead. This author tells the story of a woman who attempts to establish her own art collection. Alice Walton did not wish to buy pictures that were popular among other art collectors or dealers; she decided to collect the paintings that she liked, namely those ones dedicated to American history (Mead, 34).

Certainly, Alice Walton could have made a different choice, for example, she could collect artworks that were praised by critics. Nevertheless, such a choice would run contrary to her own artistic sense. Again, this article illustrates an idea that people should be more independent or courageous when forming their judgment about a work of art.

Unfortunately, very often people are rather unwilling to make their own judgment about paintings, films, books, or musical compositions. This is a problem that has been relevant at any time or place. Moreover, it manifests itself in various areas of art.

Thus, this argument can be equally applied to people who are engaged in creative work. Adam Gopnik whose article focuses on van Gogh’s life and work, shows that an artists “bets his life” on his work (55). Moreover, not every person has the courage to depart from existing tradition and create art forms as it was done by Vincent van Gogh who was appreciated only by a very few people, for instance, Paul Gauguin.

He was an artist who realized that his paintings would not enjoy popularity during his lifetime. Moreover, he did not expect that his works would earn his material prosperity. In this article, Adam Gopnik describes his life as “making something that no one wants in the belief someone someday will” (55).

This quote indicates that art requires courage and determination, and these are the qualities that not everyone possesses. Under such circumstances, an artist has to follow instinct, intuition, and understanding of art. The choice made by Vincent van Gogh may not look very attractive to many artists who may prefer short-term popularity to the mere prospects or hopes of long-term recognition.

The majority of people are more likely follow an established trend instead of creating their own artistic style. Probably, the only thing that motivated van Gogh was hope that someday his paintings will find their audience. Such hope is not sufficient for the majority of people.

Creative courage is important for every form of art, including cinematography. In his article Method Man, John Lahr discusses the life and work of Elia Kazan. This person was able to find a new approach to filmmaking and it enabled many actors to show their best qualities.

Moreover, he helped many writers such as Tennessee Williams to improve their creative work (Lahr, 54). He can be regarded as a person who shaped modern cinematography, even though his methods were very popular.

Yet, the example of Elia Kazan shows that creative work can sometimes be the only thing that can defend a person. His testimony in HUAC (House Committee on Un-American Activities) ruined his reputation among other actors and directors (Lahr, 90). For many people, Kazan’s testimony equaled to betrayal of people who trusted him.

It is possible to provide several arguments in favor or against this decision. The ethical aspects of this testimony can be disputed from various perspectives. Yet, Elia Kazan justified it by his willingness to continue his work that he enjoyed most of all.

His films enabled him to withstand the criticism that he faced because of his testimony in HUAC (Lahr, 91). Again, one can remember about Adam Gopnik’s claim according to which an “artist bets his life” on his work (55).

This argument can be applied to Elia Kazan did not want sacrifice his work for the sake of his reputation and even friendship with many other people. Such a step can be taken only by a very few people. For such individuals their creativity and their work are probably the only things that make their life truly valuable.

Creativity and art critique require courage, determination, and sometimes even willingness to become isolated from others. An artist has to ready for misunderstanding or lack of appreciation. His or her understanding of art has to be the major guide.

Similarly, people, who want to make their own evaluation of art, must be able to take independent decisions that may run contrary to popular opinion. Such decisions also require courage and willingness to adhere to one’s artistic taste. Moreover, these articles also illustrate that an artist is a person who is willing to stake his life and reputation on his or her work.

Works Cited

Gopnik, Adam. “Van Gogh’s Ear: the Christmas Eve that changed modern art”. The New Yorker 4 Jan. 2010: 48-55. Print.

Katz, Jamie. “The Painting in the Cellar” Smithsonian Magazine 10 Apr. 2011: 61-66. Print.

Lahr, John. “Method Man: Elia Kazan’s singular career” The New Yorker 10 Dec. 2010: 88-94. Print.

Mead, Rebecca. “Alice’s Wonderland” The New Yorker 27 Jun. 2011: 28-34. Print.

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