I don't get art.

This isn’t about modern art. It’s about traditonal things like paintings and some photographs. I enjoy looking at nice paintings, but often have no idea about what’s good and what’s bad. People talk about the “feeling” or expressiveness in the strokes, and balance etc. and it goes right over my head. I even took a class (with the world’s worst professor) on this subject once. Is this just something you either get or don’t?

Why is Thomas Kincaid, for example, a bad artist? Why are the great artists considered great? Why are the Mona Lisa and The Scream museum quality? It can’t be purely subjective. Is anyone willing to link to some good and bad* art and compare and contrast the differences in simple terms for the ignorant?
*I don’t mean “two year old’s drawing” bad, but masterpiece vs. non-masterpiece, or even just good vs. adequate

If you like it, its good art.

If people have liked it for several hundred years, its great art.

In a previous thread on Thomas Kinkade, Beware of Doug linked to this article which I found very enlightening (no pun intended).

Art is bunk. No wait, that’s ‘history’ that’s bunk. I don’t know what art is, but it’s sort of like porn: I know it when I see it.

There are plenty of books on art appreciation and art criticism out there. I don’t know which one to point you at, though. I don’t have any names at my fingertips, and I usually get mad at some point in the book. But try googling “Art Appreciation” and look at the sites that pop up, or the books that register. Then read everything with a critical eye, and remind yourself that it’s just one person’s opinion. But there is a lot of consensus out there about the fundamentals.

I’ve just been listening to Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” on CD, and by chance just heard the discussion of Rodin’s sculpture. Worth reading for one man’s view of one sculptor. (It’s dangerous to judge an autrhor by what his characters say, but I’ll bet Jubal Hrshaw was mouthing Heinlein’s sentiments pretty closely there – it matches up with what he’s written elsewhere. Note that Heinlein is a science fiction author, not an authority on art, and there’s plenty to disagree with in what he wrote. But he clearly gave it much thought, and, if nothing else, it’ll get you thinking.)

As with any art, I think the viewer/listener/reader can get a much greater appreciation by simply trying it out. Try painting something with oils, for example, and you might be able to understand just how difficult it really is to make a piece that could qualify as “decent,” or you might gain a better understanding as to what someone means by an “expressive” stroke.

Also, there’s something to be said about originality being canonized in art. If you put a urinal in the museum in 2007, its trite and redundant. If you’re Duchamp and its 1917, it becomes a critique on the whole museum system, the subjectivity of taste, etc. etc.

I’d suggest being careful about asking for links to good and bad art, not because of questions of taste and subjectivity, but because seeing it in person is often the difference between “getting it” and meh. For me, a coffee table print of Van Gough is ok, a real one can curl my toes, YMMV.

Good call. Rothko is a perfect example of this. I remember seeing his work in a textbook and just straight up thinking it stunk. Then I saw him in a museum and I realized what everyone was talking about. My opinion turned a hundred eighty degrees.

Of course, the simple answer to “what is good art?” is everything and anything by this guy.

Get this book: The Story of Art. (I originally checked it out from the library and liked it so much I went ahead and bought it) It’s a fantastically readable account of art through history with plenty of excellent examples. Knowing the history behind art movements and trends really helped my understandign of why certian paintings were considered influential and good.

Omega Glory, I’m going to tell you what I’d tell everyone else. Find some open time in your regular schedule, and find a community college or school program in your area that has a traditional lecture-style Art History course.

Pick the course that starts with the pre-rennaisance and runs through to present. Some schools will break this into two courses. They’ll call it a survey course, and it’s intended to just give you the broad overview of the development of and movements in western art.

I was never interested in art before taking the courses, and I certainly didn’t “get” it either. I really don’t think the perspective and learning I got from the courses I took (to fill a humanities credit requirement) could be summed up easily or presented in a conclusive matter.

I know it’s a big time investment, but you’re asking for help to ‘grok’ a very big concept. Would you expect to be able to just up and learn University Physics I and II in one afternoon or two? It’s really fun to learn, and it’s a huge insight to be gained. I used to be one of those people who always said how ‘modern art’ should be called ‘con art.’ I still think a lot of it isn’t very good or impressive personally, but I can appreciate why people disagree with me, and why people like Pollack were a big deal. But more than that it taught me a lot about more traditional art forms, as well as why they’ve declined in favor of surrealist and representative art in the more academic side of the community.

There’s a popular phrase: I may not know Art, but I know what I like.

My interpretation of that comment is that art is what you like. What the “experts”, or even any other person at all, say about it is usually irrelevant. If you enjoy consuming it, then it has done its job of being Art.

I agree to a point. An Art History textbook was a revelation to me. I don’t recall the author but it was the then-current (early 1970’s) edition of a well-regarded college introductory text. I read and studied it (more than once, during and after college) from the point of view of someone with no appreciation for the visual arts, but no hostility either, in fact as one yearning to understand. And I did understand. Every single attribute pointed out about in paintings, sculptures, buildings, mosaics, I saw and identified to my satisfaction. They are really there! That surprised me. My previous opinion – that people just ‘let on’ they appreciate art for snobbery-related reasons – was quashed.

Still it did not turn me into an art appreciator. To this day I honestly and with no malice or condescension (just the opposite – with envy) simply do not see why people enjoy the visual arts.

I came to the conclusion that that region of my brain lacks cells or at least functioning synapses and have come to accept it. My consolation is I appreciate other of the arts, literature and music especially. I am sure there are visual art appreciators that might not appreciate other arts but would like to, just as I would like to appreciate the visual arts.

Visual art appreciators, especially of paintings, though, have, in my opinion, the highest refined-taste quotient of any of the arts except possibly opera. Literature- and music-only appreciators have an inferiority complex vis a vis appreciators of the visual arts, at least I do.

I’ve taken an art history class. I still don’t get it.
Art, like music, is, well, useless. Pictures hanging up on a wall. I can bs how it relates to something else, but that’s all it is…bs.

There is no emotion in art or music for me, unless the artist really tries to beat you over the head with it.

Ditto that. Art criticism goes beyond the aesthetic qualities of the art itself and appreciates or depreciates it based on other things such it’s context during a particular artistic historical trend, the biography of the creator, the personalities of the big collectors, it’s influence on other art and art trends, etc.

Objectively speaking, yes, absolutely. But, so is life.

I have a question to those who don’t get art: are you sometimes amazed by the beauty of nature? When you think about the infinity of space, do you get a sense of awe? Are you amazed by great feats of engineering? Be it a great bridge, or a computer chip?

But if something an expert says leads you to enjoy, or appreciate, something you did not before, wouldn’t you say that’s a good thing?

Art and art criticism is exactly like looking at shapes in the clouds. Objectively, all there is is water vapour in suspension. You look up and you see clouds. Someone else sees a rabbit. You don’t. However, that person explains: see, here’s the tail, there the ears… and you see the rabbit. You see the rabbit and you cannot unsee it.

Personally, no. But for others, this seems to matter, so arguably yes.

I can’t tell you much about the “feeling” or expressiveness of particular strokes, and I can’t tell you much about art theory. But you know how in movies (particularly French movies and indie movies, although there’s a fantastic example in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), an otherwise cool and collected character will suddenly find himself standing in front of one particular piece and suddenly his world grinds to a halt, his peripheral vision shuts down, his sense of where “self” ends and “world” begins shatters, acoustic music plays and he’s just gripped in awe, staring at that piece, his mind completely overtaken by that piece?

That’s what great art is to me. I know it when I see it. When it hits me, I’m spellbound, and I can’t function. I love to get lost in it, in the curves of black against red (for some reason, those colors are often involved), the flight of the bird, the plight of the screaming villager, whatever. I can stand there for an hour and wander through that painting, discovering untold corridors and steam tunnels within its world. When I am standing in front of that piece, I am powerless. Especially if acoustic music is playing. ETA: I’m generally exhausted after this experience. Same with a great jazz piece. Normally at this point I’m also seeing trails and perceiving clearly what a younger, more spiritual me, would’ve called “energy” and “aura”.

That is art. If you don’t get it, I suspect you haven’t seen a piece that does that to you yet. You’re in New York, so if you really want to make a concerted effort, I think you would do well for yourself by going out and taking more and more of it in. Me, I jealously read the Arts section of the New York Times on my Palm and think “DAMN! If only I were there! DAMN! If only I were there for that”, etc. Fortunately, the reader software is on the fritz right now; I depend on its crashes for my very sanity.

FTR, the most compelling and captivating art (for me) that I’ve ever seen tends to be in small college galleries, made by people who clearly have no intention of ever caring about anything else.

I disagree. I find the Mona Lisa completely uninteresting. Of course, I could probably be hanged if I said that in the Louvre; therein lies the problem with any claim of an objective standard in art.

Speaking of literary treatments of art, BTW, Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut does a good job of explaining why modern art of the ultra-minimalist sort epitomized by that Briton’s flashing-light trick can be truly innovative and expressive. I know that’s not quite what was asked in the OP, but it’s worth checking out. Not that specific part, I mean; the whole book. That sub-story serves partly to explain the rest of the book and vice versa, IMO.

I think that’s absolutely true of many people, that they have a profound understanding of another art form coupled with something of an ambivalence toward the more traditional arts. I’m thinking of my friend who’s a scratch DJ; he pours his heart and soul into his music for no one in particular to hear except his friends, and he can say more in ten minutes of scratching than in five hours of conversation. Music is his life, and he listens to music pretty much every minute of the day. Nothing connects to him the way music does. He’s almost as talented at digital graphic arts as at hip-hop music, but AFAICT visual arts in general just don’t turn him on. He churns out visual pieces as commercial products or heartfelt gifts to friends and family, but he has no desire to decorate his home with art pieces (marijuana posters, burnt-out video cards and record sleeves are all he has hung up on the walls) nor to spend any significant amount of time looking at other peoples’ visual art works.

Really? Could you expand?

Only two people matter in any given piece of art. What I think of it, and what the artist thinks of it. I don’t care what anybody else thinks about it; their interpretations are their own, and don’t affect me. There is nothing more subjective than appreciation of art.

Personally, I don’t think what the creator thinks is necessarily important. I’ve written this before: I don’t need to believe in God to appreciate a beautiful sunset.

What I don’t necessarily get about this position is that we don’t exist in a vacuum. Your appreciation of a certain work is in great part influenced by your prior experiences.

Context is important. I went to the Louvre this summer and witnessed the Mona Lisa circus. Hundreds of loud, impatient tourists in a line pushing each other for a brief chance to snap a picture of themselves in front of the star of the bestselling novel du jour. Guards telling people to keep on moving while the actual object of attention poses at a distance, behind a glass that reflects the shower of flashes… There’s no way you could ever force yourself to ignore these people. At the same time, there are paintings that are hung in certain ways, in certain places, that underline their beauty.

It is true that by definition, art is a private experience. But, what is around the object, what you know, what you don’t will undeniably affect this experience.