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21 Charactertistics of Great Art

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The characteristics of great art include the technical skill, mastery, originality, emotion impact, conceptual depth, beauty and authenticity of a work. Beyond this, great art communicates something that viewers find remarkable and unforgettable in a way that only occurs at a time and place -- never to be repeated.


Art is pure creative expression that says something about the human experience.


Great art is non-obvious and unique in a way that's valuable as opposed to random.


Great art creates a powerful emotional impression in the audience such as beauty or some other aesthetic.

Art Movements

Great art leads to inspire other art. Likewise, great art is often inspired by other artists of its time. This leads to a phenomenon known as art movements whereby the great artists of an age influence each other to create a characteristic style. Copying this style in a later age is considered a poor practice such that art movements have a time and place that is never repeated.


Art often tells a story using composition, symbolism, figures, characters, scenes, tone and other artistic techniques. This narrative is often rich in allegory and detail such that art invites the viewer to interpret and wonder.


The visual representation of abstract concepts, emotions or ideas.


Composition is how the elements in an artwork are laid out. This includes technical aspects such as balance and perspective and vanishing point. A great artwork will use composition in a creative way as an element of expression.

Color Composition

The use of color for expressive effect. This is not to suggest that great art is always colorful -- earthy or dark colors are often used to great effect.

Painterly Qualities

Painterly qualities are brushwork and textures whereby an artist makes no attempt to hide the medium of their work but rather emphasizes it. Not all great art has painterly qualities but it is an example of the confidence and authenticity that is characteristic of unusually valuable art.

Negative Space

Some artists make use of negative space in composition to create an effect such as visual dominance.


Yugen is the Japanese aesthetic of mystery that states that things can be more attractive when they are ambiguous, uncertain and non-obvious. This aesthetic is common in Western art but yugen is the only word that captures the concept well.


Another Japanese aesthetic often translated the beauty of imperfection. A better translation is perhaps "the elegance of unfinished imperfection."


Great art typically differs from reality whereby even realism may offer some imaginative interpretation of the world.


Style is the distinctive character that shines through in the work of an artist. This can change with time such as the remarkable artistic periods of Pablo Picasso. For example, his blue period between 1901 and 1904 when Picasso painted essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue.

Subject Matter

Subject matter that is new or that is interpreted in some unique way. For example, The Scream, a 1893 work by Edvard Munch which he described as a "scream passing through nature" that he sensed while painting a sunset. Considered an inspiration for Expressionism, perhaps the 20th century's most important art movement.

Conceptual Depth

Thought-provoking works that attract and retain attention whereby people feel they just can't walk away.


A typical path for a great artist is to master conventional art and then break the rules in some way that captures the imagination of a generation of artists.

Naive Art

It is very rare but some artists have broken the rules in a valuable way without ever learning them. This is known as naive art where an artist with no formal training or immersion in the art world produces something brilliant.


In a pragmatic sense, great art is art that is recognized as such by the art world. In the 19th century, there was much attempt to standardize and institutionalize art under the French academies such as the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Art broke free of this and ever since, great art is usually that which plays some role in successfully challenging the orthodoxy of its day. For example, Pablo Picasso's 1907 work Les Demoiselles d'Avignon below is arguably the first cubist painting which deconstructs reality in a stylistic way that captured the imagination of a generation of artists.


While great art is original and authentic it never occurs in a vacuum and is inspired by elements of culture and the work of other artists. For example, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (above) was inspired by The Opening of the Fifth Seal by El Greco dated 1608-1614 -- a remarkably strange and modern looking work for its day.


Heritage is value that is passed down from the past. Great art becomes heritage if it is preserved and offered to the public. This becomes a common reference and experience that we can all use to build up culture.


This is the complete list of articles we have written about art.
Abstract Art
Art Activities
Art Business
Art Experiences
Art Forms
Art Nouveau
Art Styles
Art World
Art's Sake
Artistic License
Characteristics of Art
Color Theory
Found Objects
Importance Of Art
Modern Art
Negative Space
Vanishing Point
Venus Effect
Visual Arts
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A list of art terms.

Importance Of Art

An overview of the importance of art.

Art Business

An overview of the art business with examples.

Art Activities

A list of art activities.

Found Objects

A list of common found objects.

Concrete Things

The definition of concrete thing with examples.

Visual Arts

An overview of visual arts with examples.

Commercial Art

An overview of commercial art with examples.

Things To Draw

A list of things to draw.

Art Experiences

An overview of art experiences with examples.

Art Elements

The common elements of art with examples.
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