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What Makes a Masterpiece?

An interesting topic thought others might want to ponder whilst creating their own  =)


  • Me
    every time I finish a piece.

    but I know I am deluded

  • Masterpiece is a creation that has been given much critical praise. Period. There is no objective criteria to define a masterpiece. 

  • edited April 11
    I agree with @MyArtsClub. There are no objective criteria by which a masterpiece can be identified. Critical acclaim and personal subjective taste are all we have.   As Justice Potter Stewart once said of pornography in a famous US Supreme Court case, [it's difficult to define] but "I know it when I see it."  It's the same with art.
    For one viewer a nude might be pornography, for another unremarkable and for yet another an artistic masterpiece. Look at Courbet's The Origin of the World, or the Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe for example. To some they are obscene, some are unaffected by them, while to others they are masterpieces. 
    I admire Cezanne immensely but I find some of his later landscapes difficult to like. But for others the same paintings are masterpieces. All we really have is the subjective I-know-it-when-I-see-it test.  It's up to us to judge. Unless of course we're so dumb that we accept being told by some "expert" which paintings are masterpieces and we decide that we should like them for that reason alone.  I don't believe that in the appreciation the arts there is any such thing as an "expert". And it's a good thing that the best artists haven't taken "experts" seriously. Had they done so, many of what I consider to be among the world's greatest paintings would never have been created   :)
  • dencaldencal -
    edited April 11
    I had a Professor of Sociology who provided a great definition of pornography.

    ”Literature read with one hand”

    The concept of a masterpiece is adequately covered in Wikipedia “... work of outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, or workmanship”.


  • edited April 11
    "... work of outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, or workmanship”. 

    But, @dencal,  who sets the standards for what qualifies as "outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, or workmanship”?  I happen to think that  Picasso's Guernica is one of the great masterpieces of all time. To me it is a work of "outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, [and] workmanship".  Others think it's a mess. :)

  • Rob

    Woah there. Not standards more like relativities. Sure different tastes and preferences exist, but outside of the “ I know it when I see it."  limitation Cezanne’s landscapes need to be judged relative to the evolving consciousness of art. What was ‘normal’ or ‘ acceptable’ when he painted them and what was desired or acceptable after. He produced new renditions of the landscape that were the first impressionist and cubist form, influencing generations of artists and the future of art. An act of original creation, skilfully interpreting the world in a novel way.


  • edited April 11
    Yeah, but it still comes down to what I like. And no expert can tell me in objective terms why I ought to like a work I don't. There's the history of art and then there's art crticism and its history. The latter is about itself, a self-referential wank about the tastes of the critics rather than an objective evaluation of the work they critique.  :)

    Oh, and Wikipedia is not the be all and end all either. 
  • I think a masterpiece is not simply a novel way of representing reality or imaginary matter, not even level of technical rendition,  not  an opinion or score given by seasoned experts, BUT the level of emotional  and intellectual response it creates in viewers (readers, listeners...). The more viewers experience that unique feeling of "butterflies in the stomach", the better is art. 

    For that reason, a story behind a painting, it's title, time of creation, personality of an artist, even tools used and type of paint itself all play very important role in creating that special feeling that makes one believe he/she sees/listens/reads a masterpiece 
  • CJDCJD -
    edited April 11
    I find the term masterpiece easier to apply in music. For me, there are albums that are masterpieces and cannot be surpassed. For paintings it's different. It's just not a term I feel like using for paintings.
  • edited April 11
    May be HARMONY in a broad sense?..
  • When something effectively communicates the meaning and feeling of the work and moves the viewer? Does that hold true? 
  • Nobody wants to look at something they dislike and be told it is a masterpiece. I don't think the world today has the same meaning it did even one generation back let alone centuries. I see paintings by forum members that I think could be thought of as masterpieces. If set up our own "guild" within the forum and declared a number of works to be masterpieces, would that make them masterpieces? Personally I think something has to be regarded as a masterpiece collectively by a wider audience and then continue to be regarded as a masterpiece by succeeding generations before it could be officially recognized in history as a masterpiece. But it would be interesting if there was a body of experts that could make that prediction in the present. But would they be regarded as well as Britons Got Talent?
  • I have an answer to what makes a master piece...with painting.
    With two dimensional art the intellectual base is the ability to create the third dimension. The degree or level that the third dimension is created gives way to the fourth dimension...the unexplanable...the unmeasurable...that which cannot be copied or duplicated...absolute in and of from external variables.
  • Thanks @Tramontane That's beautifully literate and philosophical. But by that measure all the masterpieces have been copied and therefore are no longer masterpieces?  But I get what you are saying and it points out why it's difficult to define a masterpiece because they are unmeasurable and seem to possess unexplainable properties.
  • Masterpiece actually has a meaning that comes from the time when you studied under a master, and then at the end of your time with that person, you would produce a piece of work, sometimes in a standard form, that captured all the elements of the work that could be passed on in that apprenticeship.  Sometimes the piece would function as  an advertisement as you exited the master's shop into the cold world, as a journeyman.  But it could also be your final test that would allow you to be judged a master yourself.  It somewhat depends how organized the guild in question was.  Masters of a craft actually do know what is good and what is not.  It gets messy when huge amounts of money and world, or even historical fame, are attached to a craft, and a lot of the judging is done with an ear to commerce, and by people who are not really knowledgeable about the craft of art.  We enter the sphere of magical thinking to some extent. 

    The word "masterpiece" does not really capture the essence of what happens when a person is a true master, but also restates at some level our understanding of the world itself.  We don't really have an adequate word for that.  And it does happen.

    A comparison would be in financial terms with the idea of money backed by gold, vs money backed by market sentiment, that we call fiat currency.  You can have money that is backed by something real, and where there is a well known standard.  But if you decide to just let 'er rip, you get a more variable sentiment backing the value of your money, and that is where we are in the art world today.  Very exciting to have no limits on what artistic merit is, until it comes crashing down.  Prices generally do keep rising, but broad acceptance of the purely imaginary standards is more difficult.  The underpinnings are not so much craftsmanship as conceptions.  That limits appreciation to people who think conceptually or pretend that they do.
  • dencaldencal -
    edited June 29

    A comprehensive overview of What makes a masterpiece.


  • @dencal
    Hey thanks for reposting the link in a window thingy, I couldn't work out how to do that do you do the window thingy?
  • Intothevoid

    Using IPad with the video running tap the share arrow symbol.
    Select mail app (Outlook in my case). This copies the entire URL to an email.
    Select and copy entire URL, then delete email.
    Position cursor at insert point in the DMP comment space and paste.
    This will appear as text until the comment is posted.

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