How do you tell if the art you’re trying to sell or buy is good?   

In the consideration of artistic expression, whether as creator or spectator, the most important factor is the ability to tell the difference between what is true quality and what is merely a novelty.

Novelty is that which may have popular appeal but fades in its importance with the passing of time. Quality, on the other hand, is that which often, in spite of unpopular or controversial inception, increases in its importance with the passing of time.

Quality in art is the ultimate truth expressed through an individual’s unique experience of existence. Its success in expression and transmission lies in its potential to communicate more than its surface values.

There are certain elements to any painting that makes it work, learn the three elements that Dr. Mark Sublette looks for in every painting before he buys. The tricks of the trade are shared through this highly informative video, great for beginners to serious collectors.


Without getting into a fundamental philosophical discussion, there are a lot of ways to approach this question.

Technical Skill

The first approach is perhaps the most common: how well-executed is the piece in terms of technique? How realistic is it? A lot of early or experimental works fall apart quickly because the technique is bad. Maybe the paint is not mixed right, so it falls off the canvas or the sculpture collapses because it isn’t well constructed.

Scott M. Levitt, Director, Fine Arts, Bonhams & Butterfields, Los Angeles: Quality, quality, quality. This is the mysterious and subjective key to good art. In all periods of art, there are good and bad works of art. I find that defining quality in representational art is easier than in modern and abstract art. The other keyword is looking. Everything looks good when you first start looking at art, as you have nothing to compare it to. As you hone your eye, you begin to distinguish between good and bad. The more you look at art, the easier it is to determine what is good and what is bad.

Also, there are two schools of thought as to what is good and bad. Some people believe that good and bad are personal distinctions and entirely in the eye of the viewer. Others believe that there is good art and crap art and no one can tell them otherwise. I think the real answer is somewhere in between, and this is based entirely on the quality of the eye of the viewer.

Each area of art requires its own set of criteria when determining good and bad, i.e. painting, sculpture, printmaking, craft, conceptual etc. Personally, I hold originality to be important in this determination. For contemporary artists that can be tough. Most of what is being created today are, in my personal opinion, not very original. There is originality in contemporary art, but it is tough to find.

It is also tough when the art market influences good and bad. I would like to say that monetary value determines quality, but unfortunately, they are often unrelated, as many factors can influence the value of artwork other than quality.

I think the best "take away" here is that if you want to know what is good and what is not, you have to get out and look for yourself and make that decision. Take a year... and make it a rule to visit museums and galleries every weekend and read art-related books and magazines as much as possible in as many art fields as possible. You will have your answer. If you don't use this approach, you will officially have no eye or ability to make these distinctions.


Asking the deceptively simple question: "What makes painting a good work of art?" 

Some artist thinks every work they do is a work of art, I say keep working and you may produce a work of art.

I think that great art either causes a viewer to think or to feel. If it doesn't stir something up they may say ‘That's nice’ and move on, and wouldn't walk 10 steps to look at it again.

Formal Qualities of Art

Some possible observations in an art critique


  • Has weight: thin, heavy, bold, delicate, varied etc.
  • Has action: dynamic, static, restful
  • Has character: straight, curved, organic
  • It can construct, render, describe, divide, be implied
  • May imply direction or movement, define figures, measure, fill, shade etc.


  • 2D, round, rectangular, triangular, square


  • 3D, sphere, cone, cube, cylinder
  • Organic/geometric, man-made/ from nature
  • Basic forms in nature: hexagon, spiral, helix, branching, meandering
  • Dimension/scale, large/small, close/distant,
  • Weight: heavy, light, mass/volume
  • Character: solid/fluid/hollow, simple/complex, delicate/bold, composite/modular, random/programmed, symmetrical/asymmetrical, convex/concave, representational/abstract/symbolic/decorative, nonobjective, distorted, elaborate/efficient
  • Action: static, dynamic, rigid


  • Hard, soft, lost, crisp, fuzzy
  • Defined by lines, form, value, light, surface


  • Smooth/rough, soft/hard, liquid/solid
  • Visual Phenomena
  • Transparent/Opaque/Translucent
  • Veil/Film/False film
  • Reflective/Dull
  • Does a range exist?
  • Is surface important to piece?


Flat Space elements, 2-dimensional space

  • Space division, where & how is it divided?
  • Vertical, horizontal, curved
  • Balance, the center of interest,
  • Figure/ground relationships, surfaces,
  • Unity & variety
  • Created tension, primary point, position
  • One focus attracts attention
  • Two focal areas create tension
  • Three foci create closed form between them

3-dimensional space

  • Includes flat space elements
  • The illusion of depth/distance enhanced by:
    Light & shade
    Linear perspective: 1, 2 or 3 point perspective
    The aerial perspective/atmosphere, volume color
    Overlapping: closer form hides part of the distance from
    Size: closer objects are larger
    Position on the page: lower appear closer
    Distinct edges become more diffuse in distance
    The weight of the line heavier in the foreground
    Foreground, mid-ground, background evident
    Value contrast & chroma are higher in the foreground
    Shallow focus, deep focus

Plane versus recessional composition

  • The plane has horizontal lines, as if on a stage
    Blocks or holds back the viewer
  • Recessional has diagonal tension
    2 point perspective at least
    Movement into 3D space required
    Invites the viewer into space

Movement in space

  • In & out of shapes/areas/form/color/value/lost edge
  • Up/down/across/zigzag/radiate


  • Primaries, secondary, tertiary, complements
  • Hue, saturation, gradation, value
  • Tints, Tones, Shades
  • Warm/cool/temperature
  • Range, Key, Intensity, Chroma
  • Visual Phenomena/Color interaction
    Halation, Vanishing Boundaries, Luminosity
    Relative hue, Color deception
    Local color, color constancy
    Complements, vibrating boundaries
  • Unity, predictability, design, balance, focus,
  • Unique color combinations


  • Range, key, distribution, focus
  • Visual Phenomena
  • Relative Value
  • Reverse gradations

Light and Shadow

  • Light & shadow must treat all things equally, that is how it creates unity in a composition.
  • Light & Shadow must be consistent in the following:
    Source: nothing can be lighter than the light source
    Position/direction must be established and held to.
    Intensity must be consistent.
    Color must be consistent.
  • Visual Phenomena and illusion
    White light and shadow
    Colored light and colored shadow
  • Functions
    Aesthetics, unification, integration, relates, constancy
    Illumination, focus attention, definition, modification
    Form, value & color are observed only in the presence of light.
    Light defines form & dictates value and color.


Whether on the walls of a cave, the tombs of great kings, a canvas, or the walls of a building, the human desire to put ink to paper has left the world with some of the most beautiful masterpieces. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 painters of all time

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