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Defining Good Work

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

While it is a fact that the term "good" is purely subjective, I believe that there are underlying principles that show up in works that are universally praised and recognized as such.


There is, without doubt, consistent use of principles that can be seen when the work is analyzed and critiqued. To master one's craft is to have absolute control of the result such that the finished product cannot be viewed upon as an accident but rather a deliberate act to yield a specific result. The visual artist strives to communicate his/her thoughts to the viewer using principles of design amongst others. The less the need to explain the image, the more successful that communication. An art school ideally will introduce the student to various artistic techniques involving the use of light, use of space, etc. to broaden one's creative palette. In essence, the more tools you have at your disposal, the more ways you have to express an idea.


I will not delve into all the various techniques for visual expression in photography as there are countless writings on such matters and what look you choose to use is simply a matter of taste. What is important, however, is whether the chosen technique lends itself to the idea that one is trying to convey to the viewer. Good work, it's safe to conclude, is effective communication of thought, feeling or an idea, and speaks to the viewer on a level that connects us all. Good work affects us emotionally and the stronger the artists' mastery of how to utilize his/her tools, the more powerful the emotional connection to the viewer. A master of one's craft shows a deliberate use of the tools needed to affect consistency in his/her finished product. In other words, a master knows why and how to repeat a chosen effect for the viewer by using the tool best suited for the job.


To reach this level of consistency, I have devised a checklist system that consists of 3 main points to judge or critique images by. Using this system, I have noticed that "good" work or "great" work tends to consistently address each of these 3 points effectively.


The first point is CONCEPT. As a conceptual artist myself, I place great value on an idea or story being told visually. Human beings are social creatures. We all share the same emotional experiences such as pain, suffering, joy, anger, etc. Having something to say specifically gives the work a direction that opens the channel to communicate visually.


The second point is COMPOSITION. This is the hardest of the 3, in my opinion, to master as it's hardest to teach. The composition is where one's creative use of the tools is challenged. A naturally artistic or creative individual has an intuitive feel for what looks good and an almost magical ability to capture a feeling in an image. Mozart was a child prodigy that no doubt intuitively understood the language of music, but Mozart did not invent notes. He used the same notes as all composers before him and those that will exist hundreds of years after him, yet we celebrate him as a musical genius. What we see here is that what made him great is how he used the notes. Coming back to the visual art, the use of light, shadow, positive and negative space, subject placement, etc. are all used creatively to affect the viewer emotionally. Various books will explain compositional principles such as the golden ratio (amongst others), but again it is the creative use of these principles that will distinguish your work as unique to you.


The third point is TECHNIQUE. This point is important, but it won't distinguish you as an artist as it is purely based on what can be taught. You can become very technically proficient and have images that are perfectly exposed and technically correct, but completely lacking in emotional content on their own. This is a grey area as you can have an image that is technically poor, but emotionally very strong; for example, having an image crisp and sharply focused on a subject would be technically correct, but I have seen many blurry images that have had a greater emotional impact and communicate an idea very effectively despite being technically poor.


Taking these 3 points I have made an initialism which is CCT - Concept, Composition, Techniques. This is my critique marker and each image being judged is done according to how well each of these is dealt with. A good image to me could simply have one of the 3 key points strongly addressed. A great image may have 2 of the 3, but a powerful image will consistently address all 3 at a high level. Being viewed as a master of one's craft means to address consistently and deliberately all 3. This is, in my opinion, how "good work" can be defined.

MONTANO ST. JULES (theartof1)

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