High and Low: What is Excellence in the Arts?

Rembrandt, Self Portrait with Two Circles, 1660, Kenwood House, London (source:
Rembrandt, Self Portrait with Two Circles, 1660, Kenwood House, London (source: wikimedia commons)

In an illuminating, must-read keynote speech delivered at Augusta State University on October 21, 2011, painter and art critic Franklin Einspruch discusses the problem of defining excellence in the arts.

In a discussion that centers on painting, Einspruch looks at the perception of excellence across high, middle, and low brow art and from the position of both viewer and artist - painter in particular.

He notes: "at some point, maybe Painting #10 or #20, maybe later, the minor variations aren't cutting it anymore. Whatever was good about Painting #1 is there in Painting #15, but it's dead, you’re tired of it, and you don’t want to see it again. In order to get back into goodness, the state of attention and emotion brought about by good art, you have to enact bigger variations. And because excellence is a dynamic, it's impossible to know how many traits or which traits are the right ones to copy or not copy. The problem is nearly paradoxical. The only way to relive the experience that good art gives you is by making things that are different from that art, and it's usually not obvious as to how the new art should be different."