What Is “Good” Art?


Soft pastel

I have dabbled as a wanna-be artist most of my life. And most of my life I was always trying to achieve what I thought was “good” art. But just what is “good” art? How do we define it? How does it make us feel inside? What drives us to express ourselves on a piece of canvas, on paper, in altered book art, throwing pottery, building sand castles, architecture and a myriad of others mechanisms used to express an emotional feeling.

Recently I saw a FB posting of a nurse in Canada who had collected pieces of plastic from different products used to treat her patients throughout a 30 year career. Medicine vials come with pretty colored plastic flip caps, syringes with needle caps all of which are thrown away. When she started collecting those pieces of plastic that were never used on a patient, just in product delivery, she said she had no idea what she was going to do with them and throughout the years she used some of them with her children as a sorting game tool and found various uses for others. Finally after retirement she spent time putting all of those different plastic pieces into an artistic collage depicting sunshine and happiness. From trash she created a masterpiece that now hangs in a hospital in Canada and has become a tribute to all of the thousands of patients that she touched throughout her career.

A Junk Journal made from watercolor paper

For me it is paper. I collect paper. There is something about paper that entrances me. It stimulates me visually and tactilly. I love the texture, the crinkle sound, the smell. And I have a remarkably large quantity of it. I fill pages with bird sketches, old books with drawings, collages, stamps, envelopes, gathering them together into junk journals and canvas after canvas with my own humble art expressions. One whole wall in my bedroom is covered with drawings and paintings and it gives me pleasure each morning and night to see them adorning my walls. Some of these remain WIP (works in progress) and others I have pronounced finished. It is hard for me to know when one is done, but over time I have gotten better at this, realizing that when I lose interest, the piece becomes a testament  to where I was in my artist journey at that moment in time.

And I love the smell of oil paints, tupernoid, linseed oil, and baby oil.  I love the smooth buttery lipstick texture of oil pastels that I can move with my fingers to create an image. I love the fluidity of water colors and I love the excitement derived from the birth of an idea, sketching it, applying the paints and watching the image grow into what satisfies by eye and brain. It is a strange process and I usually am amazed that I was able to create something with these hands. I’ve learned that if I am happy with it, then that is all that matters.

I have a “painterly” style and prefer painting alla prima AKA wet-on-wet or paintings done in one or two sittings. Challenges exist when using this technique. Paints can be mixed on the palette or directly on the canvas but mixing wet into wet can produce a muddy mess if not done correctly. It is also important to work from dark to light when painting alla prima. I am however not much of a rule follower, tending to experiment and take a chance that something new may just work!

A work in progress (WIP) – Sketched, colors blocked in with acrylics and now awaiting the oil paints
Preening Reddish Egret

Art remains an avocation for me, an activity that promotes a sense of peace. At this time of year, my thoughts turn to Christmas cards, wrapping paper, gift giving and my studio remains stagnant awaiting my return for my next artistic expression. Oh wait…I need to make a Christmas wreath…clear the workspace, haul out the glue gun, gather supplies and I once again begin the creative journey!