Sometimes it feels like when we rave about art – specifically writing, but really all art – we talk about the same things: depth, originality, concept. Writing-specifically: characters, pacing, and prose. And that’s because we love those things. I know I do. They’re certainly worthy of the praise they receive.
But there are other qualities that are equally valuable. Of course, this is all subjective, but (in no specific order, really) I’m going to talk about the top five artistic qualities I wish were more appreciated.
1. Emotional Honesty
I first noticed this in poetry. I began bringing it up a lot in my poetry critique group, as well as to myself while judging various poetry contests. Sometimes the most basic, quiet poem can touch you all the way to your bones, and it feels like you can see into the poet’s soul. Other times you can appreciate the technique and skill in a poem yet feel little on an emotional level – or worse, feel as if you’re being manipulated somehow. There are shades of gray here, but in my experience emotional honesty almost always trumps showboating.
Once I gave this concept a name in my own mind, I started recognizing it everywhere. Flash fiction, short stories, novels. Indeed, I can see it (or see it missing) in movies, sculptures, and even stand-up comedy. And I think, on a most basic level, it’s this emotional honesty that draws us to our very favorite art and artists.
Now there are plenty of artists who appreciate humor. Many of them call themselves comedians, humorists, or satirists. And strangely, for putting this rather rare and valuable quality at the forefront of their work, the artists or art pieces are often deemed lesser than more “serious” works. Why?
No, really. Why?
I think there’s a huge difference between silly and funny. Silly can be great too, but I’m talking about funny. Really, truly, deep-in-your-gut funny is hard to come by, and I wish people would demean that less and appreciate it more as an artistic quality.
I love a rich, complex novel. But I also love an elegantly simple poem. And most of all? A deceptively simple premise. And while I have no desire to undermine the work and effort that goes into artistic complexity (did you see my rave about House of Leaves?), I also would love to see well-done simplicity get more praise these days.
Using House of Leaves as the example, I believe that many of the most unique and creative ideas are stunning in their simplicity. An overworked, forced premise might get the job done, but a pared-down premise with a fresh take is so much more appealing.
I like pomp and circumstance as much as the next girl, but I think simplicity is often erroneously thought of as stupidity. In all forms of art, I believe, there is great beauty to be had in the bare bones.
My roots are showing. In gothic fiction, the atmosphere is so rich, so real, so inescapably important that it becomes its own character. That’s why you’ll see so many gothic novels with a place name as the title (Wuthering Heights, The Castle of Otranto, Northanger Abbey). So maybe my love all gothic art has made me especially keen on artists who can weave an unforgettable atmosphere.
Either way, it’s present in many different genres and types of art, and I think it’s one of the first things we sense but one of the last things we notice. And that’s a shame, really, because getting totally sucked into a play or book or painting’s atmosphere to the point that we forget where we are… well, it’s magical. And hard to do, as an artist. Which is why I think it’s underappreciated.
At first, this might seem like a switch. The first four are qualities of the art itself, while this one seems like a quality of the artist, rather than the art. And I suppose, technically, it is. But the result is really what I’m talking about, rather than the skill. I’m going to use the art of fashion design as my example.
Who watches Project Runway? And how many times have we heard the judges tell the designers that they wish they’d edited the styling before sending their look down the runway? Countless. Even if the garment they made is exquisite, cheap accessories – or simply too many accessories – can ruin it. I believe that applies to all art forms.
Part of being an artist is knowing when to stop. Knowing how to self-evaluate what you produce. Deciding which work to put out for public consumption and which to keep to yourself is just as important as creating masterpieces to begin with. A brilliant book is dulled by a bunch of crappy follow-ups, just as a brilliant dress is dulled by a tacky plastic necklace.
I guess what I’m saying is that what’s underappreciated here is the lack of crap. Good artists know when not to show us their work, and sometimes we take that for granted.
So there you go, five artistic qualities that I think are way underrated. Do you agree? What qualities would you like to add to the list?Share this: