What Makes Good Art
Buckle up, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
This is Gustave Courbet’s L’Hallali Du Cerf (or ‘Killing a Deer’):
This is Gustave Courbet in his younger years:
(really working the ‘tormented artist’ angle)
And his later years:
(it appears that in older age, he was, perhaps, more satisfied with his choices)
To spare you the long biography, Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet was a French painter who contributed primarily to the Realism movement in the mid-19th century. He painted mostly figurative compositions, land/seascapes, and still lifes, and often painted things that weren’t considered the subject of high art: peasantry and the poor’s working conditions, among others. Like many other good artists, he was eventually exiled and perished of liver disease.
His work is highly regarded and leaves a lasting impression, such as the likes of:
Still Life with Apples and a Pomegranate (Nature Morte aux Pommes et à la Grenade)
The Trout (La Truite)
Rising Tide (Marée Montante)
But today we’re going to look at L’Hallali Du Cerf in order to examine good art. We’re also going to take a look at some renders that use the same tricks (including trompe-l’œil) that Gustave Courbet used to create his highly detailed, realistic, and painterly work.
And, lest Daz 3D be perceived the authority, keep in mind that plenty of what makes good art is subjective.
Experts, observers, and artists themselves often disagree about what makes good art. As a form of self-expression with virtually endless mediums and techniques, what is beautiful to one person may be hideous to another (and who says good art is never hideous, anyway?). However, many are in agreement that there are a few basic guideposts to follow when determining what is good art and what is not.
Good art has good ideas behind it. “Concept” refers to the idea that made the art necessary. Trust your ideas: If an idea is important enough to you to go to the trouble of creating it, chances are it’s probably important enough to someone else, too. In the case of L’Hallali (protip: click the word to reference the painting), the concept is a hunt.
Courbet latches onto a concept that is ancient and primal: Human beings need to eat, and oftentimes they choose to hunt in order to get food to eat, namely, meat. In this depiction, we see simultaneous nobility and savagery, happiness and sadness: The hunters developed and honed their skills, allowing them to be successful. Their success is countered by the deer’s bad luck (really bad, in fact).
And though L’Hallali depicts a harsh realistic representation of the hunt, there is beauty in its harshness: The stark contrast of the active characters (deer, hunters, hunting dogs, horse) to the landscape (cold, wintry, barren) opens up what the painting is allowed to be “about.” It’s a hunt, but it’s about violence, the cold, ambition, the wild, and death, and, being so stark about those, and as nature exists in a (relative) equilibrium, it also implies those large concept’s inverses: peace, warmth, calm or comfort, civilization, life.
So how do you get a concept for your renders? Start by thinking about what moves you, or what matters to you. Think about big ideas — emotion, ambition, love, concern, place — and then think of a way you can make those ideas come to life through figures.
How do you plan to transform this idea into something tangible or sensory? The concept behind a work of art is what leaves a lasting impression on the observer and makes the piece meaningful to them.
What concepts was the artist Kibosh using in The Doctor? What big ideas do you see? How are they achieved?
Ahhh, Composition. Composition is perhaps most difficult to do, and when done right, can be equally difficult to notice that it’s been done at all. Composition refers to the way that you organize individual elements or ingredients of your particular work of art. Composition also means combining individual elements such as Shapes, Colors, Textures, Form, and Space into a cohesive whole.
Sound difficult? We agree. So let’s look at L’Hallali again. Courbet’s composition includes a dark figure in the rough middle of the painting, to draw the eye in. This dark figure makes a rough triangle with the hunter figure holding the whip, which creates a theoretical drama to the eye, which thinks: Why is there a dark triangle in the middle of an otherwise light background?
Courbet is also adhering to the “rule of thirds,” which is a general guideline that designers, film directors, painters, and photographers use to divide space, create tension, and keep energy and interest in their compositions at the visual maximum. Notice how the foreground takes up roughly one-third of the space of the painting vertically, and how the edge of the forest and the hunter-figure with the whip each occur at roughly one-third of a painting’s horizontal length.
In Daz Studio, composition means keeping track of individual 3D models, environments, shaders, lighting, and even camera angles. It definitely takes work, but the end result can be stunning:
What do you like about the composition of Once Upon A Winter Tale? How does the image create drama that compels you to look at it again and again, closer?
Artists employ Color Coordination, or Color Theory, to reinforce concepts, to denote the importance of individual elements in their work, and to show emotion in their images. In L’Hallali, we see Color Coordination at play in a couple of different ways.
Courbet uses the complementary colors blue and orange (or, rather, the brown/burnt siennas/oranges of hunting dogs) to create visual intrigue. The blue background of the sky and the orange-yellow foreground of hunt-related figures exist in opposition to one another, which keeps the eye (and owner of that eye) interested in the painting.
Courbet also uses “warm” and “cool” colors to further denote feeling, emotion, and even temperature. Yes, temperature. L’Hallali depicts a scene in winter where the viewer somehow feels cold, because Courbet took advantage of the cool blues, blue-whites, and almost-violets in the background to give the sense of cold. By contrast, he uses “warm” yellows, browns, and reds for the living figures — even the central deer.
You can use many colors for effect, and to achieve the “feeling” you want in a render:
Notice the subtle greens in The Shepherds Son, which reinforce the “natural” feel. The Shepherd exists in contrast to that nature with his red vest and shirt (complementary colors, anyone?). The mild yellows of the field and country home are contrasted by the purple-gray of the sky, which suggests a storm is brewing.
Colors are often used to show different temperatures. For example, whites, blues, and other light, cool colors are often used to depict winter scenes. Even without the presence of snow or sunshine, one can often deduce the time of year.
When learning about what makes good art, an understanding of the way colors affect emotion can have a significant impact on how they are used. You can strategically use colors that are either coordinating or complementary to draw attention to specific elements or objects.
Complementary colors were a particular favorite of the post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. In his self-portrait below, for example, several shades of blue and green dominate the background, causing the reddish orange facial hair to stand out in the foreground. The viewer’s eye is drawn immediately to Van Gogh’s face, adding impact and interest.
(We put ze bleu avec l’orange, oui? C’est bien!)
GRRR… lighting. The use of light is one of the most important elements when it comes to what makes good art. As with color, light can convey emotion. Similar to composition, light can draw the focus to a desired portion of the piece. It can also change the way we view a concept or subject. Light can come from various sources, be white or colored, soft or harsh, natural or manufactured, gentle or dramatic, and even its absence makes a statement.
Lighting is everything, and nothing. As both wave and particle, light allows us to see the world around us. Light is also absolutely essential in “good art,” though it may be employed in different ways by the artist to achieve different effects.
Courbet’s primary use of lighting in L’Hallali is to drive an internal drama, and create a distinction between the ‘active’ elements of the scene and the ‘passive’ ones. The natural light is reinforced by shadows beneath the hunting dogs, horse, and deer, but Courbet also uses light to drive feeling.
The central deer and hunter-with-whip are the darkest figures of the painting, and close to the darkest featured elements (save the boot of the hunter-on-horse). This puts them in distinct contrast with every other element of the painting, and binds them together. Amid a bright and icy landscape, the “darkness” of the deer suggests it will not belong to that landscape much longer, and, equally poignant, the hunter-with-whip is darkened by his connection to the deer, which the viewer also reads as the emotional darkness of the hunt, his act of violence.
Thankfully, the Daz Shop offers tons of different lights so you can light your scenes the way you want to. This includes tons of emissives, HDRIs, pre-built scenes, and individual lights that can be fixed to add drama, intrigue, and light to your scenes. And they can be used in some pretty cool ways:
The Lair uses lighting to excellent effect, especially in its subtlety: What does it say about the depicted dragon-figures that they choose to live underground, in darkness? What about the ancient ruins they’ve taken over? The light comes from above — is it more powerful than them?
Balance works in mysterious ways. Balance, as far as art goes, means both balance and imbalance, and generally that there should be a reason behind the “weight” that your figures, background, and foreground each bring to your artwork. The right balance gives the viewer subtle clues to the role or significance of the varying elements and subjects in the piece.
Balance and imbalance can be used to create drama, emotion, or focus. They can be used to help tell a story or to solidify the flow between the background and foreground. As with light, achieving the right amount of balance, or successfully using imbalance, must be done intentionally or the whole piece will feel out of sync.
Balance also means a balance of concepts and figures, ideas and colors, light and dark. In L’Hallali balance is everything: the dark deer on a light background, the equal visual “weight” of the forest to the left versus the horse to the right, the heaviness of the pack of hunting dogs at the bottom and the lightness of the clouded winter sky far in the distance. In Courbet’s balance, the deer is by far the ‘heaviest’ figure in the scene, far heavier than the mountainous background.
How can this be so? Because that’s the way Courbet made it. Your artwork should have careful intention behind its balance to achieve the desired effect, like in Friends?:
The wolf-figure and pixie/fairy-figure in Friends? are, in theory, diametrically opposed. But each carries their own weight and importance. The fairy-figure is dwarfed by the wolf-figure, and yet she controls the scene. This balance is carefully rendered and totally concept-driven.
Good Art Is Big…
Sometimes, all it takes for art to stick with you is the size of the idea.
Other times, it’s the actual size of the art — the painting L’Hallali Du Cerf is 16.5 feet by 11.6 feet wide.
L’Hallali Du Cerf is good art, and it’s an enormous painting.
Make art that’s just as big (in ambition) with Daz Studio.
And Yes, There Are Many More Elements That Good Art Will Often Have
Beauty is notoriously difficult to define, because beauty depends so much on who observes it and what they consider to be moving, important, or perturbing, so much that they have to look at it over and over again.
For good art, beauty doesn’t necessarily mean “beautiful,” but rather that which makes art stay with you. This “staying-power” can be because of figures, colors, concepts, or any other element of creation.
Artwork doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, astounding, or hang on a wall in a fancy museum to be good art. It just has to be something that matters to you. If it matters to you, and if it uses Concept, Composition, Color Coordination, Lighting, and Balance in ways that intrigue you, then it’s probably good art.
More Examples of What Makes Good Art
Now that we’ve covered the major elements needed to make good art, let’s dive a little deeper into our sample gallery.
Angel’s Dance is a beautiful example of Concept:
The Composition in Watermill in Winter Mood is astounding:
Child of Zeus takes full advantage of Color Coordination:
The Lighting in Looking for her Prince is extraordinary:
Balance (and its counterpart, imbalance) is used to great effect in A Country Tale 001:
Find the Tools You Need With Daz 3D
What makes good art may be subjective and difficult to define when it comes to specific design elements and techniques. The truth is that good art is something that makes a lasting impression and stays with you long after you walk away. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, and even by breaking the rules now and then.
When creating digital art, the right tools and techniques can help you stand out among other talented artists. Combine Daz 3D products with Concept, Composition, Color Coordination, Lighting, and Balance to create your own masterpieces.
Get started creating your own incredible digital art today. Find everything you need and more with Daz 3D.
Daz Gallery Images and Daz Shop products you saw in What Makes Good Art?:
The Doctor, using:
- Country Kitchen Accessories 1
- Get Potted! Plant Container Collection
- Medieval Merchants House Props
- Gothic Decor
- FabTex Pattern Iray Shaders: Camellia
- Western Outlaw 2.0 for Genesis 3 Male(s)
- IG Iray Oil Lamps
- Iray Ghost Light Kit 2
- Desperado HD Clothes for Genesis 3 Male(s)
- Mage Tower Iray Accessories
- IG Iray Dawn to Dusk 2 Atmospheric Lighting
- Good Guys for Genesis 8 Male
- Suffolk Wagon
- Plaster and Concrete – Iray Shaders
- ROG Medieval Fantasy Bedroom
- Iray WoodWorx Shaders
Once Upon A Winter Tale, using:
The Shepherd’s Son, using:
- DAZ Lamb
- DAZ Sheep
- Medieval Village
- Hemlock Folly
- Skies of iRadiance – Sunny Sky HDRIs for Iray
- Poseable Trees with Ivy
- Forsaken Village and Construction Set
- The Harpwood Trail – Mallard Pond
- Tree And Swing
- ULTIMATE Grass & Meadow Worldbuilder
- Reed Plants for Daz Studio and Iray
- Modular Medieval Village
The Lair, using:
- Millennium Dragon 2.0 Upgrade
- One Tree Hill
- Atmospheric Effects Cameras for DAZ Studio
- UberSpot Light Shader for DAZ Studio
- Leafy Suit for Genesis
- Hawthorn Hair for Genesis and Genesis 2 Female(s)
- Victoria 7
- EJ Atsuko for Genesis 3 Female(s)
- Wolf 2.0 by AM
- Melidae Crown
Angel’s Dance, using:
- Michael 6
- Michael 6 HD Add-On
- Feathered Wings for All
- iRadiance – Studio HDRIs Volume 2 for Iray
- MRL Buzz Cut Hair, Stubble and Scars for Genesis 8 and Genesis 3 Male
Child of Zeus, using:
Looking for her Prince, using:
- iRadiance HDR Resources – Parks and Rec Vol 1
- Creative Water 3D Watersplashes
- SY Super Splash Pack Iray
- Jepe’s Art Deco Statuettes II for Victoria 8
- Y’vas Outfit for Genesis 8 Female