What Makes Good Art?

Buckle up, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Not really.

This is Gustave Courbet’s L’Hallali Du Cerf (or ‘Killing a Deer’):

Gustave Courbet’s L’Hallali Du Cerf (or ‘Killing a Deer’)

This is Gustave Courbet in his younger years:

Gustave Courbet
(really working the ‘tormented artist’ angle)

And his later years:

Gustave Courbet
(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 lives, 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
Still Life with Apples and a Pomegranate (Nature Morte aux Pommes et à la Grenade)
The Trout (La Truite)
The Trout (La Truite)
Rising Tide (Marée Montante)
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. One person’s good art oftentimes doesn’t agree with someone else’s good art.

There are, however, some trusted standards that you can expect to see in art that you think is good, which have been carefully developed since people conjured the idea of ‘art’ in the first place. Those standards include Concept, Composition, Color Coordination, Lighting, and Balance.


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), it’s 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 about a way you can make those ideas come to life through figures.

The Doctor, user Kibosh. See image in the Daz Gallery and products used here.

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 also is 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 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:

Once Upon A Winter Tale, user 3CPO. See image in the Daz Gallery and products used here.

What do you like about the composition of Once Upon A Winter Tale? How does the image create drama that compels to look at it again and again, closer?

Keep Reading: What Makes Good Art?, Part II is up next!

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