what makes a work of art great

an artist longs to create such great work of art that astonishes all and outshines its contemporaries. he dwells upon his craft for long years in order to come up with one such masterpiece that shall immortalize his being in the artistic arena. but he does not always achieve that feat. in fact, only one tenth of the entire artistic clan or even lesser is able to book its name in the historical records of grandeur. the rest fail and are forgotten.

so the question that becomes important here is what is it that makes a piece of art great. what work shall stand the test of time and shall be acclaimed as great work for generations in future. is there a formula to such grand success or one has to make his way through subjective experiments?

scholars have believed that in order create great work in the present, the artist must study the past, because without a resounding knowledge of the history, any creation would lack investigatory strength. it would be as if it stands on its own and its existence shall be a transient one. if, however, one has studied thoroughly the traditional patterns of his craft, one shall be in a better position to create great work.

m.m. bakhtin, the great russian philosopher and literary critic, says: “a work cannot live in future centuries without having somehow observed past centuries as well. if it had belonged entirely to today, (that is, were a product only of its own time) and not a continuation of the past or essentially related to the past, it could not live in the future. everything that belongs only to the present dies along with the present. … in the process of their posthumous life, they are enriched with new meanings, new significance: it is as though these works outgrow what they were in the epoch of their creation.”

what a beautiful idea that is! and how true! in order to be remembered in the future, one must work hard upon the past practices that have sustained through the present. t.s. eliot had similar views when in his essay — tradition and individual talent — he says: “no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. his significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. you cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.”

perhaps, that is the reason why great artists like quentin tarantino never forget to mention the classics when they come to talk about their own films. they are always inspired by the great work already done by the erstwhile filmmakers. if you watch “the hateful eight”, you’ll find that tarantino has tried to create a similar film as has already been made before, in terms of the impact it has on the audience. he says that the 1982 classic movie “the thing” is very similar to “the hateful eight” as it creates similar atmosphere for the audience.

so, you see, great work is not a creation of the artist’s mind alone. rather, it is an observance of what has already been achieved in the past and what has lingered on in the mind of the artist for long years that finally gets released into a new form of art. tarantino certainly works this way and is one of the best directors we have today. his films shall continue to be loved by millions in the future because he has picked his inspiration from great works that have stood the test of time. the same is true for shakespeare too. and that’s what makes a work of art great.


why intellectuals must raise questions

an inquisitive mind is one that is not dead. it is a sharp weapon that cuts through the vague cloud of oblivion. curiosity is life. a questioning spirit is one that takes to task the unclear and the ambiguous. to spectate without a skeptical knack is to endure a potato existence. a mind that is not curious is dead meat. for it to be alive, there has to be a constant inquisition that demands answers, that does not stop till truth is unfolded on its path. and that finally walks over the terrains of truth, and that does not stop at moments of doubt, and that rather strengthens in the dark wells of doubts, and that finally erupts out a victor. such inquisition and such an inquisitive mind alone is pure, such an inquisitive mind alone is chaste, such an inquisitive mind alone is fertile, such an inquisitive mind alone is profound, such an inquisitive mind alone is supreme.

Edward Said was a renowned professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual, and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. an arab-american who spoke out against american foreign policy and its support for israel, said was a tireless advocate of palestinian rights.

in 1993, he presented his bbc radio 4 reith lectures on “representations of the intellectual.” said was appealing here to intellectuals – and budding intellectuals – to reflect upon their craft and political engagement. expertise, he said, goes beyond competence, of being conscientious about what you do, and having the right skills to do it. rather, said stressed the importance of making choices. he asked what was for sale, whether the goals you set yourself with your expertise were conformist or critical, and, perhaps most importantly, in whose interests were you acting?

“the particular threat to the intellectual today,” said reckoned, “is an attitude i call professionalism.” professionalism “means thinking of your work as an intellectual as something you do for a living, with one eye on the clock, and another cocked at what is considered to be proper, professional behaviour – not rocking the boat, not straying outside the accepted paradigms or limits, making yourself marketable and above all presentable.”

all of which can, and indeed should, be countered by courageous intellectual amateurism. anybody can do it – even professionals. above all, it means a readiness to withstand comfortable and lucrative conformity, a desire “to be moved not by profit or reward but by love for and unquenchable interest in the larger picture, in making connections across lines and barriers, in refusing to be tied down to a specialty, in caring for ideas and values in spite of the restrictions of a profession.”

an intellectual ought to be someone who raises questions at the very heart of professionalised activity. it’s a sense of self-worth, said reckons, an affirmation of engaged activity that hinges on an audience. indeed, is that audience there to be satisfied, a client to be kept happy? or is it there to be challenged, provoked, mobilised into collective, democratic action?

source: versobooks.com