Does Art Need to Be Aesthetic to Be Successful?

In one of my last columns on the subject of whether design can be art, the question came to me: Does good art have to be aesthetic? Since I have already examined this question in relation to design, it seemed logical to answer it for art as well. But here I would like to go a little further: Does art have to be aesthetically pleasing to be successful?

So we should define what good art is and what successful art is. And it seems to me much more important to ask whether art is about aesthetics at all. Or is the statement the more important element? Or is it perhaps something else entirely?

What is good art?

Again, it is purely subjective to judge what constitutes good art. This subjective assessment can vary greatly depending on personal taste, experience, and preferences. There are no objective or scientific criteria that define it. For me personally, good art should express something – not in a bold way through the motif, but through the choice of color, texture, and size. When I look at it, it should trigger something in me – and in my case, preferably the feeling of calm and balance. It should inspire me and give me a moment of harmony. 

So much for my personal definition. To be more general, I asked Google what others consider to be good art. To sum it up, good art should be creative, moving, and expressive. It should be able to evoke feelings in viewers and be able to provide a new perspective or insight into a particular subject or situation. Good art should combine authenticity, originality, and craftsmanship.

Minimalist sculpture by Stephan Siebers
An example of aesthetic art: Stephan Siebers, LAYERING V, 2020, Steel with Patina, 17x8x5cm © Stephan Siebers
Sol LeWitt, Floating cubic rectangle, 1987, Gouache on paper, 76 × 57 cm
An example of aesthetic art: Sol LeWitt, Floating cubic rectangle, 1987, Gouache on paper, 76 × 57 cm © Image via Alfonso Artiaco

And what about aesthetics here? Is good art aesthetic? The answer to this question is not entirely clear. It depends on what one personally considers aesthetic. For most people, good art should radiate beauty, harmony and balance. In this sense, one can say that good art is aesthetic for them. For others, art is also a means to convey a complex thought or statement, which also creates an artistic point of view that is not necessarily aesthetic. Therefore, it is difficult to give a clear answer to this question.

So what about successful art? Is it good art? It is not difficult to answer which works of art have achieved the highest sums in sales over the last 100 years. But does that automatically mean that it was also good and aesthetic art?

What is successful art?

If you ask this question to 20 artists, you will get 20 answers. Again, the definitions vary widely. Some would probably answer this question by saying that their works sold for as much profit as possible. Others would say that they are successful with their art if they have attracted the attention of the public, inspired people, or made a difference. Still, others define their art as successful if they always manage to fully express themselves in their art and authentically develop their own signature. One could distinguish between artistic, inner success and financial, outer success. In this article, however, I would like to focus on the latter.

Because if you look at the art market, you quickly realize that most artists today are judged by their financial value. This inevitably leads to the fact that quality and the artistic background of the work take a subordinate role. And this in turn means that artists are judged mainly on the basis of their commercial success and attention, and not on the basis of their work. Artists become brands, and their works become their products. So this means that successful art and good art don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other. So good art is not synonymous with successful art. 

And that brings us back to the initial question: Does art have to be aesthetically pleasing to be successful? My answer to this question is definitely no. Of course, exceptions prove the rule, but there are (subjectively) many aesthetically valuable works of art that have unfortunately not received the success they actually deserve. Likewise, there is commercially very successful art that (subjectively) is absolutely not aesthetically pleasing.

What do you think about that? Feel free to leave me a comment!

Minimalist sculpture by José Gabriel Fernández
An example of aesthetic art: José Gabriel Fernández, Cariatide, 2019, Gesso on MDF
Minimalist Paintings by Bo Kim
An example of aesthetic art: Bo Kim, Imperfection 1, 2018, Hanji and sand on panel, 183 × 122 cm

Further Reading

About Exploring Aesthetics:

Sarah loves asking questions and exploring the things she engages with on a daily basis. Exploring aesthetics is her column which discusses art, design, and aesthetics to explore, inspire, and question the status quo.

  1. Hey Sarah, thanks for the article. I think it’s really interesting that good art and successful art can be two very different things. As an art lover, I appreciate the genuine, creative and expressive qualities of art, and can recognize when these qualities are present in a work. It’s a shame that sometimes the commercial success of a work can overshadow those qualities and lead to its importance and value being overlooked. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to remember that art is subjective and that success can come in many forms, be it financial or inner.

  2. I agree that good art and successful art don’t necessarily have to be the same, and I think this is a really important point to make. For me, Art should be about making a statement, whether it is about the beauty of nature, an emotional experience, or a personal experience. I believe that successful art is art that captures these feelings and conveys them to the viewer in an honest and meaningful way.

  3. I really liked this article btw…. I think that there is too much art that is aesthetically pleasing but ultimately does not have success, such as the art of Anne Truitt, super aesthetic but remained far too unknown!

  4. I think this article is spot on and makes an important point about the differences between good art and successful art. Aesthetics is certainly one of the criteria for good art, but it is not the only one.

  5. Cheers, a really interesting read – added to bookmarks so will pop back for new content and to read other people’s comments. Thanks again.

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Aesence is an independent art and design publication dedicated to minimalist aesthetics. Founded out of a deep appreciation and fascination, Aesence aims to promote awareness and appreciation of minimalism in art and design.