That seems to be rather a simple question, yet everyone that actually got around to answering it would give a different response. Some responses would be long and complex, while others would almost certainly be shorter and really simple. In that respect, it would be similar to the wide variety of art that viewers could look at while they are deciding what is good, and what is bad.
It is possible that every single viewer could have a completely unique take on what they feel is good art. With art at it's best attempting to get emotional responses from people, judgments about good art based on feelings instead of logic or reason could be regarded as holding greater levels of validity.
It is undoubtedly easier to agree on a definition of what makes good art than it would be to draw up a complete consensus on what precisely happens to be good art. Furthermore, if art is not good art, then it could be bad or great art instead. An objective agreement can be achieved in defining what art is, yet defining what constitutes good art ends up whether intentionally or not, far more subjective. It becomes subjective as pieces of art mean different things for different people, what people feel about art in that respect is just as important as the meaning the artist put into their pieces of artwork. A viewer that adores or loves a piece of art believes that it is good art as it got a positive response from them as soon as they saw it. Conversely, one might see a painting or sculpture that they do not like yet still appreciate it so they would not describe it as bad art just because they did not like it.
Besides meaning, artists can attempt to put experiences into what they produce. Their art is based on their knowledge, and they want whoever looks at their work to share or at the very least, understand such experiences. Those experiences may have been good, or they have been bad, yet they were possibly turning points, and the more extreme those experiences were, the more extreme the resulting piece of art could have been. Grief, heartbreak, love, and loss can all be regarded as such personal turning points, and thus from time to time have a powerful impact on the work produced by artists. Such profound events could alter an artist's style may be for just one piece of work, or for everything they do until they retire. Expressing and sharing experiences makes art more meaningful for the artist, and providing the viewer to tap into the shared experiences, which is potentially more rewarding for the viewer.
It makes the viewer have an insight into what the artist felt and believed at the time they produced their artwork. Perhaps if the viewer had the same artistic skills and had similar experiences to the artists, they may also have produced similar pieces of art. A viewer that understands where the artist was coming from is far more likely to appreciate the completed works, and consider them to be good art, or maybe perhaps great art. If you feel that you would take it home and hang it in your living room, providing that money was no object, of course, then it is a good piece of art. If you could constantly stare at it and notice something new about it every time that you did so.
The consensus is hard to arrive at about how people react to art. For example, the majority of people discussing art would agree that Constable, Da Vinci, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, and Turner produced pieces of art (these names were picked at random, and you could come up with plenty of alternative names). Yet it is less likely that these same people would agree that all these artists had produced good artwork. It would be surprising if people actually liked all the art created by all of those artists. A viewer would have to have really diverse tastes. Although at best they could admire what those artists had all achieved as individuals. Their combined works certainly portrayed a whole host of different objects and events, ranging from hay wains, the Mona Lisa, the bombing of Guernica, sunflowers, through to the earliest models of steamships. So viewers that liked all those objects to be painted certainly have broad tastes.
Now people might like the paintings and other pieces of art made by such artists, but the better-known pieces you have to settle for having a reproduction at home. For some of them, prints are relatively easy to come by. Yet owning the real thing is really unlikely to happen. Still, there is no harm in hoping for a huge lottery win to change everything forever, and possibly turn you into an art patron for contemporary artists, the ones that succeed in capturing your imagination with their work.
Some art collectors are more interested in owning art as an investment and are more interested in making a profit from it instead of buying a painting they like enough to describe it as being good. Such collectors can completely miss the artistic merits, and artistic value of contemporary artists while they are searching for the long lost work of a dead master to sell on for a large profit. It is not particularly fair for contemporary artists that their best works fetch less money than a lesser-known work by Constable, Monet, or yet another It would be no consolation for Damian Hirst for example that his art will be worth far more money after he is dead. His art has certainly caused debate, with viewers divided between those that hate it and those that love it. To generate such an amount of discussion, he has to be doing something right if you are part of his fan club, or something wrong if you are part of the detracting club. Love him, or hate him, any viewer that takes their art seriously cannot ignore him.
Some artists have been lucky in that critics, and art buyers plus members of the public have accepted their worth as artists during their own lifetime. Some artists have been considered producers of great art and not just good art while they were still alive. Thus able to enjoy the fame and fortune that came their way. That is a fortunate position to have been in, and most artists do not quite make it that far. It is more likely that artists have sometimes produced work to make their living instead of creating what they themselves considered to be good art. Still, that does not mean that the art made under such situations is bad, as artists should have enough professional pride to maintain the quality of their work. It just might show that they did not put all of their heart and soul into making it. Anybody that is doing a job that they do not enjoy only to pay the bills can relate to that feeling though. You are just doing enough to get the job done. However, for all, we know that could have been Da Vinci's frame of mind when he did the Mona Lisa. Perhaps if he had painted her with a big grin on her face, viewers would not have rated the painting so highly for the last five hundred years.
Artists such as Da Vinci and Picasso certainly achieved accolade for being great artists when they were alive, even though people may not have fully understood their works. The ideas of Da Vinci were really advanced at that time, while Picasso liked to be abstract in terms of what he painted. They certainly followed the golden rule that defines good art, they made people stop and stare at their artwork. Da Vinci was responsible for producing perhaps the most well-known painting of all, the Mona Lisa. It is a piece of art that has been discussed ever since it was first seen in public. The constant fear that the Mona Lisa could be stolen means that it is surrounded by so much security that the viewer may find it difficult to see it clearly. It is not the biggest painting ever produced, maybe Da Vinci would have argued that it was small but perfectly performed.
Unfortunately, poor Vincent Van Gogh did not achieve that golden rule until after his death, as nobody stopped long enough to stare at his pictures of what they considered to be mundane objects like chairs and sunflowers to appreciate their artistic traits and excellent techniques. When it came to Van Gogh while he was alive, people only discussed his sanity (the implication being that if he had any, he would have painted something else), and never considered the merits or otherwise of his paintings. The point here is that some artists have redefined what art means, yet may not have actually benefited from the changes they helped to bring about themselves. The subjects he painted may have been mundane, yet how he painted chairs and sunflowers was revolutionary in terms of style and technique. The problem was that by the time that critics and viewers had noticed his artistic merit and the artistic value he had given up hope of ever selling a painting that he already killed himself.
At it's a most basic level of art. It is meant to depict something, sometimes meaningful, sometimes not. Now some works of art can be considered technically brilliant by art critics yet cannot realistically be described as good art as they fail to make people stop and talk about what that particular piece is showing them. Now sometimes artists want their work to make profound statements while at other times they are simply completing a commissioned piece of work. In those instances, they are producing exactly what the patron has paid them to create. The artists are only seeking the appreciation of their patron. Commissioned pieces of art may be seen by the public if the patrons decide that they wish to have it displayed at a gallery or an exhibition.
Privately commissioned art tends to be something that the patron wants to be made, sometimes for public display, but more often than not for private viewing and appreciation. Yet sometimes the best way for artists to gain lucrative private commissions is to have previously produced work that has generated media or public controversy and debate over what exactly is art, good or bad. Media coverage is bringing attention to particular pieces of art, which in turn makes people want to view it sooner rather than later. Present day artists have a tendency to produce controversial work once they have entered competitions to enhance their chances of winning the top prizes. The galleries and organizations which run the contests consider the amount of publicity they gain if they award prizes to the most shocking entries. Publicity attracts visitors, and the media can obligingly tempt viewers to go along and find out what all the fuss is about. Everyone is a winner, the gallery has more visitors, the artists have a greater interest in their work, and the viewers get to discover new art they may love, or they may detest. Yet if viewers are discussing the art, they are evaluating it in greater detail, and something completely different will eventually start to grow on them. Good art can be a slow burner instead of something you instantly love, but every time it is viewed, you get a different experience.
Controversy equates to publicity, so institutions like the Tate Modern are not averse to artists entering their genre redefining designs to win the contests. All the parties concerned get extra amounts of publicity, and the gallery or museum gets more visitors to look at the objects which cause the controversy. People may disagree about whether or not a cow sewed in half, or an unmade bed is an art, yet it gained the respective artist's publicity and were widely debated. In any case, producing controversial work can be defined as good art because discussion extends the boundaries of all our understandings. If something has changed our belief that in the majority of cases has to be a good thing and thus be good art.
Besides, all forms of art were new at some stage, different things have to be attempted. Some art may not be to our personal tastes, yet that does not mean it is without any kind of merit or artistic value. Definitions of creative expression are just as likely to change from one generation to the next, just like other aspects of culture, and society. Art is subject to the evolving trends and fashions, yet not all artists and viewers want to be fashionable. Instead, the artist wants to produce art that they like to create, and the viewer would prefer to view art in the style and genre which they consider to be the best, and allows them to admire good technique rather than bad art.
Now, most artists regarded themselves as being free agents, and therefore they were free to produce art which they wanted to show. Furthermore, they could depict anything that was related to any object, or subject of their choice. This is mostly true, although art can be subject to censorship, and in dictatorships artists that did not adhere to what the regime wanted were banned, imprisoned, and in extreme cases killed. In Western societies with lower levels of censorship, artists have more opportunities to produce work that will maximize their levels of artistic merit and value. Less censorship means that patrons and viewers are more likely to get what they consider to be good art.
Assuming that artists were able to evade censorship or lived in a country which had more relaxed rules, then they could produce work that expressed their feelings and demonstrated their merits as an artist. Artists have formally belonged to or felt strongly attached to specific art movements. Influential art movements have included modernist, post-modernist, and impressionist, just to name a few. Even if an artist identified himself, or herself has been part of an artistic movement, that sense of belonging that did not completely dictate how exactly pieces of art should be painted, or sculpted. After all in it's truest form, art should encourage individualism both from the artists and from the viewers who are free to decide what they like and dislike in terms of art.
While Monet and Munch are both linked to impressionist, their works notably differed from each other as well as from other impressionist artists. Styles can differ from one artist to another, yet they can still be seen to produce work, which held things in common. A piece of good art can show that it has been influenced by other artistic works yet still remains unique and true to itself. Being different means that it has originality, and that gives a higher chance to have been considered good art as it stands out from other pieces of art.
The best-known artists have tended to produce work that even after the quickest of glances you could tell had been done by them, and not by any other artist. Good art should be something that stands out instantly from any other piece of art, which has come before it. Just as importantly, it should differ from all subsequent pieces after it has been produced. When each piece of artwork differs, it allows it to stand out and gain recognition for its own artistic value instead of been considered a poor imitation of somebody else's ideas and work. In any case, artists gain more merit from being original than from imitating others. When art has been produced by studios, those studios have not always named who the individual artist was, so the pieces are counted as been made in the name of the studio alone.
To be counted as good art it should really do something to grab people's attention, to stop individuals dead in their tracks, to look at what is in front of them and then have to concentrate on examining its meanings, obvious as well as hidden. Sometimes art pieces do have hidden images or messages within them.
Some information can be gained from doing a little bit of research about what grabs the attention of viewers. After all, pieces of art can actually tell people things about what was happening at the time in which it was produced. It is also worth considering what was happening to the artist at the time they were creating each and every single piece of artwork in their portfolio. The quality of work been open to variation, as the mood of the artist changed.
Yet at other times people may look at and evaluate a piece of art that has no hidden message or meaning attached to it. What happened was that the artist saw something that drew their attention to it, and they felt an irresistible urge to draw, paint, or sculpt the object that inspired them. Under normal circumstances, everyday objects rarely inspire artists to make a piece of art, yet something might suddenly inspire on the spur of the moment to paint a beach ball or a vase of sunflowers. Viewers are looking for something different to appreciate in art, just as artists aim to put an individual perspective within all the art that they produce.
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