What is a masterpiece?

Artistic Lines
from Joan Justis
June 2016

Lady with dark hair sitting in floral upholstered chair

John Singer Sargent, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892

Painting of apples in a bowl on a tipped table to show the tops of jugs

Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Apples, 1893-4

What is a masterpiece? How does a work of art or music or literature become a masterpiece? I watched a delicious performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on television last week. The orchestra was composed of first chair musicians from many orchestras. After hearing the first movement, I had to stand up in my living room and shout “Bravo!” It was exhilarating! Before the performance several of the musicians were asked what makes a masterpiece. Several referred to the test of time. “We are still playing it after 200 years.” “It is still getting a standing ovation.” The comment that resonated with me is “After experiencing it, we want more!” All of these statements apply to masterpieces of every artistic endeavor.

Colorful, free movement oil painting

Wassily Kandinski, Composition 7, 1892

Having stayed in six motels in the last four weeks, I have seen a lot of art hanging on walls. One motel featured dark, barely discernible images and distorted figures. I avoided looking at them. One featured wet leaves to the point of monotony. My favorite art of these travels was found at the Zermatt Resort in Midway, Utah. Whenever I’m there, I have to spend time with the oil paintings and the wood carved sculptures. I wonder at the skill exhibited and the joy that I feel in perusing the work for much longer than a passing moment, and I watch as I walk through the hall for more works to enjoy.
In your mind what makes a masterpiece? Do you have a favorite masterpiece in music, art or literature? Please send me a comment below!
I have featured some of my favorite masterpieces!
Above left: John Singer Sargent, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 1892; Above right: Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Apples 1893-4; Below Left: Wassily Kandinsky, Composition 7, 1892; Below right: Joan Justis, Mountain Sunlight, 2012
Sunlight streaming through ponderosa pines on a mountain top

Joan Justis, Mountain Sunlight, 2012

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