The Most Overlooked Feature of Good Art

When I was a toddler, my dad would play Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell vinyl records for me, the lyrics of "Like a Rolling Stone" echoing in my my partially developed brain cavity. When I was still in elementary school, I saw Citizen Kane for the first time, along with other greats like On the Waterfront and the complete body of Charlie Chaplin movies. My mom read classic books to us like "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Iliad".   

Then puberty happened. That magical time where the Top 40 started sounding better and better, and those pieces of art from years past slipped away into memory and faded. I remember when I was about 12 years old proclaiming that although Bob Dylan was tolerable, I would "never listen to Joni Mitchell ever again."

If you read critical reviews of each of the pieces of art mentioned above, whether music, film or literature, you would hear a lot of similar words describing these pieces; words like intentional, risky, subtle, and many others would commonly find their place amongst the reviews. And it's true. I believe good art shares all of those things in common. But I believe one word is left out far too often when assessing whether art is quality or not. 


Lasting art doesn't grow old. It isn't attached to an age, genre, movement, or place in time. You may walk away from it for a while, but it's just as rich when you return to it as when you left.

As I grew up and matured throughout high school and college, I began noticing how quickly I would cycle through songs on my iPod. What sounded so incredible a few weeks ago had grown to be repulsive. This turn-over prompted an artistic search for quality. I started listening to Bob Dylan again, whose lyrics were every bit as rich 50 years after they were written. Even Joni Mitchell started to sound tolerable. I could listen to these artists over and over for months at a time, yet still there were ever-deepening artistic layers waiting to be peeled back. 

And this pilgrimage wasn't only musical, but filmic too. I became obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock. Although his films are set during the time period in which they were filmed - surprisingly Hitchcock was directing films as early as the 1920's - the stories leapt off the screen and were just as creepy/horrifying/sinister now as ever. Like Bob and Joni, Hitchcock knew how to create lasting art that would outlive himself. 

Especially now in an age of information, it's easy to get caught up in the search for the latest and greatest forms of art. But if one of the qualities of that art isn't lasting, we may just be chasing our tails.