Denis Dutton, in his book The Art Instinct, identifies the central characteristics that inhere in the greatest works of art. I find this very interesting and am presenting them below for discussion. When you have the chance, read them and please share your thoughts.
According to Dutton:
1. Complexity - the greatest art incites pleasure by presenting audiences with the highest degree of meaning/complexity the mind can grasp. But, "complexity" does not mean sheer complicatedness. Rather it means significant interrelations; layers of meaning that form a unified whole. These works yield up deep, intricate imaginative experiences and are marked by the utmost lucidity and coherence.
2. Serious content - the themes of great works are love, death, and human fate. Artistic masterpieces need not be solemn and can end joyfully, but even when they do, they are not merely jolly and amusing, and offer an implicit nod to the finitude of life and aspiration. The arts do not attain greatness through prettiness or attractiveness.
3. Purpose - great works of art rely on the authenticity of artistic purpose - a sense that the artist means it. This falls in line with Tolstoy's view that artistic value is achieved only when an art work expresses the authentic values of its maker.
4. Distance - there is a cool objectivity about the greatest works of art: the worlds they create have little direct regard for our insistent wants and needs; still less do they show any intention on the part of their creators to ingratiate themselves with us. Ingratiation is left to the creators of kitsch, which promotes self-consciousness and is self-congratulatory by openly declaring itself "beautiful" or "profound" or "important." Great art stands apart in their own worlds.
In summary, Dutton states: The oft-described spirituality of artistic masterpieces, their otherworldly quality, is in contrast authentic, and involves a feeling that standing before a masterpiece you are in the presence of a power that exceeds anything you can imagine for yourself, something greater than you ever can or will be. The rapture masterpieces offer is literally ecstatic - taking you out of yourself.
Yesterday's comments demonstrate that we've all had this experience.