hether a painting has quality should not be answered by claiming an authority. Unfortunately considering quality is not a favourite subject with the art historians and so the bothersome question for details is usually avoided with a declaration, and often, with a healthy ignorance, it is
forgotten to mention there might be such a thing as quality at all.
Understandably it could not be enough for the connoisseur to just attach a name of a famous reference and be satisfied. This is good for the investor only, who is looking for safe value in the art markets.
But the connoisseur enjoys the quality.
With an understanding of quality he gains independence of all the self declared specialists, the dealers, the curators..... and is able now to find his real treasure, next to the famous icon of the art historians, tucked away in to a dark corner of the museum, or in the dealers shop, neglected, with a far too low price tag.
Only with an understanding of quality the connoisseur can tackle the difficult question of authentication.
There might be other more sentimental reasons to feel attached to a certain artwork. But to admire the quality of a painting is the most sustainable. It is the base to open and clear the mind to ask for more. If the connoisseur is able to understand how the painter has used his tools he then will see clearly the mind behind the painters hand, the next level of quality, the intellectual quality, the expression of the personal wisdom of the painter.
But what is quality in painting?
The categories of quality can only be part of the painting and could not have any relation to an outside system of value, like for instance the question of taste, modern or contemporary; aspects of technical and social development. Therefore such an outside body of reference is herewith dropped immediately.
We need to focus on what is used to produce the painting, how this tools are used and then how this corresponds with the subject and its representation.
The two technical categories are first, the drawing, or calligraphic body, second, the colouration or use of ink shade. They together form the more intellectual category of the composition, the arrangement of the displayed subject in the two dimensions of the painted area, usually with a clear intention to create a certain imagination of space.
Lets first talk about the calligraphic body of the painting.
One painter might be famous for his drawing like Dürer, another for the intriguing use of his colours like Patinier, a landscaper who fascinated Dürer, and according to his strength the painting is following the preference of the painter. For Japanese and Chinese painting the calligraphic body is the more important category when we determine quality. Many paintings might have no colours and not even ink shading, its black and white substitute.
To have a good starting point we should discuss first calligraphy, the brush written characters.
Here quality is determined by the distribution of unused and used space, in the characters and their placement on the paper, created with a free movement of the brush.
This tool is a rather long haired brush. Just to use it, one needs the right handling and a lot of practice. But to master it.....
Without thorough training how to write with the brush, it is very difficult to establish an understanding for the movement of the brush, represented by the strokes or dots on the paper.
By training brush writing alone one could develop a feeling how a certain brush stroke was created, see the movement of the brush during the moment of the creation. The movement of the creation is frozen in the marks the brush had made by applying the ink on to the paper or silk. The value of the calligraphy is this movement itself not the result. The written character in the art of calligraphy is the vehicle which allows the connoisseur to relive the moment of creation.
The writing is the masterpiece, not the written.
So if the movement failes there is no meaning in cheating. One would have to start over.
The bigger the characters the more creative genius is needed to keep the balance. Or the smaller the characters the more essential it becomes to train the creating movement of the brush again and again.
All this is valid as well in painting too, but now of course the strokes are much freer and have to create the structures to form the painting.
The special calligraphic character of each individual brush stroke creates then movement in the painted subject. So if there is hesitation in the strokes there will be hesitation in the painting. The size of the strokes or whether they are done in ink or colour does not matter here.
Power which had moved the brush then could transform in the painting into power that shows actual movement, power that shows potential movement of resting objects, or even gone power that led to the form now depicted.
Lets start with a few examples of a painting done in a very simple style, just so that the quality of brush strokes is revealed to the connoisseur. With just very few strokes an old plum tree is sketched from which fresh brunches grow out, a few flowers.