Soul of art?


I see many works which are done really nicely and executed beautifully but they look just like that, only technical renders(not disrespecting any great artists). At other times, we would find a simple lineart moving/inspiring beyond words. Some people say that it is the soul of the art that does this. What do you think is this soul of art??

This question has been bothering me for sometime now so i thought i’d know my fellow artists opinion on this.


Love and hard work is the soul of art - or art in general has no soul and individual piece of art has no other soul than the one given to it. And like human souls, they come in many flawors: some are deep, some swallow, some tricky, some funny, some have even sold their sould and the others are something else. :smiley:

And just couple of notes:

  • “simple” line art might have more (work) in it that it seems.
  • you might be interested reading philosophical discussion part of the FAQ thread here.

edit: Seriously it is also worth noting that any piece of art isn’t usually interpreted in vacuum, but how something speaks to you is related to anything you have currently going on in your life, what music are you listening currently, how was your day, how do you read the visual language, what the others said about that piece of art, how it is presented, how mutch does it cost, what is the name of the piece, are you hungry or satisfied, what did you see just before or just after etc. So the “soul” and meaning may change depending on situation. That and what I said above.


Any visual image has a variety of possible intents:

-Conveying a visual narrative
-Expressing an emotion
-Making a personal, socio-political, or philosophical statement
-Depicting a mood
-Showing a design
-Demonstrating technique
-Demonstrating artistic knowledge (the foundations–composition, perspective, values/lighting, colors, anatomy/figure…etc)
-Interpreting the world around us filtered through artistic sensibility

and so on.

As you can see, it’s very possible for any piece of artwork to only contain the more technical aspects, if that’s all the artist focused on. It’s just the same as if an artist concentrated on the creative aspect but lacked technical or artistic skill, and thus end up with a great idea that was poorly executed.

Ideally, a compelling piece of artwork contains both creative and technical excellence.


hey helen,
I had read the faq’s but couldnt find anything that could quite satisfy me. Also i agree that no work can be made in a vacuum but if i take comics as example, the todays mainstream comics tend to look more “stiff” at times, from art point of view. There are many exceptions but i dont think we have anyone like Mr. Kirby now whose creative priority came before anatomical correctness. And he composed his shots. I think same can be said for John Buscema and Frazetta(well Frazetta was practically God). Is this happening just because comic is business? It was then too and more intense then now.

Lunatique, i completly agree with you on what you say. I think the top 4 from your list would do the maximum in this department. I dont know if you would agree with me but when i look at NC Wyeth’s work i feel he hit his mark 90% of times in putting soul in his work but in todays time an artist might miss that many times. What could be a possible reason for it? have we been corrupted by some kind of influence?


If u may think you are getting corrupted. And our past with its accomplishments and merits have felt the least of it in comparison. Does not make the individual artist any less original.
Research the work of Rollo May. It could help open some locked doors.


uhm. poser (or some other 3d base)? :twisted: It might make production faster, but might also lessen the work, love and soul put to one individual image, mass production, comics drawn not by individuals, but by cheap factory labour somewhere? lack of personal passion towards the subject? A lot of things that just need to be done, instead of thinking what amazing we could do, quantity over quality, burdens of the history to follow (might limit writing part) …? Things going more towards industry or than art, individual freedom and passion? (just a sidenote that this happened also at the IT -industry - what used to be “software development” is now something like “service” - instead of creating something just numbly doing what client wants, because it brings money now).

Amazing examples of the past compared to average work of today and not average work of the past or amazing work of today?

If we skip the viewer effect of this thing, as mentioned and lunatique listed, an artwork might only have that soul that is put there. If it is not there, then it isn’t.

edit: lists above are questions, things that may have an effect to things you are experiencing. Still may can do good work even today and with all those new tools (I wouln’d probably have started at all without them).


I agree here that the soul part can solely arise on the artistsside. This begs the question though, what exactly is this soul you are talking about? Lunatique seems to put it alongside other qualities, like a piece of art is like a checklist. I find thatsoul` is actually sincerity. Being interested in the subject and the craft you are doing, not just the end result. If you LOVE just mixing colors, put them in various compositions, it will show. There might not be a story to read for the viewer, but I believe that sincerity will always show through. Or if it lacks that, it wil show aswell.
I guess that even if you have that same sincerity towards stick figures, you can make it work (see Don Hertzfeldt)


I don’t know if sincerity is enough. Intent alone doesn’t go very far if the execution is terrible. Also, what is soulful is different to everyone. Uwe Boll certainly is sincere in his love of filmmaking and he believes in what he’s doing, but his films are considered some of the lowest of low in terms of merit. I think soulful alone is not enough of an indication of quality. Some of the most pretentious, whiny, shallow, and idiotic creative works are done very sincerely. I believe that sincerity must also be combined with knowledge, skill, and ideally also taste. As soon as taste is involved, it becomes very complicated because it is subjective. One man’s beloved serious piece of art, literature, film, or music might be considered pretentious and unbearable to another, or one man’s love of entertaining pulp would be considered low-brow, crass, and cheesy disposable waste of time by another. All are done with sincerity, but not all will agree they are soulful or worthy of praise.


Hmm…you kindoff killed the discussion there…there`s no arguing about taste…

I disagree with you when you say sincerity isnt enough. If you are sincere about what you are doing, you will always look back on what you have already made and see where you can go from there. Im not saying how you can IMPROVE from there, because I think that is less interesting (and again, always open for debate what improvement really is). You approach this discussion more from a craftmans point of view and I respect that. In that train of thought there is defeniately something to say about (tangible) quality of art.
I tend to see this discussion more about the intangible part, and see art more as expressions of an artist. Inescapably the piece of art will therefore reflect what the artist was going through when making the piece. His/her intentions, point of view, etc. Perhaps indeed the inability to express yourself in the early stage will result in works of lesser quality, but by sticking with it, you can distill your original intentions to what you really want to express.


I don’t think it’s as mysterious or intangible as most people think it is. Most think that because they haven’t really made an honest effort to demystify and deconstruct these things. I don’t mean just think about it for a few minutes while talking about it with someone–I mean sustained, serious, and deep study of the subject and research into all the elements that are involved–months and years of concentrated effort. Part of what makes the workshop I teach very unique is the way it breaks down the intangible into something that could be taught and learned. There are specific psychological elements that contribute to our impression of and feeling about an image, and most people just haven’t tried to make sense of it all. There are many aspects at play, and I can’t really explain it all here since it’ll take pages of text along with dozens of images. We spend an entire week on this very subject in my workshop–in fact it is the opening week that kicks off the whole thing. There are lots of things that most artists never even considered or paid attention to–such as the difference between a straightforward and abstract narrative, the various uses of visual analogies, how a simple action image could be utterly transformed in its meaning by adding the element of cause and effect, voyeuristic and exhibitive narratives and how they influence us psychologically, or the way good writers approach storytelling and how artists can borrow those same techniques for creating visual art.

So yes, I do believe that the “soulful” aspect of an image isn’t as mysterious as people think, and it can be made to be tangible and accessible for those that want to learn about it. This goes the same for music composition, creative writing, filmmaking, dance, photography, and so on. They all share common traits of creativity, and many are interchangeable between the various creative disciplines.


^ now I just have to agree with lunatique about common traits of creativity and demystifying things. I’ts not reducing the value or the soul or art - instead it just shows that there is always more to know even in complicated subjects (which is great) and the best part in my opinnion is that when something is demystified it can be learned and used for ones own work.

Altought I have to say I’d like to make and see (or hear or experience) art made with sincerity and passion if is opposed to someone doing it just fakely - if one can have em all. :smiley:


The recent dicussion is getting focussed more on how art can evoke something in one person and doesnt even matter to another. I dont think a genuine soulful art will stop on the barrier of “taste” because if that was the case then art icons like Mickey Mouse and tom n jerry would not hav been able to sustain themselves for decades(mickey mouse is nearing 70-80 years, i guess, and stil how popular he is can be seen by the hype around epic mickey) Till that time disney himself was there, all of his projects gained universal approval be it animated movies or places like disneyland. There was no taste barrier.Same goes for artist like michael jackson who sold more music then anyone ever will. Is it passion to create something beautiful or rememberable that might be the real soul of art?


I dont think a genuine soulful art will stop on the barrier of “taste”

I agree with that. And as mentioned, “taste” is difficult since everyone has one and it might not only be different, but also vary in width of arts and styles. I consider my self quite “omnivorous” what comes to arts and styles, but I also realize that I need certain amount of knowledge of certain arts just to tell good from bad. It’s not always obvious or something universal or at least knowing helps me.

Is it passion to create something beautiful or rememberable that might be the real soul of art?

…or something dark and painfull - or something. You’ll need some to do anything. Even getting up from bed. I mean for example building houses with “don’t care” -mentality makes bad houses. :smiley: Passion or love or sincerity mentioned here are things that with keep one doing whatever one is doing and getting better at it. Or at least caring enought to try and make it - and make it again, maybe better. So I don’t think passion in it self is the soul of art, but one of those qualities of an artist that help you do (or learn) your stuff. Add some consistensy, wisdom (not burning out with all that passion) and patience (to get over the boring or bad days), some actual life to share and enought knowledge and skill to express those things so that it is understandable (you are not preventing people to understand your art with inferior quality) we are at least growing changes to create sometimes something that has “soul” to someone. (gosh what a sentence :rolleyes: )


If you really want to investigate what you personally find to be “soulful,” then simply do an experiment. Collect a large variety of images and then separate them into what you find to be soulful and what you find the opposite, and those that fall somewhere in the middle. Then you analyze the common traits in each group. Like I already said, the so-called intangible aren’t exactly intangible, just that most people don’t bother investigating and spending enough time understanding.

I’ll bet that the images you find to be soul will have some similar traits like expressive emotions, evocative moods, strong atmosphere, some sort of visual narrative, some kind of dramatic contrast, compelling composition…etc. These are all tangible aspects that could be understood and studied. I think some things are only mysterious if you haven’t learned enough about it or haven’t excelled enough as a practitioner of the discipline. It’s actually very surprising how much isn’t mysterious if you spent enough time investigating. For example, music can be utterly magical to most people–the way the sophisticated harmonies and captivating melodic contours and complex rhythms take a hold of us and put us and transport us to another world. But if you actually studied music for long enough, you’ll learn to deconstruct even the most complex music and learn what makes it tick–how the tension is built up with dissonance in harmonic intervals, and how it modulates over time and then finally resolves for the release. Even the ethereal and heavenly sounding impressionistic music could be deconstructed, such as the use of whole tone scale and parallel fifths often used in impressionistic styles. Melodies also have contours that can be broken down to see how each interval contributes to a very specific emotional response in conjunction to the harmonic structure.Rhythmic elements like syncopation is the foundation of modern “beats” but so many people who aspire to “make beats” never even make an effort to understand the anatomy of a rhythm.

So while it’s easy to sit and talk about what the “soul” of the art is, how many people actually took the time to really investigate and learn about the anatomy of visual vocabulary and the elements of evocative imagery? Anyone here actually spent years studying this very topic and conducted lots of experiments and really made it a priority is his life? I think if a topic is of enough importance to you, then it deserves further investigation beyond simply a few posts on the internet. Really dig into the subject and treat it like an important study, and test your theories in a scientific manner. Conduct experiments with colleagues, family and friends. Really learn something about it.


i would not have posted this topic if i wasnt serious about it. And i dont believe in anything happening by magic as all artists we like have worked very hard to achieve this “effect”. As you said, i intend to learn some concrete answers but indian art community has fallen back in this department in past few years and i couldnt find any satisfactory answers that is why i came here. The list you gave in your first post does clear some things for me. If you can help in guiding me more on this i would be greatful.


I don’t know if India has good liberal arts programs like we do in the States, but that’s a great way to learn about the intellectual, emotional, philosophical aspects of art, and there are also books out there that cover this topic. The workshop I teach (shown in my signature below) tackles this topic head-on from different angles, and combines with actual technique and foundational knowledge, as well as highly advanced study of sophisticated subjects like expressive characters, stylization, aesthetics, the creative intent, and so on. It’s essentially an art bootcamp and the kind of stuff I wish I had learned during my formative years and early professional career. But obviously hind-sight is always much more clear, and many of the sophisticated insights I’m teaching are only possible with many years of experience in a variety of creative careers.


Altought I have to say I’d like to make and see (or hear or experience) art made with sincerity and passion if is opposed to someone doing it just fakely - if one can have em all. :smiley:

  I find all these talent shows on tv quite interesting in this respect. You see a variaty of people performing back to back. Some with and some without any formal education of whatever they are performing. It is hard to grasp what makes some excell and others dont. I found that the more sincere, humble performances are usually more interesting than technically highstanding boring ones.

If you really want to investigate what you personally find to be “soulful,” then simply do an experiment. Collect a large variety of images and then separate them into what you find to be soulful and what you find the opposite, and those that fall somewhere in the middle. Then you analyze the common traits in each group. Like I already said, the so-called intangible aren’t exactly intangible, just that most people don’t bother investigating and spending enough time understanding.

  Yeah, well, interesting article about that:
  You will most certainly claim that this method still has its merits and we will all end up with some (universal) truths...unfortunately, knowing what you know, you run another risk when you try:
Ofcourse, if we all read the same literature we are bound to agree with you…funny thing the way the mind works…

I still remain at my stance that there is more to art than craftmanship. And that sincerity will help you develop your work. Your idea of developement is that of improving craftmanship; deconstructing truths about the craft. My idea is purely that, development; asking yourself the question, where can I go from where I stand now? Perhaps you`ll end up a perfect craftman with this method, perhaps you`ll grow into a whole other kind of artist...who knows. But thing is, doing it this way, you took your own road to destilling the artist you have inside yourself. And thus, you`ll be more true to yourself, and have seen different things along you path.
Now, you may call me ignorant for believing what I believe. I may call you narrowminded for what you believe...I`m not trying to bash you here, because I certainly respect what you have acomplished doing it you way. It`s just the way these two stances sortoff seem to mutually exclude eachother...


Actually, you’re wrong to assume I only place emphasis on craftsmanship. It couldn’t be further from the truth. I place enormous emphasis on the intellectual and emotional resonance of creative works–in fact it’s the main thing I care about. When a piece of creative work fails to move me in someway, I wouldn’t be nearly as interested in it. If you took a spin around my website, that will become very clear–how much I care about passion, sincerity, injecting one’s soul into one’s work…etc. In fact, this is one of the most important lessons I teach in my workshop–that you must be sincere and passionate in your desire to create, and you should create what resonates with you emotionally.

The reason why I have to break these so-called intangible elements down into tangible and understandable ones is because I have to teach it to those who don’t understand the inner workings of creativity. Anyone who tries to teach anything about the creative process and the creative vision must be able to put into words these complex ideas. If you can’t break this stuff down into understandable bits, then you have no business teaching it to others. And if you don’t know how to break this stuff down into understandable bits, then you really don’t understand it to begin with.

So no, the two are not mutually exclusive. At least not to me. What I’m advocating is that passion, inspiration, sincerity, needs to be combined with knowledge and skill in order to produce the best creative works. One without the other is almost always not nearly as compelling as when there’s both.


For me, the “soul” of a work of art is the transcendent or emergent property of the work that significantly affects an observer and only exists in the mind of the observer. Simply put the “soul” of a work of art is that intended property of the work that is greater than the mere sum total of the work’s reducible parts, e.g. composition, color choices etc. This property represents a whole through orchestration that also has a multilayered richness which in essence becomes food for thought that transcends the art object itself. This embodied “soul”/emergent property is totally dependent on the experiences, insight, communicative capability, and in more cases than not, the genius (real or perceived) of the artist. You can’t dissect genius, fully understand it and repeat it—unless you’re a ‘genius’ and most are not. The magic and mystery of a work of art lies, more often than not, in it’s genius.

To me, trying to break down art to find the exact location of it’s “soul” is a futile Reductionist’s attempt.

Breaking down Peotry and understanding it’s mechanics from the bottom up won’t make you a Poet Laureate. It will give you a greater appreciation of Poetry.


this was an interesting article to read.