“With only a little bit of practice, anyone can put up a masterpiece – Bob Ross”
For a long time now, I have wandered around in my own mind trying to comprehend the meaning of the word, in where it’s true meaning should lie. Yet, no matter how much I looked at it and then saw how reviewers as well as everybody kept slamming the word around like some sort used piece of garbage that nobody bothered to look at.
What exactly happened since I noticed this and then suddenly it became more of a word that I resented, since nobody would stop using the word. It felt meaningless and that is why I wanted to talk a little about what is a masterpiece and why I don’t believe it exist at all.
What is a masterpiece?
A masterpiece, also known as a magnum opus, is by definition a creation that has been given a lot of critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person’s career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, or workmanship.
Historically, a “masterpiece”‘ was a work of a very high standard produced to obtain membership of a guild or academy in various areas of the visual arts and crafts.
What makes a masterpiece?
Nobody really knows, according to history it was something craftsmen did in order to become a part of a guild. This in term means you have to make something other people cannot, something nobody has thought off and therefore not only revolutionize the industry you’re in but with that thing you have made, become something more to others.
I will cover a few examples in different categories and then talk about my personal opinion about this whole ordeal, mainly staying within film and video games.
Examples in art
In art there are many pieces made that has over time become known to be a masterpiece by the creator. When looking at paintings from across the world, more often than not we will talk about Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ which he painted in the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling. According to the picture, it illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis, in which God gives life to Adam, the first man.
The image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become iconic and have had numerous reproductions made in imitations and parodies.
Another will be Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ that has been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most parodied work of art in the world”. One of the most valuable paintings in the world and a beautiful painting at that….but does that make them and the thousands of other paintings masterpieces?
Examples in books
There has been billions of books written and even billions more to be made. Many of them considered to be masterpieces of their time, as well as our own. Some of these are for example Crime and Punishment by Fyordor Dostoyevsky, J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and so many many more.
In this world of literature one could even go to comic books and point out listed by people as masterpieces, such as Watchmen, The Death of Superman, Batman: The Killing Joke, Akira, Y: The Last Man and a plethora of others.
These literary pieces of art have contributed to many people around the world with an experience that still stays with them to this day…but does that make them masterpieces?
Example in Movies
We all know movies that we can mention on ten fingers to be our top best movies of all time, I just want to take a few examples of movies that people consider to be masterpieces even to this day.
Some of these movies are The Godfather, Seven Samurai, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Psycho, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Amelie, Forrest Gump and I could go on forever, but with just these few examples one could say “Yes, I remember this and this movie, they really showed what it meant to be human in its cinematography and storytelling.”
Yet, something still irks me here…can we truly say that these movies are masterpieces just because they told a very good story, had fantastic cinematography and probably messages that still questions the way we as people live in society to this day?
Example in Video Games
One of the things that people also tend to point at when they talk about masterpieces are within the video game industry. So many games have come out and pushed the boundaries of what a game can do in the past 40 years since Pong and Tetris came out.
They point at newer games coming out, past games that revolutionized the industry as a whole that games of this day and age uses in their game design.
So how come Deus Ex, Centipede, Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, The Witcher III, God of War, Planescape Torment, Monkey Island and a gazillion more all are always considered masterpieces by some? Many of these games did something to push the industry further than before, many of these even cemented what it meant to be a certain genre of game….but does that also just make them masterpieces?
It’s a good question to ask. Does a masterpiece need to be something that transcends time? This is something I ask since art pieces and literature are the sort of medium that has been around for the longest of time (yes music can even be put in here, but I am not an expert on this, so it will not be in the article). While film and video games came much later, yet they are the type of medium that many critics and people are still discussing about what seems to be the very best that ever was.
Many things can transcend time, in my case it can be looked at how art pieces, literature, film and video games many years later still can touch people to the extend of giving them something they never had before. However, that is also why I personally stand at the next point…
I believe it doesn’t exist
That is true. I don’t believe a masterpiece exist, it never has and never will. Since even labeling something as a masterpiece is pointing at something and saying that thing will never be surpassed, it is the one that will make everybody love it and no one can find anything wrong with it.
This is where the problem lies as just by liking or disliking something you are already different from others, that means the video game you love with all your heart and soul will be hated to the very core of another person. It’s not like talking if something can be perfect because nothing is perfect, but a medium can give you a perfect experience.
So, if you came up and talked with me in the bar about different games or films that you saw as masterpieces, I would agree with the experiences they provide but not that they are masterpieces.
A masterpiece, should be what everybody is striving towards making. The one thing that everybody will like and therefore not be able to forget, not be able to stop talking about and no matter how much time goes by, would be the singular best thing nobody else can match.
You will never hear me say something is a masterpiece, since as said I don’t believe one will ever exist. However, you will hear me talk about something giving an experience no words can be said for, find something that to me still is relevant to myself many years later after having discovered it. Whether it be films or video games, books or art pieces, something can give what I perceive to be a ‘perfect experience’.
What about the word masterpiece then? What has happened?
The overuse of the ‘Masterpiece’
An article on The Tracking Board had a small opinion piece about how we as people are overusing the word “masterpiece”. I agree with this, because over the past couple of years it has happened even in video games. Just looking at the big games like Zelda, Metal Gear, Shadow of Colossus, Knights of the Old Republic and now the new God of War has sat at the same table with this label upon its chest.
Even in movies we see hundreds if not thousands now coming out with the saying of being a masterpiece? Why is that exactly? How come every modern superhero movie, every dumb flick, every action movie or just the ones that are a reboot suddenly are all masterpieces?
Personally I can’t see why this is, because even when reading forums on Reddit like this one, I can’t help but wonder if this is something that has just become another word we utter when ever we want to sound more than we are. Or is it truly a masterpiece in the way they have been designed, grown over time and from there become something even more than they started out as when released.
In a post on aslliniea.org, Stephanie Chisholm as an artist living in New York had written about who exactly decides what a masterpiece is.
“Today the word “master” or “masterpiece” has really lost its meaning because it is not based on anything tangible in the modern world. It becomes just a pretty word that has lost its original meaning. Anyone can say a piece of art is a masterpiece as long as they are connected to the art elite, and then the piece is stamped as a masterpiece even if it is not.
I think art is a personal experience that cannot be labeled by the keeper of the gate, and no one can touch your soul like a painting or print that moves you. That is what should determine if it is a masterpiece or not.”
The interesting thing here is that I agree with her on that the word has no meaning anymore, in reality it has become nothing more than something we just throw out whenever we say something along the lines of good or fantastic, but can’t give any indication as to why it really is a masterpiece.
It does exist but not in the way you think (A Personal Masterpiece)
Now, to turn the coin around and look on the other side. There is a way that a masterpiece does exist, but not in the way you think.
I have shown that a masterpiece is hard to point out exactly why it a one in a more objective manner. Then that can only leave the subjective part of how you personally can see something made as a personal masterpiece. This is exactly where we will land, your own personal masterpiece is what makes all reviewers as well as everybody talking label something to be that good of a thing in which they experienced something they never had before and therefore learning something new that might stay with you many years later.
So this while not being the biggest article in terms many pages long, it did take me a long time to find out how I should talk about this topic exactly, as in truth it is the one of the most difficult things to talk about. What is a masterpiece, what defines a masterpiece, why is yours a masterpiece and mine isn’t? Does it really matter what is considered a masterpiece? Should we stop using the word masterpiece or simply learn that its meaning has to become something significant in order to use it for a certain piece of art in what ever medium it’s discovered in?
Tell me more down in the comments about what your thoughts are on this and if you enjoyed this form of content, do check out more on the website.
Stay Cozy and have a nice day!