Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Good Art vs. Bad Art
There is no such thing as “bad” art. Yes, I said it-well, at least in my book there isn’t. Since art was first being created and sequentially analyzed by the public forum, the question of whether bad art exists or not has always been, as there have always been people quick to answer yes or no. It is my subjective opinion that there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” art, the creative process in itself is what counts; the communication between the artist and the muse is validation in and of itself. I know some people would disagree with me, and they would probably have very good reasons to, but I feel that artistic expression is much deeper and abstract than a skilled wave of a brush. Most people would define “good” art as what the art establishment deems “excellent” and worthy of millions of dollars in an auction and/or, of course, what moves them emotionally. A few famous names come to mind; the Mona Lisa, Monet’s Water Lilies; Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Most of us have either heard of or seen these paintings many times and there is no doubt that if “good” art is a thing, these are it. And, yes of course, I believe that some things are better than others, because not every work of art that I come across will leave me enchanted, but who am I to say it’s bad? When it could be life-changing for another. Art that I consider to be “good” is provocative and visceral, it dares to break dated paradigms that, while making us uncomfortable sometimes, may very well thrust us into a new age of self expression. Good art is protestant and timeless, it can lead revolutions and spearhead their zeitgeist. It forces introspection, so that even if the image is ugly, we may look at ourselves profoundly and with unblinking eyes, stare into the heart of who we are as countries, nations, cultures; human beings. Some of my personal favorite artists, although may be revered now, were considered to be “bad” or at the least, were deeply misunderstood in their own time. Salvador Dali, for example, a Spanish surrealist painter from the 20th century, although most people would agree he was an excellent painter in skill, he was not exactly well received by most critics. He was considered to be a little “too” eccentric, a bit too “left field”. One of his many bizarre antics for example was in 1934, at a Surrealist Ball thrown in his honor when he arrived wearing a pink brassiere in a glass case on his chest. That one is mild, but you get the point, the guy really liked attention. And although some may say that it is unbecoming of an artist to let their public/personal life at times overshadow their work, he become the work. He became the canvas on which you could depict any image your mind decided on, and he got to have all the fun watching the public’s attempt at understanding him. Dali’s situation is not isolated, however. Many a great artist are only truly appreciated posthumously by the greater public arena, Van Gogh being another famous one. It just goes to show that what is exceptional in art is completely subjective whether in the mind of an individual or a society.
Whether it be dogs playing poker or an ugly wallpaper pattern, there are some things the majority agree are just not up to par. There are just some works that never really tap into the zeitgeist of their time and are either forgotten in dingy attics for decades, or left to hung on the walls of a psychologists office. I can’t help but feel for those poor paintings, all they ever wanted was to be appreciated, yet all they ever are is laughed at or ignored. And it’s not only paintings, as art evolves with our society, new ideas emerge on what is key in a work of art: concept or skill. Conceptual art, for one, is something still debated. Is it good or bad? Does it really take “talent” or “artistry” to just take a picture of an object and stick it on a wall in a gallery? It’s a good thing that it’s not my job to decide, or anyone else’s for that matter. Conceptual art or conceptualism is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. One of the more famous examples of this branch of art is Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, which is essentially a urinal, placed upside down, with a random initial written on it along with the year. This, of course, conjured quite the conversation about what is art, exactly and is this “bad”? Another example would be An Oak Tree by Michael Craig Martin. It consists solely of a glass of water set atop a glass shelf; below it a text mounted on the wall containing a Q&A where Craig Martin basically states that the oak tree is present in the place of the glass of water, just in a different form. The piece is meant to address questions of faith, Craig Martin considered "the work of art in such a way as to reveal its single basic and essential element, belief that is the confident faith of the artist in his capacity to speak and the willing faith of the viewer in accepting what he has to say”. At first glance, most viewer’s reaction were probably be a scoff and a roll of the eyes. How can this be art? But if art is someone’s attempt at conveying a concept or idea, than some would say that conceptualism arrives at the core of what it is or is supposed to be. Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is also an example of a controversial approach to self expression that pushes the limits of our preexisting notions of art. Hirst’s piece is of a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde in a vitrine. The artwork conveys the concept within it’s title, to see a once living, violent, active creature suspended before your eyes, leaving the viewer in a state of shock-conjuring the ever-so timeless struggle of the human being to avoid or at least avoid thinking about death. Alas, there it is, stark and unmoving as the dead shark in the tank. While, Hirst did not go through the process of painting this scene, which most would think at least a level higher on the scale of the exceptional, but rather took you into the painting, allowing you to touch the glass and see the wrinkling, decaying skin of the beast in all of its glory. Forcing you to behold that which is most frightening and unbelievable-death in its inevitability and the fact that one day you shall be as still and lifeless as that shark is now. Some would not agree, however, that this work is art or even “good” for that matter. Stuckism, an international art movement founded in 1999 by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson to promote figurative painting in opposition to conceptual art, was explicitly against works as that of Hirst, Craig Martin, and Duchamp. They felt that the commodification of art in postmodernism was detrimental to the art world as a whole and that painting need be revisited as a worthwhile, maybe even superior medium. As they had been quoted to say, "Artists who don't paint aren't artists". I admire the stuckists zeal and belief in their ideals when it comes to art but I just can not see myself making such a bold statement. Concept is king in my castle and I believe that intention is of most pertinence in the matter of artistic expression. If something “floats my boat” then, by all means, I will sail it. Because if not for my own opinions and preferences, my only thoughts would be directed by some other power like a puppeteer. Art is art. But hey, what do I know?