Recently it occurred to me that in the official "art world" the discussion of what makes art good or bad is, let's say... flexible. A critical theory classroom tends to be filled with students apparently in frightfully uncomfortable chairs, wrestling with the options in front of them. Do I finally shout out what I've been holding off on admitting, which is that I truly believe that some art is just plain crap or do I continue to hold off, hoping to uncover some deep meaning that explains why this painting looks like it was made by an elephant? Either way, the air is filled with confusion, hesitancy, and resentment and is made even worse when that one student who seems to always get it spits out something apparently brilliant in response to an artist defecating on a stage, leaving the rest of us resigned to either nod our heads in the hope others believe we understand now, or invite yet another frustrating hour of discussion by admitting that we don't, only to increase frustration by the time we finally give up.
For myself, I keep finding that a lot of art I would have labeled as "bad art" upon first viewing it is followed by at least an appreciation of the motives of the artist upon learning their intentions in making it. But what about real bad art? If you ask a person who is not an artist or a collector of art what they think bad art is they're likely to not hesitate to tell you exactly what they think. Having asked this question quite a lot in the past few years, I have found these answers to be the most common:
Louise Reilly Sacco, the Executive Director of the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) celebrates "an artist's right to fail," which is an almost entirely different discussion. The kind of art displayed in this museum is art that has been made with the best of intentions, but in one way or another failed.
In an interview she gave CBS Sunday morning news (1) Sacco states, "Bad art is first of all, art that is sincere and original and something went wrong in a way that's interesting... Like pornography, it's hard to define, but I know it when I see it." She goes on to explain that sometimes artists deliberately try to make bad art but that it is obvious when they do and that work does not get into the museum's collection. Apparently, bad art is as difficult to fake as good art.
In a discussion with Foad Afshar, an Art Education professor at NH Institute of Art, I was reminded of my own snobbishness toward bad art, something I have worked to abolish. The name, Thomas Kincaid and the images it evokes tend to have an effect on many people attempting to understand bad vs. good art. For me, it typically accompanies a rolling of the eyes and gestures of inducing vomiting. However, as Afshar explained, whether you are a fan or not, Kincaid's work is loved by many people who bought his paintings and put them in their homes, many of which may not have contained artwork previously. That deserves some amount of respect.
My own platform of bringing art into the lives of creativity starved non-artists is officially and ashamedly not as sturdy as I thought.
For my next exploration: De-skilled art and the intentions of artists who work this way.