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Saturday, March 4, 2017

B is for Bad Art

This image took six hours to put together.
The term "bad" is not an absolute. Otherwise we'd not need the comparative term, "worse" or the superlative, "worst." Some might argue that there's no such thing as "bad" art, that even the worst art has at least a few positive attributes. God knows elementary art teachers have operated under that premise for generations. Perhaps it was an elementary art teacher which first coined the phrase, "not bad." Others could argue that when the bad points outweigh, or outnumber, the "good" that the majority rules. Of course good art is a step down from "better" art and several flights of steps below the "best" art. Therefore, that means there are six degrees of separation between the best art and the worst art. Moreover, inasmuch as art criticism is highly subjective, perhaps the entire discussion may be a moot point.
The evolution of the "B"

There's no doubt regarding the presence of subjective influences in art criticism. But there are also objective elements, which form a basic framework for evaluating art. Linear perspective is one such element. Color relationships are another, while attempts at realism, once established, form yet another area where valid objective criticism is present--"This is a better representation of a rose than that one. But the third one there is the best. You can almost smell the fragrance." And, of course, critical relationships which work on the positive end of the evaluative scale also work on the negative side--"that painting of a rose really stinks."
The Wooden Horse, Jackson Pollock. Despite the title
this is a non-representational Abstract Expressionist work. 
Probably the most difficult type of art upon which to attach words having evaluative meaning is Abstract Expressionism. Here I'm not talking about non-representational art. Such art comes under a whole umbrella of highly objective guidelines having to do with art for art's sake. There may still be subjective elements having to do with personal tastes (Did Jackson Pollock use enough red paint in this work?") Objectively speaking, we might ask, "Is the size of the canvas commenserate with the scale of his painting technique?"
Woman, Willem de Kooning
I think it would be safe to say that most Abstract Expressionism is not totally devoid of subjective content. Even with Willem de Kooning, notwithstanding the title, it's obvious he's painting really, really ugly women. The problem with evaluating Abstract Expressionism is that the moment the artists introduces recognizable content, then the work takes leave of "art for art's sake" and become art for the sake of message, representation, emotions, prejudice, and a whole host of human factors which depend entirely upon what the artist was attempting to say and whether or not he or she was successful in doing so. That demands knowing or inferring the artist mind, which, of course, requires a verbal interaction with the artist or a written artist's statement.

Is it too major to fix and not major enough to worry about?
Perhaps the ones who suffer most when it comes to attaching damnable evaluative labels to works of art are the artists who create them. Shortly before they finish a work (at the latest) but usually many times before them, the artist silently asks, is it good, bad, or perhaps worst of all, indifferent? The artist is in the doubly difficult position of also being prejudice. He or she wants the work to succeed, and thus may overlook obvious flaws. At the same time various niggling little elements are disturbing. Very often, in trying to correct such "problems" the artist ends up making them worse, or creating two or three other problems. Overworking their art is one of the greatest faults artists have to contend with. And invariably, the root cause is a lack of coherent, well-honed, evaluative skills. That's not what you'd call a moot point.

Incidentally, de Kooning is said to have retrieved his Woman (the painting, not his wife, Elaine) from the trash heap...TWICE.


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