Jun 21, 2014

Why Can't I Say Some Art Is Bad?

Why does it seem to be a crime punishable by death (at least to other artists) to say a piece of art is bad, or that an artist has no skill or talent?

I said something recently in an art forum that, let's face it, some "artists" are just bad and lack potential. Goodness! I was surprised at all the hostile responses I got. If it had been medieval times I would have been put in the stockades, or even beheaded.

Let me point out I did not mention any artist's name or any particular piece of artwork. So all the nasty responses I got about how offended people were by my comment seemed a bit silly to me. If I was not talking about you or your art, why would you be offended?

And, PLEASE! Before you go off on the "art is subjective" argument, let me say that I agree with you ... somewhat. Art is subject ... to a point. Yes, subject and style are subjective. But, I'm sorry, quality is not subjective. Let me point out that dictionary.com defines fine art as "something requiring highly developed techniques and skills."

Note the term "highly developed skills" there. Skill is defined as "competent excellence in performance; expertness." That means you can't just squirt a tube of paint on a blank canvas and call art. A blind monkey can do that. If a blind monkey can do it then it does not show any "excellence in performance" or skill or talent and, therefore, by definition is not art.

I can hear you saying, but art is subjective! It's all up for interpretation! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Etc. Blah, blah!

STOP! I've already heard it a thousand times!

I already said I agree. But only to a point. I would still argue that art is only partially subjective. The fact that art has a long-standing official dictionary and encyclopedia description declaring certain elements and qualities be present to be considered art, means there is also an objective element to it. So, I would argue that art is subjective in style and subject only, but not skill, or "excellence of performance" or "expertness."

Personally I don't care for abstract art, or nudes, or cubism, for example. In the subjective sense it's just not my thing. But on a more objective level I can still tell when it's well executed. Even if I don't like the painting, I can still see that the artist had control of his/her medium, understood composition, color harmony, anatomy, and other elements that exhibit "highly developed skills" and "excellence in performance." On the other hand, subjectively, I like realism in animal, nature, and landscape art. But, despite my subjective preference for these subjects and style, I can still tell if it's done badly. If a chicken's head is coming out of the middle of its back, or a tree looks more like a lollipop than a tree, then it can be pretty obvious the artist does not possess the skill and talent to create what is defined as fine art.

Some would argue that people of all skill levels produce "art" and that, just because they are beginners, doesn't mean I have the right to call their art bad. Mind you, I would never go up to a beginner and tell them their art sucks. We all started out drawing lollipop trees at one point. I repeat, I was not specifying any particular artist or piece of art when I was attacked for my "blasphemy." I freely admit my earlier paintings were bad. Most everyone's earliest work is bad. What's wrong with saying that?

Just because you can pick up a brush and apply paint to a canvas does not automatically make you an artist and therefore, does not automatically make the product a piece of art. At least not good art. Most of us can agree that just because I can hammer a nail into a piece of wood does not qualify me to call myself a carpenter. Just because I can measure a cup of sugar doesn't mean I'm a chef.

if I call my doctor an idiot, or my lawyer greedy and incompetent, everyone agrees and laughs. I'm sure the doctors and lawyers don't find that amusing. But for some reason that's OK to call doctors, lawyers, dentists, mechanics, plumbers, etc, bad at what they do if they are bad ... and sometimes even if they're not bad. And that's even worse. They're actually making fun of those doctors and plumbers. I'm not trying to make fun of artists. I'm just saying if you're 50 years old and your trees still look like lollipops than I can probably safely and objectively say your art is not good. But, even so, to call an artist bad is just socially unacceptable. Why should artists be protected against such criticism when people of other trades, hobbies, or professions are not?

Sorry to burst your bubble but, by widely accepted dictionary and encyclopedic definition, art is partially objective. There are some rules and definitions as to what constitutes fine art. Yes, there is a hugely subjective element to it as well. But there are still the objective elements of excellence of skill or talent and, if a piece of "art" lacks any sign of either, then I should have a right to point that out without being sent to the slaughterhouse.

1 comment:

Tracey said...

I like this post, very interesting. Probably the anger comes from society's general viewpoint that everyone has the right to create and not necessarily to sell or exhibit the work. An example would be art therapy for sick children. I think the higher the artist's skill level, the more likely they can see mistakes?,problems? That said, some people will never be Monet no matter what.

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