What Makes Art “Bad”?

cropped-lotus-nebula-sml1.jpgI recently read a great article, actually a compilation of quotes from various experts, on what makes art good. There were some very eloquent statements. One of my favorites was a quote from art critic #DeWittCheng:

Good visual art looks stunningly right and, in retrospect, obvious, or inevitable– yet it’s also continually surprising. It is a powerful paradox. How can someone have possibly made this? How in the world could it not have been made?

And it all got me thinking. What makes art bad? The old saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. What one person finds dull or even ugly, another may find interesting or wonderful. So, what, exactly, are the parameters available to us for classifying art as “bad”? And is any art really “bad”?

For me, it depends upon two things: 1) why the art was created (in other words, the motivation and intention behind it) and 2) is it an authentic expression?

Let’s say someone who experienced a massive trauma, a refugee for example, started to express herself through painting. Maybe she was never trained and her technique is lacking. Yet, her reason for creating…to heal herself…that makes the work of art beautiful to me. That’s not to say I would want to buy it and hang it on my wall. But there is beauty in authentic expression. She had to paint it or a piece of herself would wither. Would a critic love her art? Maybe. Maybe not. But the ingredients are there for good art. Her reason for painting and the expression of that painting are genuine.

Do the rules change when we move into the professional art world? What if someone wakes up one day and decides, “I’m going to make money selling art.” He splashes some paint on a canvas until it appeals “interesting” to the masses and then slaps a price tag of $300 on it. Is the art beautiful? Or maybe there is a highly trained artist who follows all the formulas for a masterpiece. Is it a masterpiece? It may look like one. It may be priced like one. But is it? In the case of the former, the reason for painting lacks integrity and in the latter, the passion has given way to rules and techniques.

Or another example…a young artist tries very hard to copy the work of a master. It’s a learning exercise. It’s a little lop-sided or it might even be a brilliant copy, but is it art? How can it be? It’s a copy! The authenticity of expression is lacking. On the other hand, a child could draw a picture from his heart, and it could be the most beautiful thing in the world, simple in its innocence and devoid of technique, but a perfect expression.

So, maybe we can better determine whether art is good or bad by asking ourselves what the artist is trying to transmit. Are they just making a pretty picture? Or is there some meaning behind it? And do we resonate with that message?

From my perspective, bad art lacks heart. Good art is made from heart!

The thing is, everyone is artistic. It’s a god-given birthright to create whether it’s through painting, sculpture, writing, dancing, singing, knitting, cooking…whatever. So, who gets to be the professional, the acclaimed? Which of us are the talented master and stars of the game? Honestly, I don’t have an answer. I’ve known some amazing artists who never do a thing with it. And I’ve known some real “crap generators” who are making a living! It is an eternal mystery who is seen and unseen, who is chosen or looked over. A lot of it comes down to who has the balls to put himself out there!

For me, bad art is boring, ho hum, and lacks imagination. It’s what I’ve seen a million times before (and sometimes what I wished I’d never seen). Good art, then, is intriguing, inspiring, and something I’ve never seen before or, if I have, it’s done in such a way that it makes me pause and become curious. As I’ve said before elsewhere, good art makes me want to breathe more deeply. It stops time, if only for a moment, and says, “See how beautiful life is.” Ah, but now I’m back to talking about good art. We’ve come full circle.