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Good art, Bad art.

A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants according to the Tao Te Ching.


What does a bad artist do? Who cares, right? Who sets out to be a bad artist? Even the hobbyist inspired by a Bob Ross video for the first time rarely sets out to create something reviling. Bob Ross, who I admire a great deal,  was all about process, too. I mean his show was entitled the “Joy of Painting”, not the “Pure Torture of Creating a Masterpiece by Subverting Conventions”. Though, that may be a funny show to watch and a basis for a comedy sketch on SNL, Bob Ross talked about happy accidents, not horrible mistakes. 


What is a bad artist anyway? I’m not talking about a morally repugnant artist who creates masterpieces, history is full of them. I’m talking about an artist that produces bad art. Do bad artists produce art made purely to sell, but never sells? Art that purposefully annoys and offends? Art that is cliched? Formulaic? Unoriginal? Out of proportion? Sloppy? Dogs playing poker on black velvet? Jesus helping Trump sign discriminatory executive orders?


I’m sure critics regarded most ground breaking paintings “bad” when the artists tried to play with the conventions of their times. One of my favorites, the “mad beasts”, the Fauvists come to mind. Even today, Neil Jenney, in a reaction to the Photorealist movement, deliberately painted badly. However, he had to understand the “rules” of painting in order to not follow them. He was technically capable and understood current standards of taste and style, but chose to ignore them.


Is that what makes an artist good? One that is able to replicate other styles, yet somehow synthesize them all into her own? I suspect it is.


Sure, it’s a standard axiom today that beauty is in large part in the eye of the beholder. When someone tells me my picture is too red and self-indulgent, asks what is it SUPPOSED to be, or just shrugs their shoulders, I take it as their opinion. It’s not about me, it’s about that particular work, which is only a very small part of who I am and what I do in the world. Besides, to think that everything I do and produce is somehow worthy of admiration is the ultimate self-delusion.  


There actually is a museum of bad art. Their motto is “Art too bad to be ignored.” They occupy the basement of the Somerville Theatre in Somerville MA. They also don’t consider things like black velvet paintings or works of kitsch or paint by numbers to be particularly “bad”. Their criteria is simply that the artist is sincere in their attempt, but that the original premise or its execution went horribly wrong somehow. I’ve never been there, but it seems appropriate that a museum devoted to bad art is housed in a basement. Admission is free with a movie ticket. However, it is currently closed due to the pandemic. Here’s their website: museumofbadart.org

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