Saturday, 26 March 2011

The naive, the bad and the amateur.

 I am disconcerted by the term "bad art", and paranoid that I may come under it.  Is it simply a matter of being in or out of fashion and current opinions.  The Museum of Bad Art  aims to bring the worst of art to the widest audience.  Art ahead of it's time is often viewed as bad, before it is accepted and appreciated.  In Van Gogh's case, not even in the artist's own lifetime.  It can take a showman who believes in his own art to convince us to believe also.  Sometimes, merely a high price can command credence.

 Abstract art is criticised with comments such as, "A child could do that."  A recent psychology study explored whether a painting could be identified as being by a professional, a child or a monkey: How to tell a masterpiece from a painting by a monkey.  Overall it seems that we can identify the mind behind the art.  I admire the confidence of abstract artists, capturing suggestions from intangibles.  I painted the abstracts above as studies for a background of a future figurative piece.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain. 1917.
 So what is Contemporary art?.  Isn't all art made now, contemporary, regardless of it's classical or modern influence.  Artists were creating conceptual art long before the "Conceptual" artists were born. Originating in the 1860's Modern Art could now technically be seen as old.  Duchamp's original urinal, "Fountain" would be 93 years old, which could be considered antique.  In 2004, it was chosen as the most influential work of modern art, by 500 experts. The beginning of conceptual art, it highlighted the creative process as the art rather than the work itself.  The artist as "thinker".

John Baldessari
Everything is purged from this painting but art,no ideas have entered this work
Acrylic on canvas, 1966 - 1968
  Just as music ranges from punk to classical, this is an exciting time for all types of art irrespective of manual labour.  We have rich treasures to draw from and a multitude of combinations of craftsmanship with original ideas.  As Duchamp said, " It is the spectators who make the pictures", and it is also us that keep a work modern.  A constant stream of new people seeing a work of art for the first time.

Rodin, The Thinker. 1902.
 The word amateur seems loaded with derogatory and inferior connotations.  In fact it originates from the Latin,"to love".  Is not art created for the love of it, equal value to art churned out to meet it's market.  It must be the case that all professionals begin as amateurs before another is prepared to pay for what they produced.  For your work to be what you love is one of the greatest privileges to aspire to.  The tragedy would be if the artist loses their love and authenticity in their effort to make art their profession and source of income.  May art forever wrestle against soulless consumerism and never become a slave to interior design.
  Naive Art sounds even worse. Is this the term used for artists who for whatever reason have not received a Western art school education.

   "What is Art School really? Well, it's a bit of time you are given. A bit of time in which to learn things." ~ Maggi Hambling

  One of my favourite artists,  Séraphine de Senlis, is considered naive.  I discovered a film about her on Twitter via @Deanthepainter.           

 I have not had time or opportunity to learn the crafts of the old masters, and to some extent I think this is a liberation.  I am not confined by what you can and can't do, according to the current consensus on art.  Having had chance to develop and mature before the influence of the art world, any skills I do learn will hopefully enhance my ability to express myself rather than obscure.  If during the course of my fine art degree I turn into an art snob, please let me know.  I hope I can retain a degree of objectivity.  Too much specialism can distance you from the actual art.  Nigel Kennedy is undeniably a fantastic violinist, but trapped in his classical training he has not been able to fully embrace and create his own individual music.   Like the beauty of a rose, pulled apart in an attempt to analyse it's beauty.


  1. I've studied art forever (well, forever to me) and I don't like the term "bad art" either. It tells us nothing. It's no different than calling a car a "bad car". Why is it bad? Is it fundamentally bad because the engine will melt apart or does the mirror not tilt properly?

    There is art using nothing but color and shapes where the artist knows exactly what he (or she) is doing, and there is art that is an acceptable rendition of objects which shows no insight into design and color.

    For me, bad art is bad design. What constitutes bad design can be debatable and open for a lengthy discussion. Actually, some of the best discussions I've had were debates about design.

    I think if you appreciate art you're not a snob. Pointing out "bad art" is being a snob. Spend your time describing art that you love.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this post!

  2. Thank you, it was inspired by someone tweeting that using paint straight from the tube was a sign of a "bad" artist. It made me angry, I don't think art should be restricted by petty rules, or that one artist should proclaim to another that their way is the right or only way. I agree that bad design is more apparent. When something works or is needed, it's good. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. I found your blog encouraging. I started painting portraits. I was fascinated by faces and expression and have almost always been good atgetting the feeling but selling portraits recently has become so nit picking because of the need to be right, as in get a likeness. ( I do think a portrait should be recogniseable as the person) but I was using a ruler and it felt more like a maths exercise. I am looking forward to getting a bit freer and articles such as yours are inspiring. I also love what amateur means. thank you.

  4. It is great to know you have found my words positive. I am working on a self-portrait project at the moment. Enjoying experimenting, as their is nobody to offend. Apparently one of the reasons Rembrandt did so many self-portraits was that it allowed him to explore different expressions that would not have been suitable for paying clients. It is a difficult path to tread, balancing what you love with what is in demand.

  5. hi. I did a lot of self portraits when I started painting as it was supposed to be a good way of learning. eventually I stopped as I began to worry that I actually looked as grim and haggard as in my self portraits. it s funny now but I figured no one would ever buy one from me if they saw how I portrayed myself. vanity really!