Friday, September 03, 2010

Circling Back Round to Good, Accidentally | Open Thread

There's a popular notion in politics that it's all circular. That one can be so far to the right or the left that you're in many ways approaching being your opposition. Others consider this hogwash (and the fact that I can't find one good example of it suggests they're correct [or that I haven't looked long enough ...anyone?]). But I understand the notion's appeal. It helps one feel a bit more warm and fuzzy about the opposition, suggesting that our differences are simply a matter of degree, which can provide hope for finding common ground.

I'll come back to that...

But for now, following up on a quality well expressed by yesterday's video, today I point you to a wonderful article in the New York Times about Boston's Museum of Bad Art (bad art is "loosely defined as having a compelling image but poor technique"):
With its U.F.O.’s, suicidal clowns, smiling genitals and other shocking, humorous or bleakly sentimental imagery, “bad art” — or “vernacular painting” and “found art” in polite circles — has achieved the status of a genre, a tiny but devoted corner of the art world. It’s a place where the passion of an amateur is prized over the skill of a technician and where an artist’s identity is of little or no importance. It’s neither kitsch (too cheery) nor camp (too smart) nor outsider (way too good and way too expensive). The best bad art is anonymous, strange, clumsy and cheap (or free, if you’re lucky).

[Don't miss this nice interactive piece "Art So Bad It's Good" with Michael Frank, the museum’s curator, talking about some of the paintings in their exhibittion: “Bigger, Badder, Beautifuller.”]
I'm guessing that in this circle the reason the artist's identity is of little or no importance is that few expect the creator of one really good example of Bad Art to necessarily be able to produce more than one, but I'm not sure [any one?]. And that would suggest to my mind that what makes a work of art circle back round to being seen as "good" is often entirely accidental on the part of the artist.

Which brings me back (cutting through via the diameter, not through some warm and fuzzy meeting at the end of a circle) to the political question. Even if someone can be so far to the right that some of their ideas are indistinguishable from those on the left, this is clearly accidental on their part, meaning it hardly matters in terms of what you can expect of them. It doesn't make them "one of us."

Which brings me back to the Museum of Bad Art article:

The paradox of placing these works within the art world at all has roots in the controversy surrounding the legitimacy of Dada and Art Brut in past decades. It was a 1991 exhibition at the Chelsea gallery Metro Pictures, “Thrift Store Paintings,” that really put bad art on the map. The show of ugly children, distorted landscapes and other oddities, along with a book with the same title, were the brainchild of the artist Jim Shaw, a longtime collector of the horribly wonderful.

“Thrift store paintings was a nonjudgmental term,” Mr. Shaw said recently from his studio in Los Angeles. “I don’t think you should tell people what to think.”

I don't think that "thrift store paintings" is as nonjudgmental as Mr. Shaw seems to think it is (but then that's because I know most thrift stores would present a significant work of fine art for all of about 1 day before it was snatched up by those culling through them for just such finds). I also don't think many visitors to the Metro Pictures exhibition saw it as anything other than ironic (regardless of how much they have liked individual works in the show).

So what's my point?

Even when the setting would suggest similarities, in politics and in art there remains a very important difference: intent.

Consider this an open thread on intent, "bad art" you love, or the vestiges of summer. We're nonjudgmental here. :-P

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10 Comments:

Anonymous David Novak said...

Bad art circling around to good. Open argument. Shall we accept the concepts that good/bad art lies within the mind of the beholder, then move on? This is like arguing if one religion is better than another. Personal belief systems in art and life can be changed however. Every time we meet ourselves again on the circle of life we enforce one side or the other. In some cases we do change. History is full of examples in both art and life and in politics. End game.

An individual artist's work: good-to-bad-to-good? To me making art is a crap shoot. On one day and off the next. On one year and off the next. The point of truth in making art is to make it your way and keeping putting it out there. I have been in involved in the art game personally and commercially since 1960. In one year and out the next. This is not important to me. The making is. And how close this making comes to represent my ideas at the time of the making is most important. What happens with the art and to the art after its made is out of my control as an artist. The next move is to take this art stuff and attach commodity and business to it and find a market for it if this is what you want to do with your makings.

Duchamp forever changed basic definitions for what art is and isn't. Good or bad, this is a fact. This is a truth now whether we like it or not; whether we accept current definition attachments to modern ideas or postmodern ideas; or whether there is a modern or postmodern. Chicken or egg? Evaluation of specific artists and their work now are couched in reference to "I like it" or "I don't like it"; extremely personal. In one year and out the next. We call this fashion!

Do we repeatedly meet ourselves on the path of life? Yes! Is this path circular? Yes! If i continue to write on this long enough I will step back into this comment at the beginning. Ain't life grand?

Mr. Winkleman! Love your blog. Read it daily. Thanks for the caring.

David Novak
Matthews, NC

9/03/2010 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Saskia said...

good to bad, right to left, black to white; a good dichotomy is easy to love, but impossible to maintain.

Is it a line, or is it a circle? I tend to think that something that looks linear is probably really a circle, but perhaps a circle with a larger scale, like the horizon. Or maybe these opposing things are really spirals that moves inward and outward at the same time. In all reality, lines and circles are all oversimplifications of the issue, because what we're really talking about is the good in the bad in good in the bad. Either, or, and both. To top it off, things often aren't really what they say they are.
An example from recent politics:
Saw a campaign sign for a Republican candidate in the recent primaries that said "Limited government, Strong National Defense." Am I the only one who sees the contradiction there? Since when is the military not part of the government, and how can it be big if the government should be small?

Yes, like Ed said , Intent matters. Scale matters, too. Context, authors, contributors, influences, references, sources. Add it all together, and you should be able to get to an answer. but if the question was black or white, you may find that the answer is .... red!

9/03/2010 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Carla said...

I had a large collection of mostly thrift store art paintings, all collected in the 1990s. I was always uncomfortable that I liked them for reasons which were not intended. I even made some loose rules for acquisition, the main one being that I would not collect something for purely sarcastic reasons. I had to be genuinely inspired/intrigued by the painting, not just amused by how bad it was.

The unusual color combinations and spatial incongruities were very exciting visually. They really helped me expand my own visual tropes. But I really was most drawn to paintings in which the artist became deeply engaged in the process of painting. You could see it. Things were still painted very 'badly', but they stayed engaged in making it, and really put out.They focussed and produced something else (besides what they intended, and believed, they had produced). I love this from the human aspect, but also, it really syncs up with what happens for more experienced artists. The difference being that experienced artists become aware (sometimes) of that stuff which they did not intend*, and are then faced with the choice to continue with their own agenda, or follow an unintended one. I love thrift store art paintings, because they can sometimes demonstrate this amazing effect of the painting process: what happens in the making, in an explorative making, expands our comprehension in ways that the implementation pre-conceived ideas do not.

*Explorative painting often involves going in one direction, usually motivated by one's identity as an artist, having that evolve in cool ways..... or so you think. A more experienced artist will see that something else happened while she was following a perfectly wonderful to a recognizably successful painting. Confronted with this "other" paint stuff happening, she then decides whether or not she believes this unintended reality, that she did not really manage or intend, has merit.

9/03/2010 10:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oftentimes I equate overintellectuallized institutional art with bad art. There's plenty of it out there, some of it is in fact good, but much of it is philoshy so far mutated beyond art that it is alarming that we actually call it art. As far as I can tell,the only reason we take much of it seriously is because it has received financial and institutional backing etc. Furthermore, a great deal of this highly conceptual art has nothing to stand upon if separated form its institutional setting. In other words this form of bad art has a compelling idea without a compelling form and to me that is worse than a compelling image with bad technique. Incidentally, Michael Kimmelman's accidental masterpiece is very relevant to this topic
-Anon 101

9/04/2010 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Hey non-judgmental Ed, in the interest of expanding the historic realm of "bad art", it should be noted that Marcia Tucker curated "Bad Painting" coining the term at the New Museum in 1978, probably one of the most critically acclaimed shows of that nascent institution. It included: James Albertson, Joan Brown, Eduardo Carrillo, William Copley (Cply), Charles Garabedian, Robert Chambless Hendon, Joseph Hilton, Neil Jenney, Judith Linhares, P. Walter Siler, Earl Staley, Shari Urquhart, William Wegman, Nicholas Africano. A second iteration of "Bad Painting" that seems to derive from late 1970-1980's Neo-Expressionism has been promoted in Europe and would include Shaw was featured at Vienna’s Museum of Modern Art (MUMOK) called "Bad Painting – good art" in 2008 included: Albert Oehlen, Martin Kippenberger, Werner Büttne , John Currin, Lisa Yuskavag and their forerunners: Francis Picabia, René Magritte, Asger Jorn, GeorgBaselitz, Philip Guston. Many of the questions of "bad art" overlap kitsch, in it's true, pre-Greenbergian sense, and are less based on class (highbrow vs. lowbrow) than on mass production. For those of you wishing a greater insight, I'd recommend reading Hermann Broch's 1933 "Notes on the Problem of Kitsch".

9/04/2010 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

So if "Bad Art" is good art and "Good Art" is bad art then isn't the fact that some few artists receive lots of money and fame for what they do and most others do not show that the gallery system is arbitrary? You've seem to suggest Edward, that intention matters, but no matter how well-intended or powerful a work is it still does not get a curator or gallerist into your studio to look unless they "like" you. Therefore most artists whether they have something worthy of an exhibition or not are left out of the circle.

9/05/2010 06:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm proud to say that I've been to both the Somerville and Dedham locations of the Museum of Bad Art. Take it from me, this stuff does not inspire questions about quality and value judgments. Mostly it makes you wonder what on earth people were thinking. (What possessed someone to make a divisionist painting of an old man in his underpants?) The wall labels are written in the high museological style, to hilarious effect. Highly recommended.

Pace the ill-chosen subhead, the art at Diesel is often rather good, and the food dependably yummy. The baristas are so butch that several of them have coffee-themed tattoos. Also highly recommended.

9/05/2010 09:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Funny Franklin, but I'd prefer "Sunday on the Pot with George" over some Christopher Wool paintings, of course with one of his I could buy (or afford the leisure time to find) many paintings of the other. Why is this the case? What propels one over another?

9/06/2010 01:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

What propels one over another?

As art, they each fail in their own ways. Commercially there's a straightforward answer to that question: Wool aspires to a certain kind of career in the art establishment and has acted accordingly, while the anonymous dauber of the MOBA painting did not.

9/06/2010 10:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Consider this an open thread on intent

maybe it isn't so much the artists intent, but rather the viewers intent, and its up to the artist to widen the viewers as much as possible.

consider two symbols, the crucifixion was once regarded by society as the most humiliating means of being put to death reserved for the lowest of the lowlife. Christians now see that same symbol as an incarnation of giving and a threshold to the divine. (from the intent of humiliation to that of salvation)

or the swastika, which many in the west still regard as embodying all that is inhuman of ourselves, of ultimate disregard and 'self' aggrandizement, ... while its origins are still rooted in fertility, auspicious luck and goodness.

Not to say whatever you believe is the truth, but that intent alone on the artists part is not the full equation to art which moves its audience. The audience must be willing to be moved- hence our reliance on recognition of the artist and styles and lieu's of exposition - guarantee-rs of some sort of safety for the audience to risk opening their horizons of intent while viewing that art work in question.

Intent is but a part of the art experience.

9/07/2010 07:03:00 AM  

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