The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Art in the Attic


Yesterday, I confessed that stored in my attic are paintings that I’ve deemed unworthy for public viewing. They’re all works that I painted with conviction and enthusiasm. However, my intentions didn’t always work out or, when they did, I felt the work was too personal. The one posted here is a good example. It’s entitled “Measured Life at 51” and is part of my annual series of self-portraits. This one was done years ago during my second round of chemotherapy. I was fed-up with measuring everything: food, drink, medications, my weight, and so on. Measuring became tedious and a constant reminder that I was ill. I’m pretty certain that no one would want to purchase this work and hang it in their living room! So, it’s in my attic.

This has led me to question my judgment about what’s “good” or “bad” art. Is there really such a thing as “bad” art? I’ve decided to explore this a little more.

According to the Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Massachusetts, bad art is “art that is created with the best of intentions, but gone horribly wrong." I’m not certain what they mean by “gone horribly wrong,” but it might mean that art critics and the general public would find it amateurish or offensive. When I look at some of the work posted online by this museum that seems to be the case.

But, there must be more to it. Tolstoy wrote a lot about art, and expressed strong opinions on “good” versus “bad.” In a nutshell, he wrote that good art is intelligible and comprehensible while bad art is unintelligible and incomprehensible. Among my attic paintings are works so esoteric that Tolstoy would label them as “bad.” Maybe he has a point. Is the purpose of visual art to communicate? Is that the purpose of all the arts?
By extension, how important is the artist's intended message? The viewer won't necessarily interpret it the way the artist intended. If there's miscommunication, does that make the art "bad"? I don't think so.

Can art ever be “bad” if what makes it art in the first place is the intention of the artist? What do you think?

18 comments:

Robin said...

I think art serves many purposes... when art functions as a way of expressing what words can't say it helps to heal and it doesn't matter if it's good or bad. I think your self portrait is successful for that reason.

PAMO said...

I remember this painting Kathy from last year... and I think it is excellent! I agree that buyers for it are limited because it is so personal but it tells me more about you as an artist. That you went through the real life struggle of cancer and then put it on canvas expands you to the viewer. If I were to visit an exhibition of your work in a museum- this is one I would spend extra time looking at.

I do think art with good intentions can still be "bad". The good news is that if the idea behind the painting has merit, the artist can work from there.

Peggy Stermer-Cox said...

Hi Kathy,

I can't answer the "good art" "bad art" question without going into long, circular thought paragraphs. Does it come back to the problem of defining what is art?

When you talk of earlier work, I think of Cezanne's early pieces. Compared to his late work, they are difficult. Yet, I really enjoy seeing the path, the struggle, the enlightenment and development that comes with experience. I would miss so much if I didn't see Cezanne's early work.

I like your painting Kathy! I imagine you touch on a moment that many people share.

L.W.Roth, said...

So much for Tolstoy--obviously from War and Peace, he believed more is better. Lots of words makes for a good book. I couldn't get past page 50.

This attic painting of yours Kathy is intriguing, personal. It's good--but the subject (cancer) is a bummer. When I told people I had cancer, they stopped calling. Cancer is scary. Why would they be interested in a painting of my frightful ordeal? They wouldn't. That's for my eyes only.

I think good art is art that stops people in their tracks and pulls them across the room to take a closer look, read the artist's name, read the title. The subject can be anything that moves them. The subject would probably be something universally personal?

Casey Klahn said...

The formal parts of this art are wonderful. The subject is hard, but that doesn't make art bad - perhaps it has a limited market. What a great illustration of art vs the market! Love it - love the painting.

I will try to say something smart later about this topic. In the studio today. BTW, if you need some illustrations of failed art, I have boxes and boxes of that right here!

Kathy said...

Hi Folks - so sorry! Quick correction: the chemo treatments were for Crohn's Disease not cancer. I should have written that in my post.

-Don said...

I spent several minutes last year admiring this painting. I just got finished spending several minutes with it again today. One day I want to see it in person. It's a masterpiece. A work of art that somehow tugs at my heart, saddens me, encourages me, and inspires me - all at the same time. I understand that it is so personal to you, but from the moment I first saw it, it became personal to me, as well. This is definitely a work of art that succeeds. Nope, it doesn't belong in someone's living room. It belongs in a museum.

I've come to accept that several paintings I did over the past year will probably never hang in anyone's living room. But, I still have to get them out of my system and onto canvas. Then, the narcissist in me requires that I go ahead and show all of them, no matter how personal.

My opinion about 'good' or 'bad' art is just that, my opinion. I decided long ago that I won't get caught up in that discussion. It's too subjective - just like two of my least favorite words, 'pretty' and 'ugly'.

I will say, though, that art which resonates with me is art that is created "with conviction and enthusiasm". I believe that this always transcends from the easel experience to the viewing experience.

-Don

Nancy Goldman said...

Good art vs bad art...now there's a subject that could go on forever. Some of my paintings that I consider to be really bad are ones that seem to get the most positive comments and ones that I love get little or no reaction. I'm not sure what that says about my choices in art but it never fails to make me chuckle.

Karen Martin Sampson said...

I think we as artists are probably the last people to know if what we do strikes a chord with others...I did a very personal painting that was meant to be about "birth" and ended up being a painting of my Mother's agony and struggle with Alzheimers. It got exhibited in a gallery and sold the first week! Amazing. I really thought no one would want to look at such a thing hanging on their wall. Your painting is personal yes, but very intriguing and well composed. It draws one in and offers questions about the mystery of living. For me this puts it in the "good" category!

hwfarber said...

I think this is a painting of thoughts you needed to get on canvas. I agree with Don that it's not a subject for someone's living room wall--a museum would be an appropriate place; it is good.

Kathy said...

Hi Robin - that makes sense to me! Thanks so much.

Hi Pam - thank you! I never thought of this painting's suitability in a museum, but I guess the theme is becoming universal. I agree with you about the importance of the artist's idea. It's critical to even having a chance for success in a work of art. Good point!

Hi Peggy - yes, Cezanne is a great example! Our path as artists is important, and I appreciate those like you who take the time to explore those paths and learn from them.

Hi LW - I agree with you about what makes art great. So true! But, what grabs me may not have the same effect on another person. So, "great" art that finds a home in a museum is subjected to other standards. I can't say that I agree with the set of standards used in all cases. This is something I've been wanting to investigate more. What are the standards used by major museums (assuming that they each use a different set of standards with some overlap). Do you know??

Hi Casey - thanks so much. Don't we all have boxes of "failures" stored away somewhere? They're a testament to our years of dedicated practice.

Hi Don - gee! I'm blushing. Really, I've never seen my painting through the lens of greatness, so I'm not certain how to deal with so much praise. Perhaps I'm my own worst critic.
I wouldn't label you as a narcissist - ever. Most of us want to connect with others through our art - it's how we communicate. The only reason that I don't show all my art is because I'm basically shy. You may not believe it, but it's true. Some things are just too personal. I agree with you about avoiding the labels "good" and "bad" when it comes to art. I raised the question to see what others would say, but I've never been comfortable with those labels. You're wise!

Hi Nancy - it seems like we artists are the worst judges of our own work. I can identify with what you wrote!

Hi Karen - just goes to show that we aren't good judges of our own work! But, I guess that if it's important enough for us to paint then there's a good chance that it will be good enough for someone else.

Hi Hallie - thank you! Everytime I look at this painting it reminds me of that difficult time. Maybe that's why it's in the attic!

Kathy said...

Hi Robin - that makes sense to me! Thanks so much.

Hi Pam - thank you! I never thought of this painting's suitability in a museum, but I guess the theme is becoming universal. I agree with you about the importance of the artist's idea. It's critical to even having a chance for success in a work of art. Good point!

Hi Peggy - yes, Cezanne is a great example! Our path as artists is important, and I appreciate those like you who take the time to explore those paths and learn from them.

Hi LW - I agree with you about what makes art great. So true! But, what grabs me may not have the same effect on another person. So, "great" art that finds a home in a museum is subjected to other standards. I can't say that I agree with the set of standards used in all cases. This is something I've been wanting to investigate more. What are the standards used by major museums (assuming that they each use a different set of standards with some overlap). Do you know??

Hi Casey - thanks so much. Don't we all have boxes of "failures" stored away somewhere? They're a testament to our years of dedicated practice.

Hi Don - gee! I'm blushing. Really, I've never seen my painting through the lens of greatness, so I'm not certain how to deal with so much praise. Perhaps I'm my own worst critic.
I wouldn't label you as a narcissist - ever. Most of us want to connect with others through our art - it's how we communicate. The only reason that I don't show all my art is because I'm basically shy. You may not believe it, but it's true. Some things are just too personal. I agree with you about avoiding the labels "good" and "bad" when it comes to art. I raised the question to see what others would say, but I've never been comfortable with those labels. You're wise!

Hi Nancy - it seems like we artists are the worst judges of our own work. I can identify with what you wrote!

Hi Karen - just goes to show that we aren't good judges of our own work! But, I guess that if it's important enough for us to paint then there's a good chance that it will be good enough for someone else.

Hi Hallie - thank you! Everytime I look at this painting it reminds me of that difficult time. Maybe that's why it's in the attic!

Dan Kent said...

I think that mortality, depression, boredom, tedium, fear are all universal parts of human experience. Mortality lurks behind everything any of us do - we know it is there, we can evade it sometimes, but cannot escape the fact.

Before you described your personal source for the painting, I understood it to be about mortality. I believe the painting is meaningful because of this. I appreciated the book "The Bell Jar" although I have never been suicidal. One of my favorite poems is about depression and the medications the depressed person had to take, although I have never been clinically depressed. But there is shared experience that allows me to appreciate and find meaning in these literary works.

It is the same with this work. In fact, I believe it is among the most accessible of your works. It reminded me right off of your self portrait "My Vanity" and the fly. It could be in the same series.

I think this is an amazing painting, aside from the subject matter, it has the same unique composition and arrangement of objects (although real) that I see in your latest series, and I agree with Don that it belongs in a museum. I want to explore more of your attic!

Celeste Bergin said...

I love this measurement painting from your attic...and I agree with Don, it is an important work...nothing to be glossed over. It reminds me of a painting I saw once of many purple hands over a body...it was explained to me that the purple hands represented paramedics over a person in crisis. I was awestruck! I feel just that way over this work--it shows how overwhelmed you were. I have to add..I am very glad that your treatment apparently put you back on track again and that it was successful.
I dislike plenty of art, but I am aware that the world is a big place and there is room for everything. .... the only art I really wish there was no room for is Thomas Kinkade's.

Kathy said...

Hi Dan - You never cease to amaze me! In fact, this painting is part of the series that includes "My Vanity" (the painting you referred to). I have a very long-term series of self-portraits. They're an annual record of the events of my life. That's why I don't share too many of them. You've seen the only two that I've ever shown. I appreciate your support and, although I can't imagine a museum ever hanging my work, your generous comments make me happy :-) This goes for the rest of you, too!!

Hi Celeste - thank you! I'm really bowled over that you and others think so highly of this work. I've lost objectivity because I'm so close to it. Like you, T.K.'s work troubles me. But, the IRS is taking care of that! lol

Ann Buckner said...

I admired your painting and how thought provoking it is before I read your posts and the comments. It spoke to me of how we all measure our life, our time in increments of minutes and hours, work or play, family or duties, bad or good. Your painting deserves the light of day, to be admired for the skill and creativeness one sees but also because it speaks to the inner person.

Mark Sheeky said...

Measured Life is a great painting that many people will empathise with, that for many with have MORE meaning than 99% of paintings out there, so it's good according to Tolstoy.

I think an unskilled artist can make bad art, by giving no message, or worse, by giving no message when none was intended.

Wm Cook said...

Hi Katherine

I couldn't resist responding to the Tolstoy thing. Not that I know anything about him other than he was a literary genius, his comment betrays that he is not an artist. He sounds more like an onlooker. He hasn't got a clue about the subjective depths to which we dive. His statement about intelligence and comprehension doesn't get at any of this.

Your attic painting does have a somber feel now that you've told us about the Chrones, and one can see why you don't want to put it out there (it being so personal and all). But look at how it anticipates your Laws of Nature series (assuming these came after).

Good art doesn't always have to be pointing outward for people like Tolstoy and the other onlookers to dice up with their 'tickle me fancy' yardsticks. You weren't doing that with this piece. You were working through a serious intestinal situation which also shows. That banner does dominate the composition. Good art isn't necessarily presentational.

In fact isn't the art that "communicates" outwardly called illustration? Not that there is anything wrong with illustration--it's how I make a living--using some spare art talent to communicate specific messages instantly for bread.

The good stuff relates on a soul level where we all converge, way deeper than our mundane concerns here in this life here below.

Wm

I am really enjoying all
your commentors especially LW with the Tolstoy stuff, and not so fast with the failed art comment, Casey. And Leo--stick to what you know. Oh wait, you're dead.