What is bad art?
Every artist at some point has viewed a piece of art and thought “Wait, people like this? People think this is good? Even if you aren’t an artist, you may find yourself staring at a $10,000 red stripe across a canvas in an art gallery while scratching your head and thinking is this art really worth that much?
The art world constantly struggles to assign a consistent value to art. I’ve gotten into arguments with classmates in college over, so-called, bad art and whether the artist deserved attention. I’ve witnessed too many online trolls asserting that someone’s art was in fact lacking in talent, skill, and attractiveness even though thousands of people were double tapping the sh*t out of that post. Some art gets seen, some art doesn’t. Some art gets approval from the masses, and some art gets a handful of likes and maybe a heart emoji for a comment.
It doesn’t appear to make sense.
When you are trying to become a successful artist yourself, it can be really frustrating to see art that you don’t respect get a lot of attention while your art collects digital dust. But it’s bad art, you think.
Well, I have a few explanations as to why ‘bad’ art gets attention. But first–
There is no inherently good or bad art.
What is bad art to me is another person’s favorite style. What you see as “good” art is being ripped apart in comments somewhere on the internet. Many people have tried to define what makes art good or bad, but it’s a waste of time to do so.
When you find yourself declaring a piece of art is bad, I encourage you to unpack that. Obviously, you don’t like the art, but why? Is it the colors, the perspective, the subject matter, the technical skills, the style, etc.? Is it just because you’re jealous of that artist’s success and want to devalue what they do so you can protect your own ego? (I’ve been there!)
It’s okay to not like someone’s art, but don’t ever fool yourself into thinking you have a universal definition for bad art. Everyone has different taste in art.
Why “Bad” Art Gets Attention
Okay, so let’s say you do like the art you’re viewing and you’d like to think you have a pretty good sense of taste. You see something “bad” and it’s getting a lot of attention. Why?
1. The art is new, different, or reinterpreted.
I’ve personally looked at art that was sold for millions and let out a “psh, I could do that.” And yeah, a lot of us probably could replicate the art that we deem as “bad”, but that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter how many people are capable of creating that same composition. It doesn’t matter how simple the art is or how easily it can be replicated. It’s about who did a new thing first.
The creative world loves to re-imagine old techniques. To combine elements that haven’t been seen together. To shake things up and go against the grain. Maybe the end result doesn’t look attractive, or maybe the artist didn’t have a lot of technical skill, but the fact that it’s something different can create a lot of buzz in the art world.
2. It’s about the message.
I used to sit through a lot of critiques in my art classes, where an artist would show a very, let’s say interesting piece of art. I personally didn’t like the art and naturally labeled it as bad art in my head. Then the artist would give their reasoning for what the art means and suddenly everything shifted.
Art is often not just something to look at. It’s created as social commentary. As a means to discomfort an audience or make the audience think critically about whatever the artist wants them to focus on. Why it was created sometimes means more than the creation itself. (i.e. Conceptual Art)
It doesn’t have to be pretty, or technically skillful. Art that makes us think and shifts our perspective is effective art.
3. It’s about the artist.
I tell all of my consulting clients about the power of their brand and their story as an artist because it can matter more than their art. Think about the artists you love. Once you get to know the artist behind the work, it changes how you see their work, right?
Think about Banksy and Andy Warhol. Their art alone isn’t what draws in a massive audience. It’s their story. Banksy for being a veritable mystery and Warhol for manipulating the commercialized aspect of art and turning himself into a celebrity. Once the artist becomes more interesting than the art, anything they create will get attention and meaning deeper than the art alone.
4. It’s about showing up and making art.
Sometimes a piece of art will get a crap ton of attention just because an artist was in the right place at the right time. It can seem like luck, but it’s actually because an artist continued to show up and make art even when people weren’t paying attention.
Last fall, one of my Instagram videos took off out of my control. The original video on my account has over 800k impressions and it was shared on numerous big art accounts. I will be the first to say that the art isn’t anything special. It’s not better than other art and it didn’t necessarily deserve that much attention, yet it was seen and liked by many.
Make art. Share it with the world. Do it consistently and do it often. It’s not the artist’s job to be concerned with whether the public will think it’s good or bad. The artist needs to make art and put it out there. I promise you, if you do this, the chances your work will get attention will increase dramatically.
5. Sometimes people are just nice to artists. (Weird, right?)
Last week, I wrote a post about why you should support other artists and I mentioned the power of kindness. There will come a time when you see a piece of art that is technically bad, its subject matter is tired and overdone, the artist’s style isn’t developed, their story isn’t interesting, and overall the piece really is just ‘meh’, yet it will have loads of positive feedback.
Why? Because some people are just really f**king nice and want to encourage that artist to keep doing what they love. Don’t get your undies in a bundle because someone is being nice to another artist. It’s a miracle in this digital time where trolls run rampant.
Art doesn’t have to deserve or earn kindness. Positive feedback can be given freely. Surround yourself with a positive community and be kind to other creators and you’ll likely get the same positive encouragement with your own art.
Finally, be careful how you ask “Why is this art getting attention?”
You can ask this with an open mind, or with your ego. When you genuinely wonder what elements made a piece of art successful in the public domain without judging the art as bad, your mind is open. You can actually hear the answers to questions like why is this art interesting? What is the message? What is the story? Why is this meaningful to so many people? And then ultimately, how can you replicate this success with your own art?
When you ask this question with your ego you’re not actually open to the real answers. Your ego is primed and ready to tear that art and the artist down to protect itself. Your ego turns it into a competition and I want you to catch yourself when that happens. Artists don’t need to compete with each other. Don’t elevate yourself by standing on the crushed feelings of other artists.
Bad art getting attention and good art being ignored is part of being an artist, but you just have to keep putting your work out there until the spotlight eventually moves to you. But if you waste your time judging other artists’ work, you’re only distracting yourself from the cool stuff you could be making.
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P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.