What is "Bad Art"?

Posted by Gregory Johnson on


"Life Drawing" (Francois Nobade, 1918)

A while ago, I was in the process of submitting some work to a publication, and the editor wrote in his submission guidelines, "bad art should be punished". This gave me pause. I couldn't help but think, "Who is THIS guy?". A seasoned art critic with years of practical experience? A grad student intern? Some guy? What constitutes "bad" art? What constitutes good? And why "punish" the artist based on one's opinion? By "punish" I assume he meant rejection.

Whenever I think of good and bad in the arts, I think of The Siskel and Ebert show. In case you don't know, they hosted a very popular television show in the 1980s in which they reviewed newly released movies. They would give a "thumbs up" if they liked it, and a "thumbs down" if they didn't. Sometimes they disagreed and it would result in one thumb up and one down. So who was right? Both of them were highly regarded critics with experience and pedigree. Was one of them dumb? One brilliant? No. It just boils down to whether you like something or not, regardless of education, experience or IQ.

My dad was a pragmatic man and detested Picasso Cubism until I showed him his early work. Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. So whenever I look at a work of art I ask myself, "Is there passion? Is this just another still life or is it alive? Is this a copy cat Pollack with no sense of composition or are the colors carefully placed with emotion, intelligence, and energy?"  Finally and most importantly, "Do I like it?" If I say yes, well and good. If I say no, so be it, but five minutes later someone will remark how great it is.

So go ahead pal, punish bad art. Just be sure you know what it is.