Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fancy frames

This week's column in the Weekly Volcano was a toss-off. I was busy last week with PFLAG business and doctor appointments (routine) and observing the Referendum 71 signature count and visiting an old friend and other stuff and did not get to see an exhibition I could review. So I knocked this one off right at deadline without giving it much thought. Please be aware that it was written at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

Fancy frames
And other pet peeves


I’ve been told by friends whose artistic judgment I respect that my reviews are too forgiving. They might be right. Fact is, I try to give artists the benefit of the doubt, and I’m never as critical in my reviews as I’d sometimes like to be. Mama said, “If you can’t say anything good about someone don’t say anything at all.” That’s kind of a hard order for a critic to follow.

Fact is, after more than 25 years writing art reviews I’ve become easily bored. It takes something awfully good to get me excited about a work of art. Most of what I see has not only been done, it’s been done to death.

It’s hard to say what may get me worked up. I know it when I see it. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to say what turns me off.

Fancy frames. A beautiful frame will not make a bad painting good. Keep it simple.

Impressionism. Impressionism was over more than a century ago. You can’t do it better than Monet and Degas, so quit trying. Find your own damn voice and quit trying to sing with their voices.

Calendar kitsch. From clich├ęd landscapes to cute animal pictures, if it looks like a calendar it damn well better include days of the week.

Sentimentality. That’s one of those know-it-when-you-see-it things.

Split formats. What’s with the popularity of paintings done on two or three panels with the image continuing from one to the other? Why is that so freaking popular? Wouldn’t it look the same if it was done on a single panel? Such gimmicks not only fail to make bad art good, they can sometimes make otherwise good art bad.

Joseph Cornell wannabees. Joseph Cornell was a great artist. He put little objects in little boxes. Now there are millions of artists who put little objects in little boxes. See “Impressionism” above. (Feel free to substitute Picasso or Dali for Cornell.)

Pretty glass. Glass art should be judged by the same criteria as any other art, not adored just because it’s pretty. Prettiness is a natural byproduct of the media.

Just because it’s …whatever. I constantly see where people make a big deal out of art created from unusual media. How do I explain this? Let’s say an artist makes a sculpture of a dog, and it’s made out of, say, dog biscuits. Oh how cute. But if it doesn’t look more exciting, beautiful or unique than a similar sculpture of a dog made out of wood or clay, the dog biscuits don’t make it art. Yet I see hundreds of examples of art that’s no better than any other but is praised because it’s made out of unusual materials. Sorry, that’s just not a good basis for judging art.

The obligatory hook. This applies to abstract art only. An artist creates a really nice abstract form. It could easily stand on its own as a work of art, but the artist is afraid the public won’t “get it,” so he tags on a head or eyes or wings or something to make it look like a person or animal. That’s a cop-out, and it may ruin what otherwise might have been good art. It’s a lack of courage or of imagination.

That last sentence is the key. Courage and imagination. I really don’t care so much about skill. Technique is secondary at best. Just get out there and do something unique and gutsy.

1 comment:

David A. P. said...

Speaking of cop-outs that may ruin what otherwise might have been good, what about, "Please be aware that it was written at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek." :)