Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bad Art

It's amazing how much bad art there is. I don't just mean the obvious suspects, like this:

Or this:

I mean the sort of art that is sold by supposedly reputable galleries. It ranges from the type of stuff that my mother thinks is "nice" ("It's so good, it could be a photograph...") to a lazy modernism that looks vauguely like Warhol, Rothko or Pollock, as painted by someone with no talent.

I say this with authority, as I've spent several evenings trawling through websites, trying to find a painting for the chimney breast in our sitting room. I thought the internet would offer an embarrassment of riches, but it has been a depressing experience.

However, I have learned some useful lessons:
  • Avoid artists with shortened names like Mick, Bob, Roz, Jen etc
  • Don't bother with eBay
  • Look up an artist you like on Google images to find kindred spirits
  • Check the sizes - I almost bought a linocut that was only marginally larger than a Burkina Faso postage stamp
  • A good print is better than an indifferent original
But in spite of this learning curve, my internet searches remained fruitless and I failed to find anything until today, when I discovered an artist in the real world who seduced me with her wares.

She was selling prints of linocuts from her studio in Jevington, a hamlet in Sussex which has a church tower that is over 1,000 years old and a restaurant that invented the banoffee pie. I'd never seen an original linocut before and probably asked a lot of stupid questions, but I hope that my enthusiasm compensated for my ignorance. The cash must have helped too.

After buying a couple of prints, we went for a walk along the South Downs Way and I took a photo, which Google Plus has shamelessly pimped up:

I'm completely baffled by Google Plus.Why has it suddenly started altering my photos and why are complete strangers adding me to their circles? Also, what is a "hang-out"?

I've never quite got to grips with social networking. Sometimes I get Facebook friend requests from complete strangers, with no message attached, and I wonder if they have confused me with someone else. I usually decline.

I'm also similarly confused by Linkedin. Why would an executive in an oil company want to connect with an impoverished bookseller from Sussex, unless they needed to be reassured that they've made the right career choice. It would be good if people had to explain why they want to connect.

Another annoying trend is the tendency for social networking sites to try and pull all of our telephone and email contacts. I can't see the sense of this, because it is only natural to compartmentalise the people we know into different groups. Most of us have a public and private persona and never the twain shall meet.

But I digress.

Returning to main theme, why is there so much bad art (and although you might say that taste is subjective, I challenge you to defend the first two paintings)? I can only assume that many people disagree with me, which is why gallery owners stock acrylics of rural scenes and people dancing.

The other day I was driving through Henley-on-Thames and saw a sign advertising a sale of Jack Vettriano paintings. In Henley!

Perhaps I'm the one who's wrong - a Lewes snob, with delusions of grandeur.

But snob or not, at least I don't call my dog Voltaire, unlike a man I saw at the vets' the other day. I must find out where he walks the dog and video him shouting "Voltaire! Voltaire!" It could be another Fenton.


George said...

Why should the visual arts differ in distribution of quality from literature or movies? I suppose that people buy bad paintings to look at without seeing, just as they buy dopey novels to daydream over.

Linked In has worked nicely for me in some ways, putting me in touch with college friends. I have only just managed to keep it from rifling through my email address list and spamming people I know and don't know. And I'm not sure why I get some of the invitations. Sometimes I can puzzle out the connection, the common acquaintance, without seeing that we have anything else in common. And then there are the sales types, whom I ignore.

George said...

Oh, and Google Hangouts are conferences carried on across the internet. Up to eight (I think) get to talk, indefinitely many more can watch and listen. I know people who use them, but haven't tried myself.

Steerforth said...

George - You're quite right. Why should the visual arts be exempt? A Crying Boy painting goes nicely with a misery memoir.

Linkedin has also worked for me, much to my surprise, putting me in touch with a couple of people who helped to get my business off the ground. It's also a useful way of confirming that the people I disliked haven't ended up being horribly successful.

The idea of a Hangout fills me with horror - I don't even like Skype.

Tim Footman said...

Sturgeon's (Second) Law applies, as always.

Salamander said...

Flicking through a concise art reference book the other day and I wondered why we only had Modernism/ surrealism images relatively recently. Why didn't Vermeer or Rembrant or Hogarth ever have a mad moment and decide to put some strategically placed squiggles, blocks of colour or stilted elephants on a canvas and call it art. Maybe someone did back in history but the world wasn't ready for it which is why we haven't heard of them.

Rog said...

If you need any tips on upgrading your social network security to military encryption levels to keep prying eyes away you could have a word with my children...

Google+ is like a really annoying old school colleague who just won't take a hint.

Steerforth said...

Tim - Too true. The internet has given us even more crap, but on the plus side I've also discovered a lot more of the remaining 10% than I would have done.

Salamander - I think it's to do with the invention of photography, which changed the raison d'ĂȘtre of visual art.

Rog - That's a perfect summing-up of Google Plus. My son's also an expert on internet security now - for some reason he thinks that the NSA would be interested in a 14-year-old boy who likes My Little Pony. 90% of our conversations are about this subject, which can be a bit of a strain at times.

joan.kyler said...

You made me laugh so much! I've wondered all those things about LinkedIn, too. What freaks me out is that people from my distant past appear. Do they really want to find me, or is LinkedIn trying to get us together, like some insidious corporate matchmaker?

I use the Internet in a limited way, mostly because despite its claims, the information available is often limited and frustrating, and I blog, and I e-mail (my favorite method of communication other than face-to-face, please don't EVER telephone me). It all feels so invasive to me.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Nobody has to use ALL the internet! It's like life, really. I've learned a lot from chats in LinkedIn groups (they can be very niche - there must be one for booksellers).

As for art - any auction houses near you? You can find good stuff for a few 100s.

Think I'll knock out a few acrylic landscapes, or one of those blobby street scenes. I'm tempted to collect production line paintings - on day they'll be worth pennies! (Actually I've got a rather nice one of a cottage.)

How do you get Google+ to turn your snaps into oil paintings?

(And why does everybody think that their use of FB and Twitter somehow isn't "social media"? ;-) )

Steerforth said...

Joan - I completely agree about the phone and have gone to great lengths to make sure that my customers can't phone me. When people used to phone, I was invariably in a supermarket or driving, so the call was a waste of their time and mine. Email is much better.

Lucy - I tend to avoid groups, as the moment I join anything my email inbox becomes deluged with messages, none of which seem to have any relevance to what I'm doing.

You should definitely get out the acrylics and knock-off a few canvases. How about a couple dancing in the rain with the Eiffel Tower in the background? I can see it now - it's a winner!

Chris Matarazzo said...

My own grandmother fancied herself a painter. That was awkward, especially as I grew older and realized quite how bad she was. Those first two paintings reminded me of her work...if she had gotten a whole lot better... Still, I loved her deeply.

kaggsysbookishramblings said...

What a wonderful post - really made me smile and I have the same sense of disbelief when faced with the modern world. As for the vision of someone yelling for Voltaire - love it! I think there are huge sections of the Internet to be avoided and I just try and use the nice and interesting ones!

Lucille said...

Student degree shows are worth a visit. I say this because it is the only way I ever managed to sell anything. You could try Brighton.

Canadian Chickadee said...

What people like to hang on their wall is very subjective, and fascinating. Personally, except for reprints of 18th century book plates or engravings, I tend to prefer "real" art as opposed to prints of Monet, Manet, Klee, or Klimt. One place I like to look is at art shows in local areas. I once found a fabulous original watercolour at an art show at Quebec House in Westerham. I could even afford it - however, I wasn't sure how I was going to get it home on the plane, as I haven't had the greatest experiences shipping stuff. So it stayed where it was, though I did take a quick snapshot of it, so I can still remember it. But for the past five years, I've been kicking myself that I didn't buy it, and try to figure something out. xoxox

Desperate Reader said...

Curious about the lino cuts you did buy, or at least the name of the artist. There is a lot if remarkably bad art out there so I suppose there must be a demand for it, somedays I find that a hopeful thing.

If you have a subject matter in mind you can google images of that along with your preferred medium, it should throw out both artists and galleries that you might like, you could also try places like the Royal Society of painter printmakers.

Judith said...

You should try here for local art luckily it is on this week
Open Studios or Art Week events happen all over the counrty and can be good places to find interesting art.

Steerforth said...

Chris - I feel the same way about my mother's embroidery-by-numbers pictures, which my father proudly framed. I thought I'd kept my feelings hidden, but recently she pointedly said that she'd left them to my cousin, "Because I know you won't want them." I said nothing.

Kaggsy - You're right about avoiding large parts of the internet. I always try to steer clear of the comments section on YouTube, as the bigotry is paricularly depressing.

Lucille - I love student shows. It's refreshing to look at work that isn't weighed down by the cultural baggage of the art world and there's a sense of fun that is absent from galleries. But they can be a devil to find. I've tried to find end of year shows at several colleges, but they seem to be more elusive than a DVD Easter egg.

Carol - I know just how you feel. I'm still haunted by a painting I didn't buy 20 years ago. I've never seem anything like it since and deeply regret the financial prudence that stopped me buying it. I should have listened to my heart, not my head.

Desperate Reader - Here's a link to the artist's website: She is clearly part of a tradition that can be traced back to Ravilious and beyond and she depicts the local landscapes that I love.

Steerforth said...

Judith - That's how I found the artist in Jevington. Artwave is a brilliant idea and many of the arists have websites showing their work, which saves the embarrassment of turning up at someone's house and realising that you hate their stuff.

Dale said...

We acquired a mature fluffy blue point Birman named Lexie, and discovered that she had never been outside. So we tried her out with a small garden excursion.

Now she goes out for a frolic several times a day on demand, and displays sheer delight at her discovery of the wide world. In fact, the long, chatty sing-song descriptions of her outdoor adventures that she gives us when she returns inside have led my husband to rename her Lexicon.

Sometimes it's not about the posh...

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...


Well, in every Art form there is good, bad, amazingly brilliant and downright awful with many other varieties in between. The visual arts are no different but there may be just more people who feel that they can paint or draw.....when, clearly, they cannot! Hence, one comes across hideous art in the form of painting and drawing rather more frequently than one would wish!

We are very conscious here in Budapest that for a relatively small country Hungary does seem to be producing a very large number of artists, most of whom have never been heard of ( and that is a good thing) far from the Danube. However, there is some brilliant young talent and, like your own discovery, one really must seek these people out and support them by buying their work. Too often people settle for an easy to live with print of a known work when with just a little more effort one can own an original which us good art!

You are not far from Brighton and we have always found that, if one selects judiciously, the Open Houses there offer wonderful art at attractive prices. We shall never forget discovering the work of Cyril Mount, now sadly dead, in a house in Hove!

Loes said...

As a Dutch artist I think I have to contribute to the discussion. There is a lot of good art, you just have to find it and the internet can be a good place, although you have to shift through a lot of hobby-artists.

A lot of my paintings and collages are about literature. That is why I follow your blog, the place where I can get inspired to read more and to laugh more!

Canadian Chickadee said...

Steerforth, in the case of buying art or books, I think you are so right - go with your heart, and you'll always find a place for it somewhere. xoxox

Lucille said...

If you like that then maybe you would be interested in this
She runs Artist's Open Houses and HOUSE in Brighton.
I first saw Rob Ryan there and missed a trick.

Steerforth said...

Dale - A mature cat sounds like a good idea. As much as I like our kittens, I'm not enjoying the wholesale destrucion of our home.

Jane and Lance - I'd love my walls to be covered in original works of art, but the prices are often well beyond my budget, so I opt for limited edition prints whenever possible. I expect there are a few bargains to be had in Hungary.

Loes - I've just looked at your website and I'm impressed! I particularly liked some of the collages - they were untitled, so I can't say which ones - and the book lists.

Carole - I know a woman who's having a very hard time with her son and she recently bought a convertible on a whim. It was a finacially reckless decision, but she doesn't regret it at all. When she's having a bad day, she drives around Brighton in her open-top car, pretending she's living another life.

Lucille - Thanks for the link. I like the look of the illustrations and will explore further. I see that there's another open house session in November, so I'll have to start saving.

Nota Bene said...

Oh my word. One day a week, I work in an office that is decorated with 'corporate art'. That is truly bad art indeed

Andrea said...

Bad Art is frustrating, but it has lots of hilarious potential. Especially if it's collected in a museum ( or hosting some monsters or scifi friends (

Lucy R. Fisher said...

I was inspired to paint again by a show of thrift store art. Some of it was rather good!

I had a look on ebay and there are an awful lot of lovers in the rain in front of well known London/Paris landmarks that have been copied from a copy of a copy of similar... They haven't even bothered to buy a postcard of Big Ben!!!

Hilair, as they say on socmed. said...

Andrea got her first with the museum of bad art which I think is a fun way to waste a half hour.

I was glad to hear you made a purchase from a local artist. I don't understand why so many people spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for enhanced prints by the likes of Thomas Kincade when there are so many good local artists at half the price.

I confess that I do own several acrylic landscapes, but they are all quite good. Honest.

Steerforth said...

Nota Bene - Corporate art sounds like an oxymoron, but I know the sort of paintings you mean - only marginally less awful than the 'inspirational' poster. Can you provide a link to any examples?

Andrea - You've just opened a door into a magical kingdom - the Museum of Bad Art and Star Wars/Kincaid sites are wonderful! I thought this painting was particularly original:

It's inspired me to start painting again.

Lucy - My problem with thrift stoes/charity shops is that they seem to think that anything in a frame is worth more than a few quid, so they charge absurd prices for the most awful pictures and probably send them to landfill a few weeks later.

James - I think that's why Artwave is such a good idea, particularly when a listing has a link to the artist's website. Galleries can be quite intimidating, as I'm often the only visitor and feel the owner's eyes following me around the room. I prefer to browse online first.

zmkc said...

There is my daughter - she does paintings as well as illustrations:
We've got a rather good mysterious oil paint one by her of two girls who look like they're from that film The Others over our fireplace.

Steerforth said...

Zoe - I think your daughter's talents are reflected in the number of commissions she receives - a very impressive portfolio. I'd suggest that she adds some more things to her online shop. Has she tried selling through any galleries in Brighton - I've seen work on sale at a place called Art Republic (they also have a website) and frankly, your daughter's artwork is much better.

Thomas at My Porch said...

So many things can be said about bad art. I will limit myself to two. 1. I love/hate how house makeover shows always seem to include the creation of an "art piece" which I think is shorthand for "art piece of shit". 2. Another ubiquitous form of "art" in both good and bad galleries is the overuse of rust/gold/bronze colored paint. It all just looks like bad hotel art.

Okay, I think I have more than two things to say. We have found buying art online can be a little dicey. We have limited ourselves to buying original stuff at general auctions where some unknown painting by an unknown artist catches our eye. So far the results, once delivered have been one that kind of lived up to expectations, one that did not and has since been donated to a charity shop, and then one I bought on a whim when bidding on the first one mentioned that I like quite a bit. The good news is they were all acquired with relatively little money.

We have also been in a habit of buying art when we travel (and not touristy art either). What we discovered when moved into a bigger house with more wall space is that most of purchase, while perfectly lovely, were all a little on the small side and we quickly ran out of small walls on which to hang them.

Finally, when we went on a Celebrity cruise (which we liked way more than we ever thought we would) we were shocked by how good their art collections are. Modern, well-curated, challenging, diverse, and not at all what you expect on a cruise ship or hotel or most public space where decor is more important than art.

As always, love your perspective.

Julia Killingworth said...

Really enjoyed reading your blogs...very entertaining thank you. In return I invite you to glance through some of my art work (just started a facebook page kindly set up by my daughter) Black Cat Designs -Julia Killingworth.

Anonymous said...

I rather like both paintings. That's enough defence for their existence I think.

Anonymous said...

Oh and loathe snobbery about 'bad art'. Everyone really can make it. Whether or not it is good is subjective. It's nonsense to say those pictures were painted by people who can't paint. Obviously they can, you just don't like how they do. I would hang them quite happily in my house. Art is about expression, it's not about being qualified and quantified. Just as we can all dance we can all make art.

Steerforth said...

Anonymous - I couldn't disagree with you more, but it's always interesting to read a different opinion.

Anonymous said...

There is so much bad art we're able to see on the internet because it is the internet. It is the same reason there are so many examples of bad writing, another art form.
The irony is that I think bad writing is a blog post about a question that never addresses the question, but chooses to lead up to it, tantalizing inadvertently, while taking the reader on tangents, only to finally end with a paragraph or two and no real conclusion.
Or maybe irony is the point?

Steerforth said...

Anonymous - I'd be more specific and call it lazy writing - it's just a blog post, not an essay or piece of journalism - written to provide a minute's amusement (or irritation, in your case) for someone who finds themselves in a queue or at a bus stop. I like tangents and a conclusion would be rather portentous for something so lightweight.

Anyway, thank you for taking the time to comment.