Here’s a scenario: you’re out and about and you’re introduced to somebody by a friend. You’re friend has been talking this person up. They’re into art just like you, they do really interesting work, your friend thinks they’re great and you think….it’s bad, really bad. What do you do?

If you’re an ex-art-schooler like me this happens to you often. Good friends with bad taste. How do you proceed? First of all, let’s take a second to dispel a widely proliferated myth about art and the art world; We’ve all heard it, we’ve all groaned about it, it goes, “there is no such thing as bad art.”

Despite what whoever spun this yarn to you says, art is not all subjective. It may be an inexact science but it can absolutely be bad. Art is also not the doodles on your notebook from grade school. Stay with me here. “Art”, like “artist” is an incredibly overused term; a catch all. When you call yourself an artist or call something art you are including it in a historic tradition that’s been going on since the beginning of time. Don’t worry, this isn’t turning into a quiz but I do have a big question, what is art?

Art is a means of communicating, it’s an invitation to see things differently. The church did it with ceiling murals by Michelangelo, Jeff Koons does it with giant balloon animals. It can be a painting, drawing, video, sound, movement, anything that makes you consider the world from a perspective you normally wouldn’t have. Art, we’re talking capital A here people, moves you. It’s a product of the culture that makes it, a reaction to the world. Just as not all Art is painting, not all paintings are Art, keep this in mind. Art is not always pretty, you don’t even always have to like it but it is always thought provoking.

Back to this friend of a friend, are they an Artist? Are they really making Art? Possibly. They are definitely making something, but is it a good something? Let’s see, does it start a conversation? How about a conversation that reaches beyond, “what is it?” If the answer to these are both no…you see what I’m getting at. If they are saying something but being held up or if it has to be explained for hours to everybody who encounters it, this might just be our elusive target, bad art.

Before I get run over by an angry mob screaming opinion, lets dispel another myth, only second to the “no bad art” myth is the “no wrong answer” myth. Again, I don’t know who started this one, but it must have been a severe miss quoting. There is not one wrong answer in art, there are thousands! Bad art, not to be confused with art you don’t like, is an ineffective attempt at communicating. Every artist ever has made bad art, probably a whole lot of it. Maybe it’s bad because it’s naive, it’s trying to say something that has already been said. Maybe the art is technically bad. If the work depends on your viewer knowing that the painting is set on Mars and those red rocks look like bean bags, it could be time for some better reference material or a drawing refresher. There are a lot of things that can make art bad but this article isn’t about critique, its about action!

So, what do we do about bad art and the people we love who love it? The answer is deceptively simple, we educate them.This doesn’t mean you have to go to art school, education can come from anywhere. When looking at or talking about art, keep in mind the piece’s intended audience and references either of you might be missing. You might even have to *gasp* research. Maybe the reason you don’t get it is because you didn’t stay after the credits at the last Captain America movie. Maybe they don’t realize it’s a rip off because they’re never seen the original. Art is about discourse so talk it out, find the root of their questionable taste and lead that horse to water.

In my case I calmly and softly cornered my friend on our drive home and asked her why she liked this person’s work and why it made her think of me. What I thought was going to turn into a minefield was actually a misunderstanding of “they make paintings, you also make paintings.” Funny right? We explained our different ideas about the work and agreed that it had a lot of room for improvement, which most art does.

Your Friends value your opinion regardless of agreeing with you so go forth and confront! The necessary degree of force is up to you, they’re your friends, but the bottom line is if you’re close enough to swap favorites you’re close enough to offer alternatives. And remember, you not understanding or agreeing with somebody else’s work is not an attack on why this art exists, its a question of whether or not how this art exists is the best or most effective at getting the point across.

– Akiko

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