We are human beings; we laugh at other people and at farts. We exist with brains that are programmed to respond, consciously or subconsciously to symbols such as sounds (farts, language, music etc) and of course to visual things such as shapes and colors. Our brains can be programmed to respond in certain ways to arbitrary things; just look at the fashion industry and you can see temporary cultural brainwashing at it’s finest – umm plaid bell-bottom leisure suits? – no thanks.
Fine art (as opposed to commercial art) is a centuries old business that uses symbols to (ultimately) make money – and things of value tend to stick around in a culture – yet some of it you might wonder why the heck it was even made. You aren’t ignorant for having an opinion that differs from the ‘experts’ in your society – I mean every generation has their Bay City Rollers or Sha Na Na and just because you righteously feel with every fiber of your being that something blowdried and encrusted in tartan sucks and Sha Na Na will always be the greatest – it’s ok.
Your opinion on the arts is just as valid as a museum curator, art gallery owner or Top of The Pops host. You can always change your mind on stuff like fashion because often it really wasn’t your choice of attire to begin with – the only people in the 1970’s who people dress like now are Sha Na Na – (except maybe not the gold lamé suits) – but look at their guests who, with the exception of The Ramones, all look like they are extras in a Saturday Night Fever type movie instead of Sha Na Na’s revved up rock and roll variety show!
Sometimes you have to have faith that certain fine art endures as meritorious even if you don’t understand why at first. Ok and if your girlfriend has good memories of the Bay City Rollers then they must be ok – just don’t expect me to discuss Ian #2’s tight pants or fluffy hair – yes I know Sha Na Na had more tight pants per capita but that has nothing to do with why I like them – their music and style is timeless – grease for peace!!!
If you have ever opened an art history book you’ve probably encountered fine art that you think is ‘bad’. For example a photograph of a famous Rothko painting looks like crap but (and I can attest from personal experience that) – you have to experience color field paintings in situ to ‘get it’ – the effect is not from the shapes but simply (and ingeniously) how the color of the paint envelopes the viewer when you stand in front of a properly lit color field canvas. Perhaps this is why the Rothko painting is poorly lit in the tv show Madmen – to show that the canvas was purchased for an investment rather than by someone who actually understood it’s visual potential haha! (and if you think ‘it looks ok there’ just remember all those people who wore plaid bell-bottom pants in the 1970’s)!
Personal taste is your starting point for art appreciation – the next stop is trusting that famous art that you might not understand at first glance can enrich your life in ways you might never expect. I use the artist David Byrne as my benchmark – I rarely understand anything he has done but I do trust that he is a creative genius and while a blob of paint on cardboard (that I remember he wrote about with such love once) might not be within my scope of understanding (yet) – if he says it has artistic worth then it must have (because he has dedicated his life to the arts and made a lot of people happy with it). You might know about the famous Yoko Ono art piece that required the viewer to climb a ladder and view a canvas on the ceiling with a hanging magnifying glass to see a tiny “yes” on it – John Lennon thought that was way cool! That art lead directly to one of the most effective anti-war campaigns ever put into action. Thanks to the effort of celebrity artists like John and Yoko it was cool to have common sense and show your humanity rather than be a sheep who just followed their insane political leaders.
Terrence McKenna (famous thinker active 1960s -1990’s) stated that bees have no history, it doesn’t matter what happened or what will happen as they have basically perfected themselves to not need history while humans are all about history. History is ‘made’ by events that change the paradigm – plaid bell-bottom pants had to be introduced to the public as a choice and with extensive marketing those symbols were sold as ‘fashionable’ but they now just define a time in history that no one wants to admit they were a part of. Many people have probably claimed to have been at the Woodstock festival in 1969 (featuring Sha Na Na and not the Bay City Rollers) but a lot of them didn’t really go – and yet no one admits to the 1970’s era plaid pants they bought thinking that they would look great in them.
Paul Gauguin painted Still Life with Three Puppies in 1888 (after all what is less still than a puppy? take that you un-cool status quo!) – of course he wasn’t the one who changed the paradigm of what ‘classic’ still life paintings had been for the past couple of hundred years (static, polished, realistic looking little canvases) it was the Impressionists in the past two decades prior to 1888. Realism is not what makes art that is pleasing (the invention of photography of course was the death blow of fine art attempting to look as realistic as possible). The charming feeling you get from a painting like this 24 x 36 inch canvas is subtly enhanced by the subconscious symbolism of male and female symbols (tails pointing up and the pears for the male- cups for the female etc). The effect is that this canvas is about life, it’s messy, it’s warm it’s lovable! Of course the dullards at the MoMa gave a dry and dusty interpretation of it ” The incongruous scale and placement of these objects on a dramatically upturned tabletop results in a disorienting composition.” What do you think? 🙂
I use the term ‘bad art’ to describe my paintings that have unintended (or subconsiously inserted) symbolism and/or just bad juxtaposition of motifs. Like I painted a giant clam in the background of a pretty horse – I was just thinking of a quick seascape behind the horse and now it it’s a text book Freudian slip but not anywhere as hilariously embarrassing as my killer whale painting (at least to me). On both on those paintings I simply wanted to paint the animal and then put a background with it – nothing was planned out – but after the animal was painted I then hurried the backgrounds without thinking much except ‘seascape’ and ‘desert island’ and then filled them in.
The cloud looks like a penis, the waves look like a vagina, the mountain looks like cleavage etc – man, I publicly displayed this without even seeing those things! Luckily I’m punk rock enough to not have some kind of serious artist rep to live up to!! I’m not embarrassed about erotic art or art that uses the modern interpretation of ‘irony’ but I am embarrassed that I didn’t see the blatant symbolism right in front of my face!! I don’t think it will warp a young mind or anything negative, in fact it is about creation and joy and all that good stuff, but there is still a part of me that says ‘dude, that is bad art’!
I am proud of the unintended fish shape that happened below the whale and while writing this I even noticed that the bottom right corner looks like a stretched out face (I wonder if it was put in Photoshop and ‘un-stretched’ who it would look like?? – quite frankly the thought is a little unsettling to think that my subconscious hid a secret story in my painting!! Sometimes you have to look closer at an artwork to get all the meanings but thankfully that is entirely optional!
At first glance you might not think that Lenny (the fat guy in the wife-beater t-shirt and sax strap) dancing with childish glee in the Sha Na Na concert song performance below is the greatest art performance in the world – but it is! I hope you find such joy in your life as Lenny did with his friends in Sha Na Na!
And one more important thing! One of the greatest moments of my life (other than seeing the Dead Milkmen live back before Punk Rock Girl made them ‘famous‘) was when I picked up their brand new album and found that they had shared my love of Sha Na Na in one of the greatest tribute songs ever!!!! So perfect in every way!!!