7 Bad Habits of Highly Ineffective Artists

The MoBA!

While I’m generally pretty positive when I write for other arts blogs, I like to think of Art at Bay as a buffer to the unconditional positive reinforcement we’ve grown up with.  If you’re a fledgling artist hoping to  (or already) exhibit your art publicly here is some straight advice from an art critic: avoid these habits like a swarm of killer bees.

On the other hand if you’re an artist and hope to not be taken seriously by respectable galleries, artists, and dealers consider this your to-do list.

1. Self-indulgent self-expression

Contrary to what your middle school art teacher taught you, self-expression is not the whole point of art.  Please save that for your diary.  There’s nothing wrong with art being rooted in personal experience.  However, art that is intended to be seen by the public should be made like it was intended that way.  For professional artists, what other people think does matter – without the audience to look at your work, there would be no reason for you to exhibit it.  Thus, (unless you’re a living master) the only people interested in your personal life are likely the people actually in your personal life.  If you’re attempting to drop this habit, try to zoom out on your life and focus in on a bigger picture that encompasses not only you but also your audience.

2.  A weird painting is not a surrealist one

Weird and surreal are not synonyms.  Also, surreal and Surrealism are not the same.  If you have a difficult time telling the difference, it’s likely an art history deficiency.  Here’s a one question quiz:  Name three surrealists.

If all you could come up with is Salvador Dali (and/or Magrite) you have some reading that should precede your painting.  Get to know how the movement was influenced by Dada, Marxism, and psychoanalysis.  It’ll not only leave you more informed (and likely less enchanted with Dali and Magrite), but should add some depth to your art as well.

3. Abstract as an excuse

Perhaps my most common complaint about bad art is that the artist is producing abstract work only because they lack the skills to produce figurative art.  You use Photoshop, right?

Think of abstraction like a Photoshop filter.  You don’t begin with the filter.  You add the filter to the photo.  Painting abstractly has little to do with making a mess on the canvas.  Doing it well entails knowing a thing or two about composition, color, rhythm, perspective, etc.  In short, to bend and break the rules, you should be very familiar with them first.  Otherwise you can look foolish thinking your newest piece is a real envelope pusher, when in reality it would look terribly passe by 1960 – fifty years ago!

4.  Skull=death; I get it, I’m not a moron

Much like bad writing is full of clichés, bad art is often filled with visual clichés.  Thus, let me take this opportunity to let you know that I understand skulls=death, globe=world, clock=time, heart=love.  This type of overused symbolism is the aesthetic equivalent of baby talk.  Making use of these visual clichés gives me the impression that the artist thinks I’m an idiot that can’t understand the piece unless it’s chewed for me and spit into my gullet.

Try putting to work more obscure or specific symbolism.  Also, be comfortable with the fact that sometimes art doesn’t mean anything.  At times a work of art is only a work of art – it doesn’t stand for anything but itself.

5. Good artists are hard workers, not delusional psychotics (usually)

Hopefully this comes as a relief – it turns out you don’t have to be so emo or eccentric.  The myth of the “tortured artist” is just that – a myth.  While some great artists have had serious mental issues, the majority were clear thinkers with a rigorous work ethic.  Real mental illness stifles creativity.  At times I suffer from serious depression.  Nothing kills my creativity like a bout of depression.  Worse, nothing incites someone to ignore an artists mental illness like belief in the so-called “tortured artist”.

If you enjoy thinking of yourself as the “tortured artist” type, please drop the act, and get to work.  Good art deserves hours of thought and hard work.  If you seriously are “tortured”, please don’t write it off to being a “tortured artist” and get some help.

6. Depictions of sunsets are like real sunsets…but much more boring

There are a few reasons why taking photos of/painting sunsets as fine art are a waste of your time and ours.  First, though they are beautiful, sunsets are unremarkable.  If you want to take photos of a rarely seen tribe of people – awesome!  I already see a sunset once a day.  With a sunset painting added to the mix, I’ll be seeing sunsets more than I see my wife.  Also, photos/paintings of sunsets are like funny stories that require you say “I guess you had to be there” after you tell it.  Basically, a sunset photo is a much more boring version of something that’s extremely easy for everyone to see for themself.

7. Ego-tripping is counter productive

Many scams in the art world play to artist’s egos and their desperate desire for recognition.  Seriously research  juried exhibitions: there are some legit ones out there, but many are not worth it.  Also, avoid pay-to-exhibit galleries: they’re not only expensive but a sign that your art could use some maturing.  Paying a gallery to exhibit your work is like paying someone to go on a date with you – if you have enough self-respect you’d rightly expect it to be free.

I’ve watched successful artists closely; I’m an art critic, after all.   There are two specific things they do that many struggling artists neglect. 1.  They work hard at making highly original, informed, and creative art.  2.  They constantly support other artists, people, and organizations they believe in with their time, knowledge, and funds.

I really don’t mean to be a grouch.  It just irks me to see publicly displayed bad art, made out of ignorance, or worse, out of egoism.  Perhaps when I’m in a less snarky mood  I’ll actually post a list of helpful habits.  Suffice it to say for now that continual work, learning, and supporting are the most helpful habits of an effective artist.

If you wish to further dwell on bad art check out the Museum of Bad Art.

7 Bad Habits of Highly Ineffective Artists

Why Bad Art is More than Just Boring

With the death of Thomas Kinkade still being recent news I’m reluctant to disparage his work…reluctant, but not entirely unwilling.  The “Painter of Light”, a moniker he snatched and trademarked from J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), is admittedly very technically proficient in a style that would have been relevant about 200 years ago.  Retreading conceptual ground a couple of centuries late, the paintings are as heavy on sentimentality as they are light on substance and use Christianity as a marketing tool more than a religion.

What may be most troubling about Kinkade’s work, though, is the type of culture that it condones and promotes.  Bad art, boring art values saleability over substance.  Art enthusiasts become “target audience” and prefer a feeling of  pseudo-populism over work that challenges held beliefs.  Rather than advancing the dialectic,  the ongoing conversation of art, the culture of boring art lets the discussion regress and degenerate into a pool of verbal and visual clichés.  Bad art creates a bad art culture; bad art culture, in turn, demands bad art.  I believe experts call this a “Kinkadian feed-back loop” or a “crap maelstrom”.

Florida has been dealt more than its fair share of kitsch – it’s the nature of being a tourist destination.   And Tampa Bay in particularly is susceptible to succumbing to the tug of the crap maelstrom.  It isn’t difficult to imagine an art scene that deals only in bucolic pastel seascapes.  Bad and/or boring art is a lot like pollution: it looks bad but that’s the least of the trouble it causes.  Bad art stops the visual conversation and kills a scene’s momentum.  A conservative art scene teaches its audience to settle for the results its given and expect more of the same.

Breaking the Kinkadian feed-back loop as an arts audience is surprisingly easy, though.  Visiting an exhibition, praising an artist, purchasing a work of art – these are all active endorsements.  And endorsements are the stuff that an art scene is made of.  So…who and what are you endorsing?  Graphic design pretending to be art?  Home decor disguised as art?  Easy to read, pretty to look at, collect ’em all art?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t trying to influence your taste in art.  The fact is, if you’re an active member of the art scene your taste in art is relatively important – it plays a part in steering the art conversation.  To keep the conversation progressive everyone needs to challenge themselves.  However, if you’re pleased with a good quaint cottage painting or your photograph of a sleeping baby, just order it from QVC – no need to steer the conversation backwards.

Why Bad Art is More than Just Boring