Good Art, Bad Art, High Art, Low Art... No Art

For some odd reason, now I feel like an artist…

Decades again, when I taught art at Sierra Nevada College, I felt like an artist. Then, I got hired at CSUMB and though it wasn’t strictly art, I got to teach Digital Art and Design, which seemed like a perfect fit. Weirdly, as the years marched on (18 of them at CSUMB), I felt less like an artist and less like myself.

Today, pulling into the driveway at my place in Cayucos, I feel the art part in me in such a way that I’m once again ready for the full advocacy of art. In my recent past, I’ve entered the conversation as to what art is, who we make it for, what it should do and all that stuff.

This shouldn't be about me and MY ART. That’s not the purpose. Art is a message and it needs to be a powerful message. For that message to come across, the art we make has to challenge. It needs to challenge us to see and feel the world in a different way. That way needs to embrace our shared history and be relevant to our time. It needs to open the pathway to a more vibrant, healthy and sane community.

I write this not sure if anyone else but myself will ever read these words. Why should someone visit my blog and read what I have to say? That’s a great question as there’s a lot of good stuff out there and, with the overload of content that comes online, what I have to offer might be little more than a drop of spittle in the ocean, a single tear in a stream of feeling, a spark of hope in a fire of anguish and so forth and so one.

At the very least, it needs to be interesting. What you have to offer has to be worth seeing, reading or listening and, if you’re lucky, it’s good enough to experience again. That’s where I run into doubt and, as you may know, doubt is the pit of despair that sucks the life out of any ambition.

So, in this ramble, I need to focus on why I came here in the first place, the disparate considerations of good art, bad art, high art, low art and no art and… where does what I do fit in and why should anyone care.

First of all, good art needs to command your attention. There’s a lot of art and good art has to be attractive in that it needs to draw you in. That’s a complicated phenomenon and I’ll cover that more some other time. Secondly, good art has to keep you with it long enough to sustain attention and convey an essence, a message, a feeling that resonates deep down inside. It needs to uncompromising, unapologetic and, at the same time, accessible. Lastly (for now at least), it needs to prompt reflection so that, after you leave its presence, you recall it again and again and think about it in its relationship to your life and experience.

Bad art is decoration or so explicitly self-referential that it ends up being a vanity project. This is difficult to deal with because our visual culture is so packed with work that is attractive and/or provocative, both of which can command attention but do little more than generate a quick look and then a dismissal as the viewer moves on to something else in their lives. It make look nice but that’s little more than attractive home decor, which can be very nice but it’s not art. Craft is wonderful but it’s not, by definition, art. Accidental aesthetic pleasure, which is what happens with a lot of abstract painting, is little more than a visual equivalent to the monkey with a typewriter trope about the creation of poetry. Creative visualization, as with doodling, recreational sketching or exploratory pleasantries with the tools can be intriguing but they aren't Art because they don’t take on the challenge of being Art.

High art is what you get when the art is very conscious of History, in the proper sense, as a nearly sacred pursuit, where the created work interweaves our past and present awareness of the most notable work done by artists and explored by art critics. When the work opens the door to and extended discussion of Laocoon, in all its referential glory, that’s High Art.

Low art comes from our shared experience of stuff that somebody else calls crap but we find interesting, engaging, fun and culturally engaging, even though it originally had no artistic or aesthetic intentions. The generally anti-elitist approach of Postmodern art and art criticism validates the legitimate cultural analysis of cheesy visual stuff, which may or may not be art but it looks pretty cool and it’s worth thinking about.

No art is an interesting notion. More on that another time. If you’ve read this, cool. Hopefully you can return for more. I promise to make it interesting.