Thursday, April 12, 2007

the humor of bad art

I like reading medical blogs. I read a post here that got me thinking about humor. This particular line got me:

Midwife's comments (dang, I see she removed them but they deserved to remain) about being able to laugh at tragic circumstances provoked some anonymous comments about insensitivity, which is the other side of the coin to humor (all humor has this Janus quality... it is insensitive to laugh at that poor chicken's difficulty getting to the other side of the street).

Insensitivity the other side of the coin to humor! Something to ponder.

On Cyberscribes someone once posted a link to a website. Of the site he said, "and for a good example of what NOT to do." or something like that. An uproar ensued. Some CSers responded by writing that we should be supportive of everyone's efforts, and should never poke fun at anyone. I responded by thanking the sender for posting the link; I think I said for me it was like suddenly seeing a large group of clowns pass by. The website contained an element of surprise because of the sheer volume of 'artwork' the owner had generated. The only possible response was laughter, and it bubbled up in me like a geyser, providing me with a needed outlet for stress. It was wonderful! I would revisit the site except the effect could never be as marvelous as it was that first time. I prefer to cherish the memory of a good laugh. (I would post the address of the site but that would be cruel in the context of which I write. And I didn't save it.)

Personally I think some people go a little too far in offering verbal support for others' efforts. Support and encouragement are great when someone is pursuing a new hobby, but when that new hobby becomes a for-profit venture then some criticism should be expected. Hopefully the criticism is constructive, but we're not always perfect. Occasional involuntary laughter in the face of work posted on the web should be excused. As was the case with that website with the plethora of bad work--it was all for sale! (oops--did I just call it 'bad' work? wait wait I can say something positive: the colors were very cheerful.)

There's no kind way to contact that artist and tactfully offer advice. Advice is certainly not desired. (Just in case you're wondering, my advice would be: you should take a class with a good teacher and get these particular books for good examples etc.) All you can really say is, "hey, if there are suckers out there willing to shell out good money for that stuff, more power to you." But isn't that dishonest? (no no it's just Capitalism at its finest!) Does the artist of that site really not understand how much farther he has to go before he should qualify himself as an illuminator? Has he never looked at (good) work done by anyone else? I would never call myself the Calligraphy Police! But where are the Calligraphy Police when you need them?

Maybe this issue continues to eat at me because I wonder when I will be 'good enough'--I hope that attitude just shows honest self-appraisal instead of sheepish humility. (I did feel bad about publicly posting my enjoyment of that site, but I wanted to stick up for the vilified CSer who had originally posted the link. And I have to say that appreciation of humor has so much to do with your viewpoint.) So some people laughed, and some did not, and the ones who did not became angry at the ones who did. The lesson here is that the people who laughed did not become angry.

So I can happily announce that I love and support bad artwork! There is even a site devoted to it. Their tag line is: 'Art too bad to be ignored.' In this world anything to provoke laughter is good!

I myself have created much that is bad, and continually hope something good emerges. Each time I sit down to attempt to fulfill a vision I am aware that I will do something horrendous first. Don't we all? Is there anyone who makes only good art? (ok, maybe John Stevens)

Disclaimer: as Shrink Rap says:
(Mind you, I am not talking about "humor" where one laughs at another's misfortune in a way that is intentionally harmful/evil/superior to that person... that is not what I am talking about here.)

Ah, and now I suddenly realize that some people got upset at the poking-fun-at-the-bad-website thing because they thought we were being superior! Oh no...


Roy said...

Thanks for the visit and the take off on the post. Feel free to come on over and laugh with us anytime (or listen to us).

Victoria said...

Margaret. I totally know the website you are talking about and am giggling just thinking about the naively painted people running around.

Sometimes though after the laughter one gets that feeling on the back of the neck...feeling sorry for the "artist" who doesn't know better.

I don't know...

Thanks for the website referral

I'm off to see some intentional bad art tonight..That new Will Farrell movie.
Sometimes you just need a gooooooood laugh..


Dave Ogden said...

I also believe I know which artist
(?) you were referring to and I had pretty much the same reaction, only with more disbelief than laughter...
Calligraphy Police...where do I sign up?

Beth Lee said...

Interesting post, Margaret. Aside from the issue of whether you should laugh at bad art, it's about balance, isn't it? Nobody wants constant criticism, but nobody needs constant praise only -- from ourselves or anybody else.

Sometimes I look at the work of a person who has been doing calligraphy for 20 years and think, "Yes, you've been repeating what you learned in that 6-week introduction to calligraphy." This kind of person is very happy with her work but will never improve.

And then I look at the beautiful work of someone who has also been doing calligraphy for 20 years, but has rarely completed any serious work because nothing is good enough. His letter forms are beautiful but nothing is ever done with them.

I'm interested in this whole question because I struggle with it myself. (And I'm absolutely sure I'm not alone!)

Margaret said...

Yes, Beth, that's it exactly! You put it much better than I, and in less words.