Honesty can be very appealing, though obviously sometimes we have to be careful about what we say.  I judged that it would be preferable to write “Delacroix’s Journal” than to pretend false modesty.  After so many years doing something, well, one learns quite a lot and believes that it would be better to share knowledge than to hide it under a bushel.

I see lots of art that is junk, and I know categorically that it is junk quite apart from whatever claims others might make on its behalf.  Certainly, I would never tell another artist that his painting or that his “new media” is junk.  Nor would I ever tell a collector that his cherished objects are junk.  It’s just not something you can do.  It would serve no purpose.  It would hurt someone’s feelings.

But to suggest that junk exists — this is wise.  It launches the idea into the world and sets people to thinking.  Perchance they begin figuring out for themselves which objects belong in the “art” category and which into the “junk” category.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  And in a smaller circle the fear of junk imparts wisdom too. 

That’s why I’ve drummed away at this theme more than once.  It’s the kind of truth that bears repeating, for the recognition of things having  true worth is the first step one takes toward gaining them.   Sleeper awake!

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5 thoughts on “The Best Policy

  1. You raise a very interesting point. What constitutes good and junk art?

    If I read a scientific article within the range of my expertize, I can very easily evaluate its worth based on quality of design, methods involved, and significance of findings. I can evaluate an article written on a topic outside of my expertise, but I can still evaluate it based on general good practice principles. However, my analysis of such an article will be not very good because I lack expertize in that area. This is not quite the same with art. Do you need to know about proportions, composition, color theory, and other technical aspects to appreciate art? The knowledge may help, but not necessary.

    First, we need to define what is good and what is junk. I believe that art is a form of communication. Artists depicts their experiences, emotions, ideas, etc. and the viewer observes them. A good artwork would invoke emotions and thoughts in a spectator. Artists of such paintings put their soul in their work. Some paintings I saw emanated indescribable warmth that I’ll never forget, others made me wonder about life and human nature. This is what I consider good art, but I have more difficulty defining junk. I guess the difference is reflected well at the end of a French film called La Belle Noiseuse (236 min).

    What are your criteria for good and junk art?

  2. The definition part is difficult, certainly. And of course it’s unlikely that people would agree about such a definition even if it were somehow categorically “true.” I agree that art is a form of communication, but it is uniquely visual so the innateness or depth of the “visual” in its character is one criterion, I think.
    What kind of criterion can embrace all the range of existent and possible styles in art? What aspects of all art forms are deeply “wired” in human thought? What connects us to “the humanities? How much are standards influenced by, even biased by, non-artistic factors such as artist’s reputation, price of the work, nationality, etc.?
    What my criteria consist of is one of the things I will be exploring on this blog. It’s one of the reasons I write — to sort these things out in my own mind.
    Thank you for your comment and hope you’ll share additional ideas you have on the topic.

  3. “I know categorically that it is junk quite apart from whatever claims others might make on its behalf. ”

    It seems you can easily classify a work as junk…

    “It’s one of the reasons I write — to sort these things out in my own mind.”

    …yet you don’t have explicit rules for such a classification.

  4. Yes, Kitsune, I don’t have explicit rules for classifying the “junk” from the “real.” What could that mean, besides possibly revealing the gaps in my personal ideas? Structures exist and we make use of them without always knowing that we do so. Many artists report, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself, being able to work at a high level of ability without being consciously aware of much of what they do. High ordered thought, in fact, is characterized by just such a riding above things.
    Think of typing. I’m typing these words right now, my fingers moving from letter to letter, yet I’m not aware of the individual letters — only of the words I want to write. There’s a structure present, and I’m making use of it, only doing so without being aware of all its features. I learned the structure long ago — in this case, how to type — and now having assimilated it, I just do it.
    Art has something like this, I believe, as its foundation. We do not create all the structures we use. We did not invent painting (or drawing, or whatever). We do not invent the genre or subject matter in entirety. We don’t invent all the meaning. Lots of things we find ready made around us, and we learn to use them. But we can, if we choose, inquire into their foundations and try to grasp them more deeply.
    And particularly something like “beauty,” we did not invent. It exists before we do and we discover it in things. And this latter idea I find especially intriguing because in studying beauty (or things like it) we are discovering a connection that exists between ourselves and nature. Beauty is in the world and inside us as well, in our capacity to respond to it.
    Beauty might have something like “rules” — i.e., a structure that could be uncovered and revealed in some systematic way — who knows? Whether we find those rules or not, the search itself leads us along an interesting and fruitful path.
    So, I guess I’d say the questions about what defines junk and what defines real art might be more practical than any one set of answers. Different people, different eras, different cultures answer the question in their own ways and get partial answers. The questioning itself is a source of invention. The curiosity that asks the question leads to the making of things.
    So, if a “junk” artist feels he or she just has to be an artist, you won’t hear me telling them not to do that. It’s not my role to tell others what they ought to do. But every artist should certainly do his or her best, push himself or herself toward something that feels true (as opposed to only following trends). Conduct a genuine search and you are much more likely to find a genuine treasure at the end.
    That’s my version. I like a good myth better than a set of rules.
    Thanks for your comment. These comments really press one to think.
    Aletha

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