This Sh*t Sucks… Or does it?

Have you ever wondered what defines good or bad art? 

Yeah… me too. As a painter and illustrator, this happens on a near-daily basis. To be honest, it’s a whirlwind. 

The foundations of my career as a visual artist was based upon realism. Pulling inspiration from other illustrators and painters who focused on hyper-realism, pondering how it was even possible to reproduce on such a level. I vividly picture 14-year-old me on my bedroom floor spending countless hours hauling over my works, meticulously honing in on every little detail while I attempted to create each piece to be as close to the reference photo as possible.

I can’t tell you where this fixation in society derived from – or maybe it was just my ADHD and anxiety telling me everything I had to do needed to be perfect, but at least I know I wasn’t alone. Nearly all of my other artist friends and I, at this time, were starting their artistic career in the phases of drawing eyes in the corner of notebooks and working on perfecting a portrait of the lead singer in our favorite alt band. But up until I started studying art in college and gained greater exposure to the art world, I swore by the rule that for my art to be considered “good” it needed to be grounded in hyper-realism. 

Of course, there’s a reason the basis of teaching visual arts is grounded in figure drawing, still lives, and copying master studies. Similar to any other craft, artists are expected to learn the roots of the trade before bridging out to develop our own style. You need to build the foundation of a house before you can decorate the exterior. (Unless you’re an outsider artist, but that’s a topic for a different time.)

A few of the most valuable words one of my painting professors ever shared with me was, “The photo is for reference, a photo is not a painting and your painting should not look exactly like it. Your goal is to be able to part with it – if you keep comparing your work to a photo you will never be satisfied.”  

All in all, your art, nor anyone else’s, does not need to look like you can reach out and grab it for it to be good. Some of my most successful, and most loved, creations are those based upon spontaneously throwing paint on canvas out of frustration and seeing what I could make from it. And if you know me, it was probably a mushroom or had something to do with hands or eyes. 

So, if you’ve made it this far and are still wondering then what defines good art? What makes bad art? I hate to break it to you, but the answer is nothing. Yep. That’s it – nothing at all. 

Well, on a technical level, yes there are standards an artist might want to meet. Proportions, perspectives, and light sources are vital aspects of any creation.  Although, if the work is meant to be conceptual then this truly does not matter.  

Art is relative, and it is entirely subjective. Therefore, art in itself can neither be good nor bad alone. For art to be considered “good” or “bad” it is wholly dependent upon the viewer, the creator, or the critic. While some love Pollock’s poured paintings, others believe he was just a drunk who got lucky. 

On a side note – this is exactly why as an artist, regardless of whatever your craft may be, you need to place value on and believe in yourself. There will always be a negative critic, and PSA people – there is nothing wrong with having a different taste! 

There are many things in life besides taste in art alone that we cannot change, but that does not mean your work is bad. To ignore the critic would be even worse. Sometimes they’re the ones who we need to listen to the most. An artist’s work cannot grow without the push for change. While a critic’s words might be sharp and sting, they are often what fuels us the most. 

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