How good is a bad artist

So much bad art! But how should you recognize them?

Evidence of bad art can certainly be found.

Anyone looking for instructions for use for contemporary art or hoping for an art-historical version from Stiftung Warentest will look in vain. Nowhere do you find universally valid and transparent quality criteria. On the contrary: the main achievement of the avant-garde was precisely to free art from all the rules. If criteria for good art are so difficult to grasp, could it be easier to at least find indications of bad art?

Crude marketing methods

New contemporary art is in a relentless battle for public attention. Therefore, artists have to work with methods that are common in advertising and marketing. This is the cause of a number of characteristics of bad art. First and foremost, the strategy of the calculated scandal that is triggered by pornographic or blasphemous content should be mentioned.

Pornographic elements or horror images, paired with a provocative political statement, can hide the work's weaknesses. This is particularly true of artists who play the Nazi card and use strong images of the Holocaust, National Socialism and a demonized Hitler.

The fixation on quickly gaining attention is also due to the use of particularly disgusting materials (corpses, feces) or particularly valuable materials (gold, diamonds). In addition, there are overwhelming effects through monumental formats that are presented in hall-like rooms such as former power plants, factories and churches.

Giant sculptures and sprawling room installations dwarf the art viewer into an astonished wight. And quite obviously they are produced from the perspective of media reproduction means, so that they look good on Instagram, for example.

Most of the evidence of bad art arises from dissonances between form and content. To understand this, the model of an isosceles triangle is ideal, which ideally characterizes the artistic work. The first page: experience, experience, authenticity. The second side: imagination, creativity, inventiveness. The third side: craftsmanship, technical understanding, mastery of materials. If one side is too weak or if one side weighs heavier than the other two, the triangle becomes unbalanced and the work becomes vulnerable.

Good art combines authenticity, originality and craftsmanship

Lack of originality

Most of the characteristics of bad art can be traced back to this model. If, for example, the first side of the triangle (experience, experience, authenticity) is too weak, the art appears academic, impersonal and not very authentic. However, it is also disturbing when the biography of the artist is emphasized too much, when a difficult childhood, strokes of fate and trauma are artistically exploited. Martin Kippenberger's autobiographical bon mot «Cirrhosis of the liver is not an excuse for bad art» aims precisely at this problem.

If the second side of the triangle (imagination, creativity, wealth of ideas) is too weak, a lack of originality is noticeable if, for example, works are predominantly based on quotations and parodies of well-known images from art and cultural history (Appropiation Art); or when all too obviously fashionable borrowings are made from science, for example by adopting technical equipment, software or imaging processes (fractal art, “deep dream”).

A lack of originality can also manifest itself in the adoption of exotic art, subcultural codes or the image inventions of the mentally ill - art history provides plenty of examples of this.

Weak works of art draw not only from science, technical processes or marginalized subcultures, but also from politics and morality. They immunize themselves against criticism through a strong political or well-meaning moral message and thus resemble classic propaganda. An indication of bad art can also be seen in the constant repetition and dilution of a once original idea.

If the third side of the triangle is too strong (craftsmanship, technical understanding, material control), the impression arises of sterile material perfectionism and purely technical showmanship. This also includes the stubborn declining of certain image motifs in various media and techniques.

On the other hand, if the third page is too weak, some artists try to hide it with a grandiose intellectual context. For this purpose they choose enigmatic, literary, lyrical or philosophical work titles, or they declare amateurism to be a conceptual part of their art.

Cheap meshes

In his book “Maschen der Kunst”, the art historian Christian Janecke listed some other helpful criteria for recognizing bad art, including the popular swarm-like hanging of smaller works, which tries to cover up the weaknesses of the individual works with the impressive overall presentation.

He also lists the currently fashionable «participation folklore». Here the viewer is apparently welcome as a co-artist, but is then only allowed to contribute non-essential actions (fill out questionnaires, provide data). Janecke also evaluates the so-called Prekariatsfolkore as a “scam of art”: works that address the precarious economic situation of their creators or that peddle the status of the failed artist in order to be successful.

As a rule, there is hardly any talk about bad art - at most behind closed doors. Instead, one hears almost nothing but praise in the art world. A major reason is that the value of art no longer has any real cover. In the past, the equivalent of art objects consisted of their religious or social function, the technical effort (i.e. the working hours used by specialists) or their high material value.

Instead of a currency whose stability is covered by gold reserves, the value of art today is owed to a certain arbitrariness: Meandering flows of money are channeled in the art market, free-floating assets look for art collections as anchorages.

The changing tastes, trends and styles serve as the trigger for these money movements. Established and well-networked art market players open and close the floodgates. Ultimately, these are banal processes. According to the art historian and philosopher Boris Groys, a Calvinist definition of good art now dominates: "Works of art were chosen because they were chosen." The idea of ​​a divine power that does not need legitimation has been transferred to the curators.

Works of art thus resemble empty containers that can be filled with capital at will, and the all-round praise must glorify this sobering function of art. "Pictures without text are embarrassing, like a naked person in public space," explains Groys.

That is why text clothes have to be tailored for the defenseless works - the more opaque, the more protective. An entire textile industry is now knitting opaque covers. So much has never been written about art. And at the same time said so little about art.