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bad art

I am writing from Mir's place in western Toronto this morning. Not much of a morning, weatherwise. The sun is hiding and the birds are coughing and clearing their throats. And Patrick Swayze is dead. I don't really have much to say about him, but his face popped up on my computer screen and I thought, Oh. Kind of the way I felt about Edward Kennedy. Oh. Patrick Swayze is not the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, but then Edward Kennedy is not the ghost lover of Demi Moore. I have to say, I know whom I envy here. Where was I? I never said, did I. Sorry. My topic today is art. Specifically, two bad paintings. (Didn't Beatrix Potter write a story called Two Bad Mice? I think so.) Anyway, I am staring at one of the paintings now. Mir's editor gave it to her as a housewarming present, calling it a piece of "found" art. It was found all right -- at a garage sale with a FREE, PLEASE TAKE! sticker on it. In the painting a smiling Irish Setter gambols around a landscape. That's it. The colours are muted, the action is limited, the dog is semi-realistic. There is nothing about this picture that stands out. It's bad art all right (maybe not as bad as the dog picture here, but pretty darned bad. ) And yet it makes me smile, probably because of the FREE, PLEASE TAKE! sticker, which is still on the top corner. When Thea saw the picture the other day she smiled and said, That's great!

The other piece of bad art is leaning against a corner of the living room, and I am trying hard to avoid looking at it. It's a piece of fantasy, heads and bodies floating over a void. The artist has more talent than the dog drawer, but the picture has less appeal. A lot less. In fact, looking at it makes me feel queasy (not as queasy as the piece here, but well on the way). Mir offered it to Thea, who has a student apartment to decorate. Thea shook her head. Too gross, she said.

Which leads me to the question: what is bad art? What makes it bad? If art is a dialogue between artist and viewer, and one picture makes me smile and another makes me ill, then the smiling picture should be good art, no? No? It's a version of Hemingway's morality. And yet I know that they are both pretty awful.

Personally, my favorite art is kid art. I have it all over my place, and it makes me smile every time I look at it. Not just because the kids are mine, either. Other people's kids' drawing makes me smile every bit as wide. Here's some to take the taste of the other two paintings out of your mouth. Enjoy.


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