I am not professional art critic and did not take Art History in college–which I regret to this day. I have no discernible skills in creating visual art (though, I’ve been known to perform impromptu interpretive-dance “pieces” and channel Ethel Merman.) To be fair, my saying it’s not art doesn’t automatically deem it worthless; art truly is subjective. However, there are some things I don’t wish to be subjected too.
You may be asking yourself “Are you, Sassy Librarian, really qualified to judge and define what is and is not art?” I’ll answer your question with a question, “Do I have to be a chef to know if something tastes like crap?”
For me, there are four things that encompass a successful visual art piece:
1. It is something you can see. The image itself doesn’t need to be identifiable, but the medium from which the image is created should be: painting, clay, stone, glass, fibers, paper, found objects-repurposed, human or animal tissue or waste, photographs, digital media, or mixed media. I’m pretty open to the types of materials used.
2. Regardless of material used and/or the subject, it is well executed.
3. Provocative or Evocative. It should make you feel something (other than bored or confused.) What the artist’s work was trying to make you feel should be what you feel. If it was meant to shock you and make you think and it did, it worked! If it meant to shock you and make you think and you yawned, it didn’t.
4. You remember it later–for good reasons. Not “Sweet Jesus, I can’t un-see that, can I?”
Let’s apply these principles to the following piece, which is for sale on Etsy.
Thank you, Etsy.
1. Is this something I can see? Technically, this is a painting and paintings are something you can see; so this meets the first criterion. Hooray!
2. Is it well executed? Luckily the artist wrote the name of his/her subject on the painting itself; otherwise I would have had a hard time figuring out who or what this is. The two people on the right do, sort of, look like John and Ringo. I have no idea who the other two guys are. Maybe, due to band in-fighting, Paul and George were pissed that day and took off so the artist was forced to use stand-ins. Or perhaps this is the artist’s interpretation of the group were Paul and George to have the mumps. The artist should have waited for Paul and George to cool off and return or for the mumps to subside in order to truly capture the group. (Perhaps s/he should have waited to finish her/his “Painting with Acrylics 102” course.) Criterion two, failed.
3. Does it make you feel something and it was what the artist intended you to feel? It does make me feel something. Sad. Despite the drawn hearts, trying to evoke love, I feel sad looking at this. The band surrounded by hearts and musical notes makes me think that the artist wanted us to know s/he loves the Beatles and their music. Perhaps s/he was trying to evoke love and warmth for this band, make us think of and reflect upon how their work influenced music and popular culture. Yet, all I get it sad and, oddly, itchy. Criterion three, failed.
4. Will you remember this piece for “good” reasons? Is “sad” a good reason? It would be were it trying to evoke “sad.” But it’s not. It does make me think of the great photograph of the Beatles that this painting was based upon. I had a poster of the photograph in my room during high school. A fond memory, yet one’s art should not evoke thoughts of better art about the same subject matter and/or image. Criterion four, failed.
Tip from the pros: ALWAYS be careful when depicting a much beloved subject. People know exactly what you are trying to do and have a perfect image and certain positive expectations in their minds. If you do not meet or exceed those expectations, you fail, HARD.
I love the Beatles. Their music saved me in more ways than I will tell. How much do I love them? I love them so much that I would never try to paint a picture of them. Did this person paint them better than I could have? Absolutely. Do people need to express themselves creatively about things they admire, love or aspire to be? Of course. Should these people then sell the expression of their love for a profit? Not in this case. Even at $10, frame included.