Monthly Archives: October 2016

Good Art, Bad Art—Who Decides?


I have thought long and hard about what makes good art, let alone great art. So, I asked artist friends, and I decided to “Google” the question. That seems to be the modern way of extracting information. Everyone and every site had a different answer.

One highly regarded gallery owner believes that museums, museum curators, a select group of critics, four or five major collectors and several major auction houses are the arbiters of good taste. They tell the rest of us what is safe to like.

My first reaction to that was, “Really—aren’t they the came collection of guys who rejected anything new that came along in the past?” James Whistler’s painting, Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket is a near abstraction that now hangs in the Detroit Institute of Arts. At the time it was painted, the renowned art critic, John Ruskin, condemned the painting and accused Whistler of “asking two hundred guineas for throwing a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Later, Impressionist artists, that we now revere, were ridiculed and refused entrance to the Académie de Beaux-Arts. I’m not aware of anyone ridiculing Monet, or Degas or Pissarro lately. Their paintings are hanging in prestigious museums. And poor Vincent Van Gogh, considered one of the most influential figures in the history in Western art, sold only one painting in his lifetime. It took a while for the critics to come around.

So did the work of these artists improve with time, or did the guardians at the gate of good taste have a change of heart? It seems that once critics rally to an artist, and his or her art hangs in museums, it’s safe to like that art and the critics move on to newer pastures.

I went to see the Minimalist show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles a few years ago. The critics loved it. I hated it. My friend, Lynn, wandered around the museum muttering, “The emperor has no clothes.” The problem for me is that Minimalism is an art form that seeks to remove any sign of personal expressivity. I happen to love personal expressivity. I want to feel something when I look at art. That’s me. The fact that I didn’t like the show doesn’t make it bad art. But I’m not sure it’s great art just because the critics say so. Time always seems to tell.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you like it don’t worry if experts hate it. However, if you want to understand art, take an art history class, visit museums and galleries, read about art—maybe even take an art class. You might surprise yourself. If you do that, you’ll have a better appreciation of art and you’ll probably do better at recognizing good art. But in the end, if you fall in love with a painting (or a sculpture or whatever), and you love it forever, does it really matter?

Haiku contest winners!

I don’t really like contests. Picking a winner is so subjective. So, why did I have one? Well, I must confess, I’m taking a social media class at the local junior college and a contest was recommended as a way to increase readership. I don’t have a lot of followers on Twitter yet, and my blog is quite new. As a result, I didn’t get a lot of submissions, but I loved reading the ones I got.

Although I’m publishing three of the submissions here and calling them first, second and third, readers may have a completely different view of the results. That’s why I’m printing all three. Writing is like any other art form—it’s personal.


First: Rich Bowen

Departed spirits

Embrace us in playfulness

Returning at will.

Second: Debbie Butterfield

I see you again

Playing with Tess, having fun

I miss your embrace.


Third: Barbara Stewart

Skeleton dancing,

Happy dog playing ball,

Autumn has arrived.


Should a WASP paint Dia de Los Muertos Art?

bluefandiptychFirst of all, let me state that I am neither Hispanic nor Latino—pick the term that you find proper. (I live in California, so I’m going with Latino/a.) Despite my decidedly WASP background, I have done considerable research on Dia de los Muertos, and put together this very simple explanation of a holiday rich in history and traditions…

Observed November 2nd, the Day of the Dead is a time to honor deceased loved ones. It is a loving ritual full of joy and remembrance. On this day, many believe that the souls of the departed return to earth to visit with, and to provide counsel to, family and others they loved in life. Although celebrated throughout Latin America, Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated.

In Mexico, families often take the opportunity to visit gravesites and pull weeds, clean any debris, and decorate the graves of loved ones. Candles, flowers and the favorite foods of the deceased are placed on the grave and the family visits, eats, sings and tells favorite stories about those who have passed.

In the United States the tradition has been adapted. Many set up altars in their homes and communities often host a variety of events. Altars are usually decorated with flowers (most often marigolds), candles, pan de muerto, ceramic skulls, and pictures of loved ones. Food placed on the altar consists of the loved ones’ favorite dishes and treats. Drinks are placed on the altar to quench the thirst of the dead after their long journey back home.

The rituals used to celebrate the day are varied and colorful, yet all carry the same message—it is a true celebration of life. When children dance with caricatures of death, eat sugar skulls and learn to respect that life is brief, they learn there is a circle to life and that death need not be feared. They are then free to enjoy and appreciate every moment.

How did a “gringa” like me become a Dia de los Muertos artist? Continue reading

Does a Serious Artist Really Need Social Media?

1socialmediaartAs a writer-illustrator-artist trying to be “serious” about my art, I have been slowly drawn into the age of marketing through technology. Perhaps “dragged in” is a better descriptor of the process as there has been some kicking and screaming involved. But here I am, blogging. I’ve still got a lot to learn and the process, thus far, has been challenging. But if you are reading this, I have had a modicum of success. I admit to having just scratched the surface. We all need to start somewhere. In the meantime, I’m here!

So, does an artist really need a social media platform? Well, if you simply want to create in the privacy of your own home, and only share with close friends and family members, the answer is probably, “No.” If you want to be taken as a “serious” artist, the answer is, “Yes.” But what the heck (no pun intended) is a serious artist anyway? Continue reading

Confessions of a Former Art Snob

If an artist puts his or her art out there (wherever “there” may be), it is likely to be judged and often juried. I have frequently complained about the capricious tastes of jurors and art critics. An art show or gallery should feature good art. But who should decide what’s good? Is a New York art critic a bona fide snob, or the last word on quality? And what, exactly, is an art snob? According to my on-line dictionary, a snob is someone with “an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority in matters of taste and intellect.” Simply put, a snob believes that they have better taste than you do.

That couldn’t be me. Or could it? I’ve been known to make some pretty harsh comments about Thomas Kinkaid. I muttered, “The Emperor has no clothes,” as I wandered through the minimalist exhibit at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. But I thought my comments were a matter of personal taste and not snobbery. However, it was Fort Smith, Arkansas, that pointed out my Achilles heel. I’ve been a snob in matters of geography. I believed art thrived in big (important) cities like New York, or Los Angeles, or in trendy places like Santa Fe and Jackson Hole. I also thought, and still think, that Sonoma County, California, is a Mecca for artists of every kind. A blog about the murals of Fort Smith showed me the error of my ways. Fort Smith, Arkansas? Do they really have great art there? Indeed they do! Continue reading