5+1 Ways to tell if your art is rubbish

The ugly truth

Since you are reading this blog you are certainly involved with art in a way or another. As such, and no matter your skill level, you can’t deny this question has crossed your mind a few times: “How do I know if my art is good?”. Although there is no definitive answer to this, there are definitely some ways to weight and judge your artwork. Stand opposite your latest painting and run through the following list. Process that in your mind and  you will realise how close your work is to be called “art”.

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1. The context

The influence that space and context have on an artwork is unbelievable. Ordinary items, in their usual environment and serving their normal purpose, usually pass completely unnoticed.  However, they can tell a story and gain “artistic value” when placed in the right context (ie a gallery, museum etc). Think for example Banksy’s Angel Statue (picture below). A statue with a bucket of pink paint on its head would normally be considered vandalism, standing in the middle of the square. However, this is placed in the entrance of Bristol Museum and it is a work of art (personally love the symbolism).

It doesn’t have to be an art gallery or a museum but it has to be something that in a way compliments and gives life to your work. That could even be your living room as long as it respects and gives context to your work.

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2. Being honest

Your Art is a way of expressing yourself or making a statement; everyone has to bear that in mind throughout the process of enjoying it. Starting from the artist (yourself) all the way to the final receiver (your audience) it must be apparent that your work is not trying to imitate anything else; it must be honest to itself and it must be expressing your thoughts. And by “imitate” I mean, trying to copy the content, the technique or the style of something or someone else. Does your work show confidence in what you already know? Does it accept your flaws and your weaknesses as an artist and as a person?

It is alright to get inspired by other artists and especially when you are a beginner it is inevitable getting influenced by techniques and styles. Try to incorporate that to your work though, without letting it dominate your own character.

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3. Are you an artist?

“Art works are created by artists. If you are not an artist then you simply cannot create art”. I believe this is a very monolithic answer, expressed by some, to a question that obviously is not black or white. There are other indicators and things to consider (some of which can be found on this list) before you reject an artpiece or rush to idealise an item.

Art works are created by artists. if you are not an artist, then you simply cannot create art.

Are you an artist? This is a question you should ask yourself. You can easily find the definition of the term “artist”, however I doubt there is an easy way to precisely define who is an artist and who is not. Thus, it is not an easy job to categorise something as a piece of art or just an item. I am trying to answer this question in my article What is art for you.

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4. There are just too many

Another characteristic of real art work is that it is unique or limited. This doesn’t mean that every item which is limited edition can be titled “Art”. On the other hand, when there is no limit on how many times something can be reproduced then it gradually loses its value. Don’t get me wrong here. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is undeniably an important piece of art. The millions of mugs with this very painting printed on them though…I believe we both understand they don’t stand a chance of being called art.

The same applies to our own paintings. Having a limited amount of prints, or just selling the original, contributes to its uniqueness. This element of limited numbers and rarity doesn’t necessarily make your creation an artwork, however it does draw a separating line from a commercial object.

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5. Can we see your art, please?

There is an argument that art has to be exposed. Unless there is an audience to admire and receive a message from an artwork then, does it cease to be art? Liam Gillick says for his work:

Without people it’s not art. It is something else; it is stuff in a room.

I dare to say I agree with this opinion. We cannot deny that works of exceptional artistic value are hidden from sight, forgotten in museum stores, lost or locked up in private collections. Although these artworks do serve one aspect of art; the expression (someone created them to telll something), they do fail to serve the communication part of it (which obviously requires an audience to receive the message).

So, have you tried exposing your art? Being open to feedback and daring to start this conversation with the an audience; which sometimes can be painful and sometimes totally rewarding.

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6. Still art if in a landfill?

You might have heard about this before – if the work was thrown into a landfill would anyone notice that an artwork is between rubbish? If not, then chances are the artwork is not very good…or maybe that doesn’t matter?

At this point I want to prompt you to do two things. First, go back and quickly read The Context paragraph again. Second, please think of modern art. If a pile of rubbish is thrown in a landfill; then it is just rubbish indeed. However, if the same rubbish is set up in a room in TATE (like Tracey Emin’s Empty Bed – picture below)  then probably it serves a greater purpose…it is probably art!

Personally, I am not always convinced. When the message is not apparent, then I do seek some justification from the artists themselves (if possible). It can be the craziest explanation; as long as there is a logic behind it though I am quite open to accept it as art.

So how do you feel about your own art?

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Inspiration for this article is Grayson Perry’s book Playing to the Gallery.

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5 thoughts on “5+1 Ways to tell if your art is rubbish

  1. The notion of good or bad art is meaningless. How do you measure it? Is that unit of measure universal? You can’t measure it in watts, microns or grams ( which are universal and verifiable) Despite what many say and even Royal Academicians say ( who I have heard spout this nonsense) there is no such thing.
    Art is subjective, subjective to individuals, institutions and societies. That’s why fashions change, artists suddenly emerge from obscurity and also vanish into it.
    Believe in what you like. If you are happy with it cherish it, if not bin it ( or keep it for reference)
    Don’t keep looking over your shoulder for the experts, they know no more than you – they only have the veneer of knowledge and an experience of art.
    Keep on keeping on – it never ends.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Graham. It took me a while to get back to you but I completely agree with what you said. Art is totally subjective and the same work I find fantastic you might think it is very poor and vice versa.

      I doubt there is a “checklist” defining good and bad art and the same goes for who is an artist and who is not. I think we can distinct an artwork that is made using a technique skillfully but this doesnt necessarily make the piece of work good art. This is a very long discussion and I guess it will always end up to the initial statement; it is so subjective that you cant realistically put together a list of criteria that apply to everything.

      The more you get involved with art yourself though, you develop this “subjective instinct” and you can appreciate things that at first sight are not pleasing or not what is commonly accepted as good art….

      Liked by 3 people

    1. It is very true! Similar to gold…it is valuable as soon as you can use it…otherwise it is just metal in the ground. I totally recommend reading Greyson Perry’s book. I think you can find it quite cheap on Amazon and it is definitely worth your time since you are involved in the art world!

      Liked by 1 person

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