Bad Art

4 Nov

Letterbalm Bad ArtDear LetterBalm: My friend has taken up painting in a big way. He attends drawing and painting classes at our local college, and he really loves it. While I’m happy that he’s found something that brings him such pleasure, there’s now a problem. He’s a terrible artist. It’s not a question of taste – I mean he’s really, really bad. So far, all of us friends have been able to avoid being honest with him. But he wants to rent a space and have a show of his work, and I’m afraid he’ll be embarrassed. I can’t stop him, but what can I say to him when he asks my honest opinion?

–He Isn’t Rembrandt

Talent is no guarantee of success, especially in the world of art. Even brilliant artists sometimes have a hard time. Impressionists and Fauves were vilified when their works went on display, and van Gogh never sold a single painting during his lifetime. Ms. L.B. says your job as the budding artist’s friend is to be supportive, rejoicing in his newfound happiness and offering noncommittal opinions (“you use color in such interesting ways” “you really are enthusiastic about large canvases”). Never say something like “don’t lose your day job”. Who knows? Someone may find his paintings irresistible. But if he asks pointblank why everybody at the showing giggled and no one bought his paintings, you can say this:

Jackson, all I can say is, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I admire artists, and not just painters. All artists have to have the strongest constitutions because maybe no one will like what they do. It takes a lot of bravery to put everything out there for the world to see. Your works may not be to my taste or anyone else’s, but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you love what you do – I’m happy that it brings you pleasure and joy. But I also think that you should make your art not for anyone else but yourself, with no expectation of money or fame. You should be true to your own muse. Do it for you.

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