In another piece I posted here I wrote about art and my own experiences with its process of creation and how I scrutinize my work. It was a think aloud piece to work through thoughts I’d been having.
Where the first piece was about questioning what it means to be “good” at art, here I’d rather spend less time unpacking what good means and more time asking why it matters. (I’ll be adding pictures of what I consider as my own art/ my process intermittently so if you see a photo of some jeans and shirts on concrete and get confused that’s why).
When we are talking about thoughtful and dynamic artists does the term “good” even hold weight? Isn’t good a superficial term? Does goodness imply quality?
I get high and eat an old granola bar and think to myself “WOW this is so good!” as crumbs fly out of my mouth. Similarly I go out to shitty dive bars with friends and think “hmm this place is good” the point being that sometimes good means enjoyable or quality, but sometimes it means mediocre. The more I think about it the more I am reminded of words like “tolerance” it presents as a valid measure of progress as does any liberal benchmark.
You may be wondering why I’ve spent so much time making arbitrary references to getting high and eating old granola bars, or what that has to do with tolerance. The point is that terms like “good” and “tolerance” are one dimensional terms. They do not mean much in the grand scheme of things. To be tolerant is just to tolerate, it doesn’t imply any sort of deeper intelligence or nuanced understanding. Being tolerant of others hardly means you respect them, appreciate them, or have challenged yourself to unlearn toxic ideas you have of them- it merely means you tolerate them. They way you might tolerate a spider in your kitchen if your child whines when you try to kill it. Similarly to be good is to honestly be at the bottom of the barrel. To be good at something does not mean to excel at it. Good is something you say when excellence is absent- you can’t offer any praise to detail so you settle for good. I think good is something you settle for. It represents what is born of an abscence of more. I want my art to occupy the more.
Art is more than a measure of goodness, to say that Keith Harring or Glen Ligon are good artists seems almost an insult. I doubt these men spent years on their craft to merely be concerned with goodness. Their art is inherently dynamic, it is communicative. Art does not need to be good, what’s more is that it also doesn’t need to be complex or profound, it doesn’t need to make you a think, though I suppose all art holds that capacity. I mentioned art’s ability to communicate, for me art has always been about communication, I still don’t feel it needs to. This is the depth of art- it doesn’t need to communicate or resonate, art merely is.
Now I realize my language is confusing- I truly believe all art is communicative, I believe that all art can hold depth even if it intends to do the opposite. The beauty of art is that it inspires without meaning to, or maybe I should say without having to. I’d like to go back to my earlier point about goodness and stale granola bars- the examples I used were deliberate. Apart from the circumstances I constructed many wouldn’t see anything “good” about a rock hard nature valley bar and though I love a great hole-in-the-wall when I’m not in the company of good people or good times I don’t see much good in a crappy podunk pub (say that three times fast). Another aspect of goodness is it’s impermanence. Goodness is not only relative, it’s fickle. What is good to me is sour to her, what is good today is trite by tomorrow. As they say ‘you cannot please all of the people all of the time.’ To take aim at goodness is to be concerned with a transient concept. Don’t get me wrong- there is nothing wrong with transcience- we lead ephemeral lives. The problem is with the presentation, we discuss goodness as though it can be marked by some objective criterion- this is false.
I’ve never been good at ending things- I get so wrapped up in talking I struggle with how to close things out. I’d like to offer you a nice neat box to fit this in, but I don’t think that would be fitting here. My thoughts are rarely nice and neat and easily packagable- so what better way to end this think aloud piece than by showcasing an untidy ending?