Bad paintings – I like ’em…

But first…
Dulltown, Europe: Today’s elephant in the room is the one trying to play Mozart on the grand piano with her trunk.

Did the title of this piece draw you in dear reader?
If you fancy yourself as a painter I reckon that you can learn a lot from looking at bad paintings – probably more than you can from looking at good paintings. Oh, and by ‘good paintings’ I don’t mean those big scratty anodyne abstract things that you often see in trendy galleries, I mean the smaller works, usually figurative, that you see in ‘open’ art shows, in charity shops, and displayed behind rickety junk tables at village fetes, usually with a price tag of under £30.
So, bad paintings then? When viewing a good painting, that is a painting that works, that does what it is supposed to do, you are seduced by it, you don’t see the paint, you are drawn into its little world, whether abstract or figurative, where only its rules apply, almost mistaking the painted image for reality itself – whereas, when you cast your eye over a really duff ‘amateur’ one, one that make you smile, the mistakes really jump out at you, and you think to yourself, Ho ho! Just look at that terrible perspective where the road seems to climb up the side of the church!… Oh, hang on, gosh, I hope I don’t do that in mine!
It is far easier to see what’s wrong in a piece of work than to see what is right. When it is right we accept it as normal, when it is wrong it straightway invites some sneering and chuckling – I love sneering and chuckling at people’s work – no, no, not when they are standing nearby of course – I wouldn’t be that cruel. No, I think it’s great that people actually manage to get off their arses and do some art – I have respect for them, whatever their stuff looks like.
Perspective, choice of colour, figure drawing, brushwork, composition, all these when done well look simple and natural, but behind that apparent simplicity are hidden hours of mental anguish, sweat, blood, swearing, ripped up canvases, cigarette smoke, and a lot of late night coffee.
I don’t know if art schools in the UK these days allow this strange activity called ‘painting’ to be perpetrated on their premises – a few years ago it seemed to be outlawed – students applying for courses who were involved in this peculiar old-fashioned activity just didn’t get accepted. If I were running a painting class (God forbid!) I would have a regular supply of ‘bad’ charity shop paintings hanging on the studio walls – to give the students a bit of amusement, encouragement, and for them to have a wider perspective on what this form of fine art is all about…

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
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