Garbage Artists Dishonor Both Art and Artists

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Les grimaces. Louis Leopold Boilly. 1824. Public Domain.

Over a number of years I’ve taught quite a few students who were extremely bright and passionate, who devoted time and effort, research and practice into creating a body of art that with greater clarification would compete with the best contemporary art anywhere. These artists normally continue onward to higher levels of study. They are lifelong learners, they remain serious artists and they reap art world rewards such as major shows, grants, teaching positions, residencies and so forth. To see students succeed in these ways is a reward that validates the effort I put into teaching.

Then there is a second type of student. They too seem bright and passionate and who apparently devote time and effort, who seem to research and practice to creating a strong contemporary body of art. But this second type of student suddenly upon graduating gives up everything they learned in order to create lowest common denominator art, that for lack of a better term I call garbage art.

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Please Stop, photograph by Francis Storr. Creative Commons

Garbage art is palette knife birch trees, public television follow along slop, mall art abstraction with black, ochre and red and a touch of gold leaf; we’re talking works done from photographs, painted lighthouses and painted chickens, line drawn hockey players, and gesturally smeared mountain views. It’s the portfolio of every 10th grader. It’s stuff that stems from little or no education. It’s the stuff that granny with dementia and the guy down the street who never saw a painting in his life tend to like. It’s the stuff of hotel lobbies and show homes. It’s the stuff that hangs in all those brightly lit crap galleries that line the streets of tourist towns. I don’t even dare show you examples of garbage art because the people involved with tend to be full of a nasty arrogance and hubris.

These garbage artists in my view are art education’s biggest failures, and I judge them more harshly than those who simply give up.

It’s been bothering me lately. What in the world causes a student to sign up for four or six years of serious high level investigations only to toss it all into the dumpster upon receiving the degree?

I get a link from someone who graduated with a note saying something like, ‘Hey look at my new art’ and I pull up their website and it’s all O.M.G. did I mis-click? Double check. It’s their site alright full of downright mindless, terrible, unconsidered, pandering, crap. I thought they learned early on at university, as most students do, that high school low level art gets you nowhere at university or in the world. Don’t I recall them giving that up for higher level investigations? I close their site with a sigh and I’m deeply bothered by their return to high school art and worse. What in the world caused them to do this? Did they go crazy?

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Despair.com Failure Poster,Dave Schappell by daveschappell. Creative Commons

I suppose I should ignore it. I support self-determination. However, when I frame their current creations in terms of educational outcomes it’s clear: They have failed.

The analogy is, and I’m actually serious here, the kids who use sticks and a plastic dolly to pretend operate and decide they want to be surgeons. They go thorugh medical school, learn to be a surgeon, and after graduating they go back to pretending to operate with dollies and sticks. This is what these garbage artists are doing, creating as if they never went through a formal education, and from this point of view they wasted everyone’s time, including their own. I’m sorry but I have no respect for them. They are not and should not be considered ARTISTS in the way we mean experts who are involved in creating at the highest levels, who are actively contributing to the growth and critique of culture. I know it’s idealistic and delusional to ask for this, but can we please stop considering these people real artists, can we stop acting like what they do is legitimate, can we stop giving them any time or exposure for creating their garbage via a garbage process. The world has enough garbage without them creating more.

So I’ve been wondering, is there something we could have done at the institutional level to prevent this slide into garbage art creation?

Well, I seem to recall that during their education we (meaning many of their professors and peers) involved them in discussions and projects about capitalism and art, about low level and high level art, about concept and form, about the necessity of contemporary art and ideas, about the fact that creating can’t be about money because there is no money for most artists, about ongoing failure and resilience one needs as an artist. But even with all this, it seems that the lure of selling for a few bucks, even if it means selling out to create salable garbage was too great for them. Or maybe they simply gamed us all along, pretending to be good students while harboring a deep unwavering love of garbage art. Perhaps it’s psychological in that mommy and daddy like garbage art and they have need to please issues.

Even knowing this I take their decision to heart and I care, no longer for them, but for future students. I attempt to think of ways to keep future artists true to themselves and on track. Maybe I’ll come out even stronger against it to future students, and I may work harder to help them see that the educated route really is the important route.

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Photgraph by Jordan Lyons, 2019. Wikimedia Commons.

They no longer will be accepted to any decent graduate school, they won’t be able to get good letters of reference, I know I won’t be able to write one that’s truthful without stating they gave up everything that ’s important and so I’ll simply decline with some half-believable reason. They no longer can be considered serious in that they gave up both learning or growth. No legitimate gallery will pick them up because legitimate galleries don’t show garbage art. No serious art magazine will feature them. No real critic will care.

These artists have failed in the most conspicuous manner, publicly and evidently without shame. I want to blame it on some mental lapse, some concussion, temporary insanity, but no, it’s all their conscious choice and doing. So they get to be held accountable for their decision.

Sorry everyone but these artists get none of my respect. They sold out. They create garbage. I won’t suggest it’s anything better than garbage art that should be shipped off to the dump. Their works are failures no matter whether idiots in provincial galleries can sell it to the uneducated, or whether idiots run an article on them in a tiny local magazine, or whether some idiot buys their garbage for the wall of their rumpus room. What garbage artists do remains garbage and they remain failures. It needs to be said, and there, I said it.

Novelist, poet, a post-studio visual artist, and the founder of The Invisible Art Collective International. Recent novels include “Sundre” and “Garbage Head.”

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