Art Class 101

On a recent Joe Rogan podcast, guest and film director Kevin Smith said that only good can come from encouraging artists, while discouraging an artist can only be a bad thing. This seems like a simple statement, but it raises a few interesting points. I’ll address them in order of abstractness, from least to most. (To hear it in action, go here and scroll to 1:12:20)

First, as Joe Rogan countered right away, sometimes discouragement can be its own motivator for the aspiring artist. It’s the “I’ll show them” idea. While Rogan said he doesn’t use that ideology, he also said he knows many professional fighters who do (Rogan is a martial artist and an MMA commentator). Smith agreed that professional fighting might be an area where feeding on that negative motivation is necessary, just because of the severe physical and mental strain that fighters must place on themselves. But this question of encouragement and motivation goes deeper.

Tim Burton raised a very similar point when he was a guest on Charlie Rose . Burton was interviewed around the time he had an exhibition at MOMA and was asked about his art, which is both very good and very Tim Burton. Burton responded that he can never understand when adults tell children (or when children tell themselves) that they can’t draw. It’s a profound insight. Burton himself “can’t draw” in the classical sense and he himself recognizes this. But as he said, that never stopped him from drawing. And now the man has had an exhibit at MOMA. (Again, go here but this time scroll to 14:20)

Third, and most abstractly, is the question of who decides what art is – the artist or the audience? The most obvious and honest answer here is the artist, although it usually doesn’t usually seem like their on the jury. Smith, Rogan, and Burton are three artists who could be very easily mocked by traditional critics (I suppose they would call it “critiquing”). But they are also three very successful artists with very loyal fans. Smith was able to circumvent the entire Hollywood industry in producing and releasing his latest full-length film, mainly because of how he can connect to his fan base through podcasts and Twitter.

So I suppose a better question would be, who decides what art is good art? The most obvious and honest answer is each audience member because each piece of art affects each of us differently (let’s not forget that critics are just professional audience members). We have all experienced a piece of art that we were told was great, only to find out it was shit*. So rather than see pieces of art as lying on a spectrum of good and bad, we should see everyone as having a personal spectrum of good art and bad art. We should also see these spectrums as independent of each other, even though they may overlap when comparing two or more people.

Finally, I want to make a point about the fashion industry because I was talking with my wife tonight about how I don’t think I will ever understand it. We agreed that people in fashion (the ones on the television at least) take themselves so seriously and yet what they do looks so frivolous. On the other hand, it’s an art form. As my wife said, it’s creative people doing creative things. And she’s right. I don’t have to understand it. My belief that it’s a bunch of phonies keeping up a charade isn’t going to change it. It’s art that doesn’t have a place on my spectrum.

*For me it’s Kafka. Seriously, I want my time spent reading that back. OK, for me it’s also T.S. Eliot.