Bad Art: Ramblings

There’s a popular sentiment that there is no bad art, that creation in and of itself is rewarding, and the end result is going to be wonderful. This can be true, if you’re not putting your work out there in a professional sense. There’s no reason to critique someone’s Instagram post of their art, that’s rude and uncalled for. But just the same, you know the first time you see it, that art is bad. And that’s OK.

            Our culture as a whole is moving forward, albeit with countless stragglers. Things are moving in a more positive, open direction in general, which is great. But, with all this positivity comes some saccharine platitudes that aren’t helpful. Positivity is crucial, but forcing it is off-putting. Popular phrases take hold, become jargon, and quickly lose meaning when everyone bandies them about with abandon. The point is this, it’s OK to dislike things.

            I’ve said this before, and possibly because I’m defending how critical I am of everything. But, in a world so replete with positivity, I’ve wondered if my disposition is a lost one. Everything cannot be great. When it comes to art, be it music, movies, visual art, TV, etc., I’m a hard judge. I’m turned off by things immediately. If it’s a song I never heard, the list of things that can get me to turn it off immediately is extensive: bad lyrics, bad singer, bad singing style, cliché, annoying guitars, annoying keyboards, annoying drummer, wrong beat, overused beat, too fast, too ham-fisted, sounds like teenagers, too short, not enough space – the list goes on. But, because I’m such a harsh judge of content, when I find something I like that passes my tests, I know it’s quite good.

            I can be pretentious, you must know this by now. But I stand by my fundamental beliefs about art. There is bad art, and even more importantly, there is bad art that everyone thinks amazing. It’s bound to happen. The internet hype machine can whip people into a frenzy over something, only for you to check it out and be disappointed. I thought the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” was simply awful, especially the writing. It upset me to my core, I even walked away at some point of the movie because I couldn’t stand how bad the dialogue was. Everyone loved that movie though, it won awards.

            It is ultimately because of my discerning tastes that I left the band I was in. Now, I’ve gotten in trouble before, so I’ll choose my words carefully about this. I found more adventurous bands and artists who broke with conventions, and those artists made me see what I truly disliked about my band’s music. I was done with rock music, done with songs – I wanted pieces of music, journeys in sound, and lyrics unburdened by song structure. The idea that you can get a message across by squeezing simple words into a rhyme scheme is nonsense. Something worth talking about takes time, specificity, and a willingness to write for the words, not the song. I wanted music that took the journey, and took its time, not serving merely as a transition to the next obligatory part of the structure. 

            When it comes to lyrics, I’m thrilled by Nick Cave, but also others like Father John Misty, and Phoebe Bridgers, who recently blew my mind with her honesty. But, I often listen to music without words, I find that the most rewarding. You can really discover your own thoughts when listening to a great piece of instrumental music. But I digress. 

            Not everything is good, especially not everything popular. It’s fine to dislike things that everyone likes. They might not even know why they like it, or worse still, they might not even like it, they’re just afraid to go against popular opinion. Be bold, take a stance, don’t settle for sub-par art. Don’t settle for bad writing, or bad music. And especially don’t listen to music with dumb lyrics. 

Published by Christopher Goodlof

Writer, Visual Artist, Musician

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