Cartoon and Illustration

Artistic Criticism (and how that works–or should work)

Don’t ask me how these things come up.  I suppose the very fact that both I and my wife make our livings from creative pursuits just makes this sort of thing inevitable (not to mention the fact that both our families are filled with artists and musicians).  But I feel compelled to comment on what I consider the facts of “Artistic Criticism”.

Which is to say I make fun of art.

Seriously, I will go to a museum and pick out little bits in paintings and mock the look on the face of a particular figure, put words in the mouths of allegorical characters, poke fun at Louis XIV’s clothes, etc.  It’s what I do.

That is, among other things.

I also look at compositions.  Observe techniques.  Get inspiration.

But it seems to bug people when I make my snarky comments.  So I mostly keep them to myself–although when I start amusing my wife I do tend to escalate the humor part.  She joins in, and we have a grand time of it.

Some people think this is wrong.

I’ve got a real problem with that.

If we as a society have to draw the line at making fun of art–because it’s “serious”–then we’ve no longer got freedom to actually criticize what we’re looking at.  You can’t actually appreciate something unless you’re also free to deride it.  The minute someone says, “You can’t make fun of THAT!” they have robbed the public of the power to appreciate it.

This is also one of the reasons that I feel that comic books and comic strips are such an accessible art form.  They welcome mockery, and in the moment of our mocking them we (well, some of us) became fascinated by the form.

Now, does this mean that I think people should go spray graffiti on statues in the park?  Or that it’s okay to talk at the top of your voice during the local theater production of “Oklahoma!”  Not at all.  

But I’ve had people tell me that I can’t make fun of the fact that I was bored to tears (or sleep) during a “classical” concert–because that’s SERIOUS art.   Is it any wonder that I am less inclined to be as excited about that sort of event than I am a comic-con?

Does this not reveal that the person who has just criticized me has failed to appreciate the artful humor I have previously employed?

Again, not saying that one should be mean spirited when criticizing art of any sort.  But there HAS to be some allowance made for humor in criticism–and not just for well known critics.  Mark Twain was employing humorous criticism way back when he was just plain old Samuel Clemens.  The very fact that he is one of America’s best known and loved humorists to this day is based on the fact that he was willing to mock the work of others–when it needed mocking!

So when some art snob calls you a Philistine for snickering at yet another bad painting that’s supposed to be taken seriously–simply because it’s in a museum (in spite of the fact that it looks like 9 square feet of asphalt someone pulled up from a road)–point this out to them:  The power to appreciate something is contingent upon the ability to mock it if it needs mocking.

Or perhaps simply say, “Oh?  If this is such great art and I am such a Philistine, perhaps you could take the time to explain to me what is so great about it.”

Maybe if someone had taken that step back about 100 years ago we might not have so many museums filled with junk.  Then again, we might not have so many creatively constructed comic books and comic strips.


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