by Arnie Fenner
I was actually going to title this post "Stuff That Pisses Me Off," but opted for something a little more sedate. Anyway...pet peeves. We all have them: you, me, everybody. The little irritants that make you shake your head or roll your eyes. And when it comes to Art, you bet there are some things that get my motor running. So...here are a few.
1] People who have never drawn, painted, or sculpted anything pretending to be art experts. Everybody is welcome to love or loathe whatever they choose. But although academics or collectors or art dealers or fans might know bunches of artists and file away all sorts of minutia about this painter or that sculptor, that's not the same thing as being an "expert." They can certainly posit their opinions; some well-reasoned, some half-assed, but at the end of the day they're only expressing opinions either way. And everyone is welcome to them. But unless you've ever used a paintbrush, tossed clay, pushed a pencil, or designed type professionally you don't really know what it takes to create anything. And if you don't know what it takes for someone to turn a blank canvas into something people want to look at...admit you're not an artist and spare me your pontificating.
2] Masterpiece. Which, like "awesome" has gotten to be incredibly overused lately. Various writers have denounced the misapplication of words through the years and I can't say I disagree with them. So, yes, describing the Grand Canyon as "awesome" is apropos. Describing your shoes the same way, not so much. Anyway, let's just put it this way: we don't get to decide what is a "masterpiece." Time—lots and lots of time—and perspective decides. And if you have purchased an artwork—or, more, commissioned it—you definitely shouldn't refer to that work as a "masterpiece": you just look like a self-aggrandizing douchebag if you do. It's really the type of designation that comes, again, with time, perspective, and context and always from disassociated people with significantly more objectivity than the current owner possesses.
3] Artists who dis other artists or types of art different from their own. One of the things I talk about in my essay in (shameless plug) Spectrum 20 is the wholly specious "pecking order" for artists that people tend to follow—stupidly. Recently I read a post by an artist I respect—whom I know is better than the comment he made—who referred to an article about Modern Art and derisively said, in essence, that you wouldn't be seeing any of that sort of "crap" at the show he would soon be setting up at. And that disappointed me. Oh, sure, we can all trot out our Modern Art Silliness examples—whether it's a cross in a urinal or shit in a can or a bisected cow in formaldehyde—but pretentiousness does not cancel out pretentiousness: it just makes everybody look...childish. Art is art. The tool doesn't matter; the intent doesn't matter; the venue doesn't matter. Not everyone thinks the same way, not everyone likes the same things—and that includes art. Creativity—art—is not a single road: there are many divergent paths and it is not for artists to criticize other artists for the paths they choose to take. We don't have to like everything, but remember the old saw: When you point a finger—particularly a derisive one—there are three pointing back at you.
4] Trying to explain an artist's work by comparing it to that of another artist. I sort of referenced this in the essay about Jim Gurney in Spectrum 19 last year, but it's something that happens all the time, usually by the folks mentioned in #1. Look, trying to explain one artist's work by referencing another's is [a] lazy, [b] often (not always, but often) a disingenuous attempt to feign deeper knowledge than the speaker/writer actually possesses and [c] basically an approach which discredits (albeit unintentionally) the accomplishments of the artist being discussed. I don't care if you describe something as "in the tradition of" Alma-Tadema, Pyle, or Frazetta all you're really doing is dismissing the art you're trying to praise by implying it couldn't have existed without that of the predecessor. And I say that's BS. Anything—any artworks—that makes an impression, particularly a lasting one, is because of the intellect of the artist, not because of their real or perceived influences. Talk about the artist and their work, not "explain them" by comparing them to who they may or may not have been influenced by (most of whom the general public wouldn't know anyway).
5] Freebies. Would you go up to an actor and ask them to play out a scene in a movie, TV show, or play? Would you ask a singer to perform for you? Would you ask a novelist to write something for you? No? And yet people routinely approach artists at conventions and shows and ask for free sketches along with their autograph. Why? Because it's "easy?" Screw that. I know that some fans won't like to hear this (particularly since it will cut into their ebay sales), but artists aren't performing chimps and they shouldn't be expected to give away art for free. If the artist doesn't place a value on their work, even quick sketches...why should others? People shouldn't be expecting art for nothing, and I don't care whether you're in the U.S. or in Europe (where it seems it's an expectation of artists, at least at comics conventions). Period. Harlan Ellison has a rant (which I wholeheartedly agree with) about paying the writer: it applies to artists as well. If you want a sketch, offer to pay for it, rather than expect it as a given.
6] Absolutes. There's no such thing in the arts. "Best." "Greatest." "Finest." Yesh. According to whom? I was once asked in an interview, "What makes Frazetta the greatest fantasy artist of all time?" After a minute I said, "In art there are a lot of 'greats,' a lot of 'bests.' Frank was the 'greatest' Frank Frazetta there's ever going to be but, as much as I love his art and as important as I think he is, there has never been and will never be any singular 'greatest' artist, just lots of great artists who are great for different reasons." People love to make comparisons, people love to be able to point to a #1, love to make pronouncements and jump around like Miley Cyrus with a foam finger, but in art (as in any other life experience, whether the experience is a dance or a concert or a movie or a convention)...there's no such thing.
Of course, these are just a few of the minor things that bug me from time to time; mentioning them here won't make them go away. People will continue to do what they do regardless of my feelings...but it feels kind of good to at least have a say. I'm sure you have your art pet peeves. Feel free to share—calmly, please. You may feel better afterward.