Does Bad Art Grow On You?

James Cutting’s “exposure effect” claims that, through repeated exposure, viewers of inferior art come to rank those works more highly than canonical “great” art. A team of scholars reached a different conclusion:

We reported findings suggesting that increased exposure to art works does not necessarily make DCF 1.0people like them more. Instead, the quality of an art work remains at the heart of its evaluation. We repeatedly exposed study groups to two sets of paintings (by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais, and the American ‘Painter of Light’ Thomas Kinkade) before asking them to express a degree of liking for them. Although Millais is a well-respected artist, Kinkade’s work has been described as “a kitsch crime against aesthetics” and “so awful it must be seen to be believed.” We found that people liked Kinkade’s paintings less after they had been exposed to them. This was not the case with the Millais paintings. In our view, this suggests that exposure does not work independently of artistic value.

So are these works of art on Tumblr bad?

In one sense, this is a really tricky question. There might be a whole bunch of different reasons someone tags a particular piece as bad art. For example, a work might fail to conform to ordinary expectations about art. Or it might be morally challenging, disturbing, or even ethically questionable. Labelling a picture bad may not be a simple matter; many different kinds of things might be meant by displaying a work as ‘bad’ art. But in another sense, the question is pretty straightforward. Is the picture any good?

A reader sends the above image:

I give you: The Museum of Bad Art. Not only are the pieces classic unto themselves, but the commentary is invaluable:

In this complex narrative, the artist addresses how we perceive and the fear of how we are perceived. The faceless female form hesitates. Terror grips the little dog. His left paw pushes, as if to say “you go first.” The largest figure lurks behind, holding his pet, but not his mate. The choice of spectacles is confirmation that the artist is conflicted at the prospect of emerging. Yet when the hinged door is opened, we find he has nothing to hide.

The MOBA collection of “bad” art isn’t just stick figures and other poorly rendered art; it’s art that aspires to greatness and perhaps achieves it, but not in the way intended. Really, take a minute and stroll through the collection online. It’s definitely worth it.