My God, this cheered me up!
Introduced yesterday to the Museum of Bad Art (how did I not know about this? It’s a trove of hideous delights), I pissed away most of the afternoon looking at stuff that makes the teeth curl.
But is Sad Baby ‘bad’? Can something that affords me so much pleasure (I can’t stop looking at it) really be classed as worthless? We are, after all, very much accustomed to work presented as ‘bad’, in order to subvert notions of artistic ‘standards’, by ‘good’ artists – Dubuffet’s ‘low art’, Hockney’s early faux-naïveté, Combas’ figuration libre, and so on and so forth – and also to the surprising joys of work we are very happy to class as ‘Naive’, ‘Folk’, ‘Outsider’, i.e. academically untrained, but not ‘bad‘.
I can only think that ‘badness’ (let’s cut the crap: Sad Baby sucks, big-time) arises from a yawning mile-wide chasm between intent and execution. (Admittedly, having no details of its provenance and having only the title to go on, I have to take the painting at face value, unironically; if irony is at play here, the work’s a masterpiece.) Firstly, that is no ‘sad baby’: it’s a 40 year-old bloke having a quiet half down his local inexplicably decked out as Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. The proportions are utterly wrong: babies and toddlers have relatively big heads; the legs and the torso bear no anatomical relation to each other; the background is what?? Either she’s monstrously, chimerically, tall for a ‘baby’ or the mantlepiece/shelf is about a foot off the ground. And what’s that brown splodge? The contents of her nappy? A ‘dirty protest’? Any expectations of the charm that we usually associate with ‘baby’ portraits are totally confounded.
But what really kills me, and makes me believe that this was an honest, unironic attempt to capture a beloved child is the care taken: look at the impasto used to render the smocking on the dress, the painstaking shading and highlighting of the face and figure. This is the work of someone who earnestly draws what she/he (I’m unjustifiably convinced it’s by a man) thinks she/he sees, not what’s there: of someone who has not learned to look. Someone like me.
And that, in the end, is what makes Sad Baby hilariously, gloriously, ‘bad’ yet appealing in my eyes: my laughter is mixed with empathy. Someone really tried, then failed, epically. Bad? Hell, yes. Worthless? I’d hang it on my wall tomorrow.
(Thanks to Chris at Galerie Pierre who brought MoBA to my attention, and to M.K. Hajdin who confirmed me in my ‘taste’.)
Museum of Bad Art: http://museumofbadart.org/