BAD ART and how to avoid it
Good landscape architectural art is rare. Why?
I’ve thought a lot about this question as it’s critical in my work as artist and landscape architect.
It’s hard to say exactly what good art is. It’s hard to say what art is, even. And actually, to label something as good is in many ways a death-knell to functioning art. Yet it’s important to ask the question. So I find a more instructive way to study what’s good, is to study what‘s bad. I do this in my own practice, and in considering other’s work, and then I work to avoid.
Here to help examine the question of good landscape art, are what I consider to be five conditions of bad art:
- BAD ART lacks precision. It is not well-practiced, well-versed. The maker of bad art has not been careful to work over and over to pinpoint and hone specifics (see 2, 3, 4 and 5 also).
- BAD ART lacks function. It’s really that simple I think: All good art has function. When the artist or landscape architect doesn’t know how their work functions as art, it is likely to be poor.
- BAD ART is usually ill-informed by other’s cultural works. The bad landscape architect has not looked enough at things. They have not studied others’ work: both those who came before them, or their contemporaries in landscape and other arts, and other cultures. How can something good be offered in vacuum?
- BAD ART is materially and spatially (visually) inept. This comes about when visual, sensory literacy (sometimes called ‘graphicacy’) is superficial and not engaged with seriously.
- BAD ART attempts ‘niceness’. Oscar Wilde said: “All bad art is the result of good intentions”. We landscape architects are hampered by ‘niceness’, ‘good intentions’. Being nice and being ethical are not the same thing. I think these two are often confused in landscape discourses and practice. This leads to conventional, mannerist, and clichéd works and ideas of art and beauty. (“Bad artists always admire each other’s work” Oscar Wilde). I would add that ‘niceness’ for this reason is patronising. Good art is never nice. It is complex, maybe challenging, uncertain, confronting, confusing, haunting, ambiguous, honest, raw, unexpected, messy, or crafted freshly, arresting, highly ordinary, apparently simple, profound, perhaps tasteless and ugly. A primary function of art is to challenge received wisdom and morality.
A lot of art that goes by the name of landscape architecture will be found to have at least one of the above five conditions. Is this why our profession in the UK goes largely un-noted for its cultural achievements?
To avoid BAD ART: Be precise and specific. Practice lots. Be useful. Be culturally-informed, culturally-erudite even (why not?). Listen. Watch. Be refreshing. Be honed. Mainly– make stuff. Be spatially, visually, materially literate (comes from all above). Don’t be nice (but don’t be mean)(arrogance is not the way either). Don’t try to be popular, try to be honest, which perhaps, almost certainly, means going forward un-knowing.
This is how I try to work (apart from the erudite bit). Because “Bad art is a great deal worse than no art at all“ Oscar Wilde