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The Arts Room General Why is it so exhausting to encounter bad art?
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Why is it so exhausting to encounter bad art?
We've talked elsewhere on this site about how much energy and inspiration comes from encountering great art (in a museum, as a performance).

Something perhaps less obvious is that looking at bad art can be exhausting. Any theories about why this is? What's at work?
Interesting question, Molly. Maybe it's similar to the way that going out to a bad restaurant for lunch really slackens performance in the afternoon. It's a combination of disappointment and the simple toll of digestion. Whether or not you enjoyed the lunch, you still have to process it somehow. Low-quality fuel makes any engine unhappy.

I'd point out that bad art is not necessarily unsophisticated art, or vice versa. Exuberant crayon drawings might give me great joy. Even in a simple piece you can feel if there's a creative energy. On the other hand art which tries to be sophisticated without necessarily knowing what it says can be, well, trying.

Continuing with the food analogy, the more processed the worse it usually is. On the other hand, most of what we consider the masterpieces of cuisine are hardly "natural" -- think even of the simple croissant, with its specially ground pastry flour, endless flaky layers of butter, egg glaze and its different stages of rising, rolling, forming, cooking.  When you bite into a perfectly made  fresh croissant, though, you don't taste the artifice.

In response to Solveig Wright
 What is exactly bad art? I'm an artist and sometimes wonder about what good/intermediate/bad art means. For me good art at the ultimate expression in terms of beauty and technical perfection is the old masters, the "ususal suspects" Velazquez, Murillo, Rembrandt, Tiziano, Greco and so on, although I confess I wouldn't have some of their paintings because simply they don't "touch me". Intermediate art would be like  the background music one hears in restaurants or bars but doesn't really listen to. Is there, is correct, doesn't bother, nothing to go gaga over but doesn't trigger a negative reaction. Bad art, well. Would that be those pieces that, like it also happens with fashion, one wonders whether the author/artist/designer is making fun of us, who really is going to wear THAT and when and over what body? Or are these vertical white lines on a black acrylic background with some old rag glued on one corner really a magnificent piece for which I should pay twenty million dollars -in the case I had then, of course-. This doesn't mean I don't like  -or love- many 19th and 20th century painters. Renoir, Monet, Kandinsky, Klimt, some of Picasso and Dali works. Oh, yes ! My walls would be delighted to hold them!
 Like in many other aspects of artistic expressions -music mainly to me- I suppose the expression "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" validates the fact that not all of us are equally affected/impacted but the same things.
 How I react to what I consider bad art? First, I try not to overexpose myself to it, and if I have to be at a show,  I take a quick look at what's on the walls/stands, grab a glass of champagne, talk to people for a while and leave as quickly as I can. And forget.
Fun stuff, ladies.  It left me hungry.  But I must stick to the different gruel of words, filling in their way, but nothing like a good croissant!

Do I find bad art exhausting.  Not for long.  I'm no doubt more impatient than the two of you, for I'm prone to withdraw at once in the face of stuff that makes me tired. Chronic Fatigue has its own designs.  But even as I make this observation, I realize that it's changing.  That I'm in past tense thinking it was present.

I like to see one thing at a time, be it a painting, a person, a subject.  Except when I don't.  Not every tree in the forest need speak to me: I love the forest itself.

It just struck me that this is parallel to the rhythm of deduction and induction, which I thoroughly enjoy.  I like to go from particular instances to general notions, and back again.  It allows both the empircally valuable observation of singular examples, and the great reach of large generalizations.  I think most good writers do this automatically.  An interesting exercise for a writing class: to examine some "geat" literature, and see if this general notion applies.

 But I'm teaching myself to give up the futile effort at multi-tasking--impossible neurologically speaking, in any case--in the service of depth.  The down side of such impatience is that I sometimes miss the wealth of something that demands a longer look than I've been willing to give it.  The upside is that I avoid most bad art and plain nonsense.

It's been one of thef more recent delights of my life to overcome, at times,  such impatience and stick with, say a book, long enough to let its richness begin to manifest.  So it's been that after spending my life in academia, I feel as though I'm beginning to learn to read again.  When I begin to grow impatient with a text, I try, rather than putting it down, to slow myself down, and often enough, the text enlivens again.  It turns out that I was in a hurry to finish the thing: a kind of ego-driven attempt at comprehensiveness.  Very American, I guess: more, more, more.  Also, I've also been a slow reader, so I find myself trying to speed up.  But guess what!

So I am becoming a slower reader. Nietzche wrote about being a teacher of slow reading.  A crawl along the ground kind of reader.  Just as I like to "saunter" in the woods, after Thoreau's definition in an essay called "Walking."  He compares a walk in the woods to something holy, more like a pilgrimage. 

Now, coming to the end of this post, which I didn't expect would take so long, I wonder what the next example of slowing will be.  Perhaps learning how to write these comments.  The quicker I try to get one done, the more time it can take to complete.  So, looking, reading, writing, walking: a list of some of the basics.  A new credo?  Take it slow and easy, you'll see more that way.
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