What is “bad” painting?

Yesterday Michael H. Miller from GalleristNY was clicking through the New Museum’s recently expanded digital archive and found images from “Bad Painting,” a 1978 exhibition that included work by James Albertson,Joan Brown, Eduardo Carrillo, James Chatelain, William Copley, Charles Garabedian, Robert Chambless Hendon,Joseph Hilton, Neil Jenney, Judith Linhares, P. Walter Siler, Earl Staley, Shari Urquhart, and William Wegman. 

 Judith Linhares

 Charles Garabedian

According to the original press materials, the exhibition focuses on work that “raises several controversial issues about the nature and use of imagery
in recent American art. The artists whose work will be shown have
discarded classical drawing modes in order to present a humorous, often
sardonic, intensely personal view of the world…”

Miller concludes in his post that “it�s nice to see an exhibition where the bad paintings are ironic rather than just, you know, actually bad.” Rather than ending his piece with a gratuitous swipe at contemporary painting, perhaps he should have offered some specific examples, because the changing nature of what we consider bad painting is a fascinating subject for a good discussion. If these paintings, which generally tend to mash-up surrealism and humorous fantasy imagery, were considered “bad” in the 1970s, what would be considered “bad” today?


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  1. Yes. I'm wondering too. What is today's "bad" painting? I think sometimes a huge qualifier has to do with past painting "styles". What about you?

  2. Honestly, I would have to say that a lot of what I see in New American Paintings would qualify as bad painting to me. Re-hashed subject matter that pushes no new ground regardless of technical merits still bores me and is ultimately forgettable. Most painting today is prbably bad painting and it has nothing to do with technique.I may have a different value system than most, but I don't care for painting just for the sake of the medium…I think it has to offer more than craft and technique. The '78 show was right about it then though, I can't think of any of those paintings as having any significance today.

  3. We should make a distinction between "bad," which implies that the painter is taking a conceptual stance, and bad (no quotation marks), which means that the painting, regardless of artist's intent, has failed.

  4. joe Bradley, Josh Smith and De Keyser have to be the champions of bad painting today. They piss off all the tradionalists, and their work sucks so much that it comes out on the other side of awesome! Also Wade Guyton is a "Painter" who doesn't even paint in any traditional manner, so that's not even bad, that's non-painting as painting which has got to be a sin to most painters grounded in tradition.

  5. Anything that's too earnest or sincerely trying to make a "Statement" whether or not it is well painted is one way of identifying a bad painting. I agree, too, with the above comment about much of what ends up in New American Paintings. Trendy approaches picked up in the MFA programs. This is an interesting topic.

  6. Add just about everything falling under the category "contemporary realism" and you have bad painting done with a high degree of "skill".

  7. These particular bad paintings are very much in the thrift store mold, which nowadays is considered a valid approach (see New American Paintings for examples.)

  8. I'm not sure what LM Smith means by "too earnest." Seriousness is perhaps a different issue? I hope so…

    Ditto Sharon's distinction between "bad" and bad.


  9. Yes, seriousness is different from "too earnest". Earnestness implies corny or sentimental to my mind.

  10. I am wary off opinions of any sort as they often expose our fears.

    I am of course now around my studio wondering is it "bad" ?

    I am earnest in my attempt to become a half decent painter by the end of my life, I am very much influenced by styles form the past, I rehash very unfashionable painters,I am romantic about painting heritage. i prescribe to the idea that "everything is a remix". I seem unable to avoid trends despite not intending to follow. I have an elk in a painting e.g
    I am definatly not bad in a good way.
    I am not breaking any new ground.

    oh dear…

    great post as always and interesting comments.

  11. "Bad" Painting is an ironic name for figurative work that demonstrated disrespect for other trends in painting during the 1970s. It's a dated concept which probably doesn't apply to contemporary artists.

  12. Yea, bad painting is a term used by curators and not by painters. I don't think any of the painters mentioned above would consider their work bad. These the terms good and bad really don't apply to paintings that are made in any kind of informed way. There are simply many different ways of doing things. To be sure, contemporary painters such as Bradley, Chris Martin, Josh Smith, or Eddie Martinez consider their paintings finely crafted to be exactly the way that they should look, just like a Currin or Condo painting is crafted. It has nothing to do with coming out on the other side of bad to awesome.

  13. it is easier to nail jello to the wall when it is still in the box

  14. JuliusCaspaerus

    what has always been. bad composition = bad painting, has that ever changed? oh, and I don’t count the extraminimalist paintings like paint the whole 1 color or 2/3 one color the rest some other color, that’s just overhyped shit.

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