Art is Subjective… or Maybe Just Mediocre

Photo by Jan Prokes on

I’ve said it on this blog in the past and I’ve seen it written in a lot of places, “Art is subjective.” It’s typically added on as this reminder that when your art is rejected by someone, for whatever the reason, it’s a subjective opinion. Unfortunately, this is only part of the truth. Sometimes, art is just not good.

The hardest part is putting your finger on specific things that make art bad. Is it bad music if the vocals aren’t in tune? A bad singer is a bad singer, right? Is it a bad movie if the acting is terrible? Is it a bad drawing if the shading is inconsistent? What if these things were done intentionally as a statement within the art?

Two paragraphs into writing this and I’m already losing track of my original thought that some art is just bad because every single example that comes to mind really is just my subjective view. What I consider bad, someone else might really enjoy – something that is very easy to spot by visiting your nearest art museum and keeping track of just how much of that art you don’t like. So now where do I take this entry?

I’ll detour. One thing that stands out to me, as an artist, is that mediocrity in art is a harder place to be than in the bad art section. People appreciate really bad art – either because it was intentionally bad to be funny or because the creator thought it was the greatest thing ever but it really, really wasn’t. In both cases, those of us on the outside are getting a laugh – and people like to laugh.

People also appreciate great art. You know, the kind of art that was obviously created by someone who is a master of their craft. The kind of art that when I say “great art”, some image or song just pops into mind and you smile. The best of the best.

You know what people really don’t appreciate? Mediocre art. Any art that’s between really bad and really good falls into a tough spot because it’s not at the extremes that people go out of their way to promote/share/whatever.

I feel a lot of my artistic efforts fall into this category as well. It’s most often not bad enough to make someone laugh at the effort but it’s not good enough to make people need to have more of it. Or more specifically, most of it is not bad enough or good enough to compel people to share it with their friends.

There’s a lot of mediocre art filling the world. There’s plenty of music you’ve enjoyed but don’t know who performed it because you weren’t motivated enough to look it up. There are a lot of paintings that fill walls around us which you appreciated but didn’t think to invest in any of them. This is all around us thanks to people showing up every day, putting forth effort, and producing something decent.

Coming back to this whole “art is subjective” thing, when you submit a piece somewhere what you are really asking is: “Is my work commercially viable enough that you are willing to support it?” That is a hugely different question compared to, “Is my art bad?”, but it’s still a pretty subjective thing. How many stories do you know of artists being rejected only to have them move on to be famous for that same work of art later? (Living with a writer, I know a few.)

So, how do you know if your art is bad art? Honestly, you have to soul search and figure that out for yourself. For me, I know it’s bad if I don’t love it. Beyond that single qualification, there are questions I ask of myself depending on what type of art I’m producing – but mostly, I just accept my art as mediocre and that’s a great place for me to be. There will be a small audience that likes what I offer and I never wanted anything more than that.

Feel free to send me your take via Twitter or email! Until next time, take care of yourself and keep creating.



P.S. I should say that I don’t use the term mediocre here to mean anything negative. Some people won’t rise to the level of superstardom because there’s a finite number of positions at the top. Others probably don’t want to be there and are content with just steadily working in the field they love. You know those actors that are in a billion movies but you still don’t know their name? They aren’t superstars but they show up, put in a good day’s worth of work, and have success. And, frankly, we wouldn’t have superstars without them.

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