September 4, 2014 Repository 153: Quality is Queen Posted In: art practice, contemporary art, culture, perspective

noun ˈkwä-lə-tē

: how good or bad something is
: a characteristic or feature that someone or something has : something that can be noticed as a part of a person or thing
: a high level of value or excellence

This past weekend at dinner, one of our friends brought up the notion of quality. He asked his wife to describe it, and in turn we all considered it. Thank you Dan of Point and Line for the conversation springboard….

Quality with respect to art…what is it? With food, quality is easily dependent on freshness and expert co-mingling with other foods. With wine it’s fairly easy to discern the difference between the vinegar/alcohol characteristic and a magnificent mouthful of flavors – the latter being the “quality” version of a wine.

There is a rising tide of mediocrity in fine art, and so much of it is getting lauded as unpretentious and honest, when truly it is not so great (to put it mildly) with respect to the quality of the art work. Is it fun and fresh? Sometimes yes, and so was Tang at one point in time.

Elle Magazine just wrote a little piece on the artist Katherine Bernhardt – they claim her painting style and subject matter are quotidian and totally “unpretentious”. They even go so far as saying that the work is unprecedented in its genius, that there is “nothing like it before” (giggle giggle). The artist is admittedly obsessed with pop culture and models. M’kay, that’s Andy Warhol, and more recently Elizabeth Peyton. So to the quality bit, please compare the image above, not so quality, to the image below. Both “models” as objects….one by Bernhardt and one by the venerable Marlene Dumas. There is truly no comparison.

Katherine Bernhardt Lizard Woman 2006. Acrylic on canvas

Katherine Bernhardt Lizard Woman 2006. Acrylic on canvas


"Naomi", Marlene Dumas, oil on canvas

“Naomi”, Marlene Dumas, oil on canvas

Another example, and actually I should preface that the artist is not doing fine art, but unabashedly commercial art. The quality comparison is on execution. Donald “Drawbertson” has been soulfully embraced by the fashion community as a brilliant artist. He is clever, very clever, with his sharpie and bright paints. His “sketches” are very fun for your eye to skim over. I would like to point to an equally irreverent and clever artist who wields a stream of consciousness track in her work also – Maira Kalman. Kalman’s work appears in commercial settings as well as at major art fairs, galleries and museums…and yes, the quality is key in her work pictured below Drawberston’s:

Image courtesy Donald "Drawbertson"

Image courtesy Donald “Drawbertson”

Image of "Woman" courtesy Maira Kalman and Julie Saul Gallery

Image of “Woman” courtesy Maira Kalman and Julie Saul Gallery

Quality exists in everything we say and do too. And there is SO MUCH STUFF lacking quality these days – what we eat, watch, listen to, and how we spend our time – that it is really urgent to reflect on. I would sum up by saying that whether you are in the studio, with friends, alone, at a restaurant or in a public space dedicated to displaying art, demand quality – not necessarily what you like to see/eat or do, simply that it has the magic ingredient of quality.

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort. – John Ruskin

Post script: I notice I’ve posted art examples that tend toward the “fashiony” side of things. A word of warning – as an artist it’s very easy to get sucked into the incredibly seductive world of fashion/instagram/twitter. It’s FUN!! But it’s a slippery slope. I had a recent crit where my mentors, on no uncertain terms, told me one of my drawings was “awful” exactly because it looked like a “fashion” sketch. Alas, I promise to get my head out of the September issues before returning to studio time;-) Think orange juice versus tang, wine versus grape juice, porcelain versus plastic……

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