Back when I taught art appreciation at a local community college, I had many many adult students who came into class saying things like “I just don’t get it!” or “My kid could paint that!” or “I just don’t like that artwork!”
In a way, I think many of my students felt like there is this thing that they are supposed to be or there is a bunch of stuff they should know before they are able to appreciate art. And, if they don’t like a painting, if that painting doesn’t do anything for them, that it is their fault.
Here’s the secret. It is totally OKAY to hate a work of art.
I was recently flipping through my pictures from my summer trip to New York City looking for an Oceanic artwork I thought I photographed at the Met to use in my Masterpiece Monday series. While clicking through the pics, I came across this one and recoiled.
Ugh. I really don’t like that painting. I had taken a picture of it just for the purpose of writing a post just like this one. I have strong feelings about this ones, my friends. It. is. the. worst. But, I do understand it’s value in this world as an extension of an artist and a moment in time. I respect its place in the world; I just don’t want to occupy that same space.
I always told my students that it is perfectly fine to hate a work of art, but just tell me why. Spend some time with it. Look at it a little longer if you can stand it, and see if it changes. Look at it again next week, and see if it changes. If it doesn’t, that’s fine.
Actually, it is more than fine. It’s good to hate an artwork. The artwork is making you feel and making you think, and that alone is awesome. Even if all you can think about is taking a knife to it.
Sarah Urist Green from the Art Assignment YouTube channel did a really great video recently on Art Critique. I recommend it as a way to think about how we can respect and discuss artworks we don’t find “interesting.” (Watch the video to find out about using that word.)
Long story short: My tip today is just to follow your interests. If you don’t like an artwork or an art movement, learn from it and then skip it. Find things you love and connect with and don’t feel bad if you don’t like it all.
Life is too short to look at ugly paintings.