Bad Art or Bad Fashion? Fireflies are your media?

Struggling with writing your very own bad poetry? Painting got you down? There may be a day when someone else will come to admire your work. But in case you wonder how bad it needs to be to be truly bad, read on. Rest assured, though, that if you make jewelry out of live fireflies and broken glass, you are in.

The criteria NPR says that a judge once applied to obscenity is that you know it when you see it, and the same thing applies to bad art. However, in their story about MOBA, the Museum of Bad Art, NPR staff quote Michael Frank, the head of the museum, who manages to get a working definition:

“What we look for are pieces of work that are produced in an attempt to make some sort of artistic statement — but clearly something has gone wrong. There has to be something about it that makes you stop, and very often wonder why the artist continued down the path to produce what he or she did.”

Since the veritable chain of MOBA installations is in nearby Massachusetts, I put them on my to visit short list. But I couldn’t resist checking to see if there other halls of fame to being totally bad. Lo and behold! The Bad Fads (who sort of cheat, since they include some fads that are not really bad (Frisbees) and admit that “bad” can mean “good” if you are in the right generation) and 10 weird museums offered by the Daily Mail, especially if you are into parasites or funeral carriages.

The best part of my quest to verify the fascination with the bad turned up this piece of evidence that that fascination is not at all new. When I read the dateline, I did a double -take:

By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times.  March 14, 1909, Sunday

Museum of Bad Taste; Horrible Examples in Art to be Shown at Stuttgart

The Stuttgart museum was to collect items that departed from good taste, “fresh freaks” that dared “improper use of materials, offense against construction ideals, and anomaly decorative effects.”  I had to find out. What were these materials? Did the museum still exist? How offensive could one be with improper materials engaged in decorative anomalies? Can you say rodent on a skateboard?

Thankfully, Gustav E. Pazaurek has put order and articulation by clearly defining bad taste. Spoiled materials are definitely bad, as are live insects and apparently using them to imitate something else is absolutely off the table. Yet, while “functional lies” are sins, for sure, I have to disagree with this rule: “Obtrusive, abnormal shapes and proportions that detract from the clarity and familiarity of a traditional, functional form. ” To show why this is a rule meant to be broken, take a look at Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man, I. Giacometti’s tall, gaunt man with his slightly tired stride communicates a spiritual search, one that is often solved by breaking the rules.


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