Monday Musing: Mediocre Oblivion

Rising and shining with the get up and go of a zombie after the rigor sets in, I glanced at my blog calendar and realized quickly that it wasn’t in the cards. Today was to be an Alternative Mythologies day, but that requires a lot of research, double checking, and most importantly – the ability to read and write at the same time. I sit here now able to to type stream of consciousness but otherwise unable to do most other things. Why? Because the air quality has taken a nosedive, the entirety of my body hurts, and I turned to my one true friend in this time of need – Benadryl.


Not the good stuff, mind you, that’s ramen money there. No, I take a cheap generic version in a little pink pill. And because of this, I often refer to these times in my life as “the pink haze”. Yes, the pink haze, the closest I get to actually “high” in my life. Between waking up face down on the futon and the eventual return to the embrace of darkness, I stare into space and have random thoughts for a good few hours before rising as a pink fueled clumsy monstrosity detached from the concerns of the mortal world. This entity I have become drifts from thought to thought while being consumed with an insatiable hunger and a desire for everything to stop being hot. This beast shall soon consume all ice cream within the house, I fear.


But as I drifted from thought to thought, one felt like it was worth sharing: What happens to all the shitty art?

The Big Unpleasant Picture

MANA LISA Andrea Schmidt, Vancouver, Canada 12"x16", oil on canvas Donated by the artist, January, 2002 MOBA #370 A cross-gender interpretation of the daVinci classic. Mana Lisa’s nose strikes nimbly, offsetting the dialogue between the foreground and profoundly varnished background. Further, by deciphering this work’s title, perhaps we can contribute to the growing body of Leonardo's anagrammatic discourse: MAN ALIAS I AM NASAL A SAIL MAN AS ANIMAL AM A SNAIL MAIL NASA From—Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks by Michael Frank and Louise Reilly Sacco
From—Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks by Michael Frank and Louise Reilly Sacco

Think about it, most artwork in the world isn’t good. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most of it is horrible. But we only really have records of artwork from famous artists and sculptors throughout history. Even in the stories where they died impoverished or misunderstood in their time, we still know them to be great artists today. The annals of history have weighed in on them and determined them as noteworthy. But that’s generally all we see.

What did the rest look like? Not just the stuff that was lesser known or from artists who were good but existed at the wrong time, but from the people who were mediocre. Some would assume that this would just be a matter of the lesser artists not making a living off of it and quitting – but most of the good artists didn’t make a living off of it either. We know plenty of poets or painters who died penniless, so clearly it wasn’t like the talent made them more likely to stick with it. No, it’s more likely it just got forgotten.

We even see it today, with stuff no older than a generation ago. There are thousands of new books published every year and you’re most likely to only hear about three or four of them. And sure, there’s going to be several gems in there that just get overlooked until the author is long dead, but even then they’re a small fraction. Meanwhile we know for a fact that raptor porn is currently selling strangely well on Amazon (and, with luck, will be forgotten in 20 years). Clearly, there’s stuff out there that you just don’t see or see today and know won’t be remembered in another generation. Unless, of course, the dinosaur porn is the misunderstood artwork of the day.


But, then again, is it really a matter of quality? Something I told my friend recently that proves itself true time and time again is that artwork can be really good or really bad but the worst thing it can be is mediocre. Something that sits in the simply “okay” range tends to find its way to a dusty storage room and gets ignored until said room burns down or is invaded by barbarians. I mean, how long did people remember the trainwrecks of the film world like Gigli or Pluto Nash? Horrible bombs in theaters that end up becoming urban legends of their own right for being just god awful. And how long those are going to survive is anyone’s guess, but you’d be hard pressed to name most lackluster movies from the same years.

But the “okay” stuff, that tends to go away faster. You forget it because it’s so lacking in things to talk about. If something’s horrible, you can at least talk about how horrible it was (and, frankly, that’s why we run the risk Raptor-porn will be remembered for generations to come). The great artists were often misunderstood in their time, declared as unfit for the modern sensibilities. And this is part of the reason why so many of them struggled to find their place in the world. Part of it is just the change of tastes, but is part of it also because the fact we kept talking about it over time was the success in and of itself? What happens when art doesn’t require talking about it, good or bad?


This painting isn’t bad, in fact it’s reasonably passable. It’s also kind of boring. Lacking any sort of risks or any sense of a theme, it’s just a decent picture of a building. The colors aren’t very interesting, there’s nothing particularly eye catching. Frankly it’s just the sort of thing you’ll look at once and then forget about down the line, possibly not even remembering the first time you saw it. And yet, I show to you now the art of one of the most famous artists to have ever lived – just not for his art.


Something people will throw around as a random factoid is that Adolph Hitler was an artist. But what most people overlook is that he was an “okay” artist. His art, while not phenomenal, was also pretty bland. So lacking in reasons to talk about it, we wouldn’t even know that it existed at all if he hadn’t turned out to be a literal fucking Hitler. Could he have just been a really shitty German artist instead, he may have had a long, successful career. Just look at Uwe Boll.


Now, I’m not saying Uwe Boll is like Hitler, nor is his artwork like Hitler’s – his films are actually worse. But Uwe Boll is the kind of shitty German artist that can still make a living but will hopefully be forgotten by future generations. Thankfully, his supposed leaving of the industry last year may speed that up. But, had Hitler’s art been as bad as Uwe Boll, it would have been talked about enough to at least give him hope there was a future in it.  And, who knows what that world might have looked like. Who knows what kind of world we would have gotten if Hitler just could have been the Uwe Boll of the 1930s.

So, I guess, in the end, the question becomes whether or not we can really determine today what will be remembered fondly tomorrow. We may actually be admiring the artwork of the shitty artists after all. We might have long ago talked ourselves into thinking they were geniuses. Not all of them, mind you, some of them were genuinely just groundbreaking. But the only art we can really know for sure has been lost, forgotten, or discarded is the stuff that no one cared about. Even as far back as cave paintings, we don’t really know for sure that was Gronk’s best work. Gronk might have been better with fire, we’ll never know. All we know is that’s what we found.

Which raises the question, given the fact that notoriety seems to preserve artworks of all mediums longer than any other force, what remains of today? Sadly, given the internet’s propensity to share things that they hate, there’s a chance a lot of our really shitty stuff survives to the future while our middling stuff will survive only as long as the human memory. One day, generations from now, there may actually be an entire culture of snobs talking over the deeper meaning…

Of the worst remnants of our works.

(I write novels. Sink or swim, I hope they’re remembered someday. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep reminding people I exist on twitter.)