“Guilty Pleasures: It’s Good to Like Bad” June 18, 2010 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns – Tags: , , , , , , , ,

All this talk about art-collecting “grails” (see previous two Blogs) prompted me to think of the other side of the coin: Bad Stuff We Like.

Or call it Guilty Pleasures.

Just about any other area of life allows us to come clean with the accepted fact that everything we like is not necessarily great. Nowhere is this more evident than food. I don’t care if you’re a screamin’ vegan, ascetic athlete or religious rice-eater, every person on the planet can admit to liking something that isn’t good for them. With all the health concerns and advances in dietary science, there is still no shortage of greasy burgers, sloppy pizza, giant cupcakes, creamy pies, rich cakes and super-salty snacks on the shelves. (And thank goodness!) We all know by now that stuff can kill you, but all you need to excuse an indulgence is a simple, “But I like it.” And it works.

Same is true for cars, clothes, cigarettes, beer, booze, investments, vacation spots, hotels, cities, jobs…Heck, even people! How many times have you or a friend acknowledged dating (or even marrying) someone who just “isn’t good” for them? That you or they seem to be attracted to the “wrong kind of person”? Happens all the time.

Except in art. No one seems willing to admit they like art that isn’t the greatest, an artist who isn’t at the top of the heap, critically acclaimed or major success. If you like it, it’s good, if you don’t, it’s bad.

Well, if that’s the case, you’re deluding yourself. And I’m hear to set you free, my friend.

Art is mostly opinion. It’s emotional. Aesthetics appeal to one’s sense of beauty and pleasure, which is rooted in the emotional centers of the brain. Likes and dislikes are based in emotion, not rationality. So the mere fact you enjoy a piece of art means you have an emotional attachment to it, whether you admit it or not.

The part of the brain that deals with logic, with objectivity, is a different area. You can list objective reasons why something is of a certain quality, but those reasons don’t have to (and rarely do) jibe with the reasons for liking something. Like food, you can know something is inherently good or bad but still enjoy or not enjoy it. Human nature.

Me, I like good, solid drawing. Dynamic poses and layouts. I like art that displays a strong knowledge and command of anatomy and human expression. I also consider those elements part of quality artwork. But I don’t LIKE all art that displays these qualities, and I DO like some art that DOESN’T display them.


Example: Boris Vallejo is a great draftsman, painting and colorist. His drawing and anatomy are top-notch, his mastery of materials second to none. But I don’t dig his work very much. I could give all sorts of “objective” reasons, but in they end they come down to aesthetics and what appeals to me. Again, emotions. No knock against him or his considerable talent, skill and experience. I see all that, but I just don’t have that emotional connection. I could easily name another half dozen or more “greats” to which that applies.

Conversely, I enjoy Fred Rhoads’ work on SAD SACK. Much more than George Baker’s, in fact, who was the Sack’s (more critically acclaimed) creator. Not to demean the departed, but Rhoads’ storytelling wasn’t groundbreaking or dynamic, his cartooning  not exactly spectacular. I don’t think even he would say his work was on the par of a Carl Barks (whom I also love) by any means. Even the stories were pretty empty, basically a grouping of gags. But I still LIKE it! Its simplicity and expressive expediency appealed to me as a teen and continued to as I grew older; not unlike Jell-O or a Three Musketeers bar. They’re not good for me, they have no nutritional value, they’re simple, but man, I sure enjoy them once in awhile. And the same with SAD SACK. I couldn’t read it every day, but every year or two, gimme some!

Same goes with Ernie Bushmiller’s NANCY. Great strip. A lot like licorice. I know a lot of people who hate it! But as someone once said, NANCY was easier to read than not read it. (Bushmiller’s, not the ill-advised “updated” version much later.) Its starkness, its uniformity, its use of positive and negative space, all simply appealed to me, as did the simplistic gag humor. (I’m also a big fan of puns, good or bad.) I have a few strip collections and they make me smile more than not. I want a NANCY strip for my collection eventually. I make no apologies for it either.

So come on–be honest here! Along with the Frazettas and the Kirbys and the ECs and the Wattersons, I know there’s something you dig that deep down you don’t think is anybody’s grail. Something “bad” for your collection that still feels good. There’s a chocolate cream art pie or a peanut butter comic cookie you have tucked away or want to pick up but you’re not telling.

Let it out! Free yourself! You’re among friends–indulge.

We’ll have salad tomorrow.





P.S.: I’ve no pretensions when it comes to commissions. If I’m YOUR version of a fat Snickers bar, a Mickey-D’s dollar burger or a bag of Cheetos, I’m happy to oblige. And I won’t make you fat or turn your fingers orange. Just ask Craig for one here!

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