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Good & Bad Art

August 09, 1987

I suspect Anita Freiler, Michael Rich and Terry Sullivan are not so much "incensed over the tone of the art reviews . . . " as they are over the fact that the reviewer (critic William Wilson) does not agree with their ideas of art (Calendar Letters, Aug. 2).

I also suspect they are very lazy viewers of art.

I am sure it comes as no surprise whatsoever to critic Wilson, or to anybody else, that a "vast contingent of the population," including Wilson and this writer, likes realistic art ("Those Russians Have Come," July 19). The point--which seems to have been totally ignored by Freiler, Rich and Sullivan--is not the category of the art but the quality. There is nothing "bad" about realistic art (or any other art) unless, of course, it is bad art.

Illustrative, Academic and Kitch are all slightly derogatory though useful terms that an art writer may use to distinguish various levels of superficial realist art from the art of, say, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Ingres, Manet--all "realistic," all great, all individuals.

I advise Freiler, Rich and Sullivan to spend a good hour in front of Georges de la Tour's painting of the Magdalen, which is in the Los Angeles County Museum, in order to see how light, color, line and composition have been used. Then they should spend 10 to 20 years really looking at art, all art, anywhere, in museums, in books. Then they should come back to the barefoot Tolstoy, or whatever, and see how it stands up.

Of course, critics are snobs. Criticism is elitist; that is part of its function. If you are content with the predictable and the banal, fine. But do not complain about those who expect something better and more demanding. "Happy Birthday" is not Beethoven, and simpy, stodgy painting (from Russia or from any other place) just may not be very good art. Wake up.



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