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The OBAMA – Official Bad Art Museum of Art

April 7, 2010

Went to Cafe Racer last night to see the Hoot Hoots, and the show was great, as usual. However, I was not entirely prepared for the shrine of art-gone-awry that is the Official Bad Art Museum of Art (OBAMA).

The best part about the works in this museum is not just that the art is bad, and that is funny. No, the best part for me, as someone who is awful at drawing/painting, is that most of the artists who made the pieces were skilled enough to successfully produce an image on canvas, something I would not be able to do. The great part is to sit there wondering, “Why did they choose that image?”

The idea of a bad art museum was a little scary to me at first. After all, a space designed specifically to ridicule someone’s art has the potential to make people self-conscious about their own work. It is hard to create if an artist is too self-conscious. A space seemingly dedicated to being negative about other people’s creations has the potential to make people more nervous about laying themselves out there. You watch your friends lay into a piece of art, and you might start to wonder what they think of yours. It’s like critics who spend too much time ripping into supposedly bad music/movies instead of finding stuff that is praiseworthy. These can be particularly dangerous during an artist’s formulative years.

Example: Pitchfork’s 2002 review of I Get Wet by Andrew WK. Here’s a guy who really puts himself out there in his music. He’s a motivational speaker who is really (REALLY) into partying, however you define it. Andrew’s music is either the geekiest rock music in the world or the theme song to the douchiest frat house. Hard to say, really. The only thing about it that is easy to see is that Andrew puts himself out there and makes no self-conscious efforts to shield himself from criticism.

So Ryan Schreiber sees that vulnerability and decides to lay into the guy with everything he’s got. But he doesn’t stop there. He also lays into the listeners, calling anyone who likes the “tard-rock” (his words) idiots, more or less.

I mention this review because I was a junior in high school when I read it, and it really did a number on me. I loved Andrew WK. I knew it was ridiculous, but I also knew it was totally awesome. At a time when I was first really starting to make my own music, reading something like this (Pitchfork was younger at the time, and I “respected” their reviews a lot) made me very self-conscious. I wanted to put myself out there, but suddenly I had some douchebag whispering “tard-rock” in my ears. For budding artists, this kind of self-consciousness can destroy what you make, and some people will simply stop altogether.

The OBAMA is not like this, though. It does not feel like a negative space at all. Sure, people are laughing at art, but you feel a much lighter mood, as though you would be laughing with everyone even if that were your glitter-covered Elvis portrait on the wall. The museum makes it fun, not mean. A lot of these works were likely made by someone who was trying to hash out some ideas. The artists probably learned a great deal from making them. Sure, that Jesus painting in the style of El Greco is horrendous, but the artist surely learned a valuable lesson about painting with light.

If we can all make light of our artistic mishaps, and allow them to happen, then we will feel more comfortable putting ourselves out there, vulnerable to attack but creating nonetheless.

And I still listen to and love Andrew WK.

To fit the theme, here is bad video of the OBAMA opening:

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