Artists: unpopular because they’re renegade, or just plain bad?

I love it when a post on State of the Arts sparks debate.

I particularly love it when it sparks an intelligent, thoughtful debate.

Such is the case with the comments that have been coming in responding to “Gretchen Seichrist: People Don’t Like Artists.”

In the post, Seichrist posited the following:

“People don’t like artists,” she said. “They’re suspicious of artists. They resent them, if you’ve figured out that the people saying that they want to be an artist because they’re going to their job every day, and they’re resentful about it. I understand that. ‘Well how come she gets to do that?'”

This immediately drew a skeptical response from reader Tammy:

Oh, yeah. Nobody likes artists. They were ever so resentful of Picasso, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Tennessee Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Rembrandt, James Dean, and, come to think of it, Lucille Ball. This woman just can’t handle it that there are people in the world that don’t care for her schtick.

Immediately other readers, including Carolyn Pensey of Eden Prairie, came to Seichrist’s defense:

Tammy, I would like to point out that you just posted a long list of artists who were definitely resented for being different and innovative in their respective fields. Picasso? The art world persecuted a whole movement of artists who pioneered cubism. Elvis? He was banned all over the country. Michael Jackson…? Come on. Marilyn Monroe? They badgered her until she killed herself. And here you are very willingly leaping to an angry stance about a simple statement from an artist. Knowing Gretchen, what I think she was trying to say was more along the lines of questioning why artists need to justify themselves to the world at large. The insurance salesman doesn’t have to justify why he goes out and sells insurance, but people who blaze their own trails are continually required to explain why it is they are doing what they’re doing. Why are you different? Why are you gay? Why don’t your shoes match? Why don’t you speak my language? Why are you coloring outside the lines? Why don’t you use mustard in your meatloaf? People generally develop a disdain for the things they don’t understand. You are missing the point if all you see here is a “schtick.” Those lyrics hold their own against anything out there–past, present, or future. Great music, great songs, great art, and her show the other night was funny and heartfelt.

But Tammy remained firm in her stance, offering the following:

You guys are totally missing the point. Of course every artist is going to have haters and critics; Gretchen needs to understand that some people don’t like her music, and that’s all. Not everybody is going to get it, not everybody is going to think it’s great, and it’s not because they don’t trust her or are jealous of her because she gets to do what she wants. That was a crappy statement to make is all I was trying to say. My guess is that she can’t handle it when people don’t like her, so she is trying to justify it any way she can to make herself feel better. I’ve heard her music and I think it’s simply awful. That’s my opinion. You can have one, too, and you obviously enjoy her work. That’s your opinion. But Gretchen is an artist and she needs to get used to hearing people say she sucks; there’s always going to be somebody, and they might actually just think you suck!

Laura Dyer then had this to add:

Everyone has artistic potential of some kind and those who feel motivated to become full-time artists should be supported as much as possible. A healthy arts community means economic and social prosperity. The decision to define oneself as an artist must begin internally, and it takes great bravery to come forward and allow the external part of the process to begin. Taste is always subjective, but Patches and Gretchen has been criticized on a very emotional basis. I think this is because Gretchen is strong, ambitious and, like Madonna, has a highly visual talent for cultural synthesis with a particular genius that runs deeper than formal technique. Her work is warm and emotionally connected, though her style is the very opposite – like Dylan’s is. This is confusing to some audiences, not to mention even more challenging from a female artist.

The conversation led me to wonder, who exactly gets to determine what is good art, and what is bad art? How do you know that something is bad, versus simply not to your taste?

Your thoughts are welcome, as always.