Good art, Bad art

Michaela WoodwardStaff Writer

This week the Salon des Refusés exhibition debuted in the Schaefer Art Gallery. The exhibition was put together by Professor Betsy Byers’ first term seminar, “Good Art, Bad, Art.” 

In this course, students are encouraged to make bad art while considering the societal and historical situations that motivate art to be created.

Byers has been teaching this FTS since she arrived at Gustavus 10 years ago. 

“In our class we think a lot about if you can really define what makes art good and bad. We think a lot about the intersections between the Avant Garde artist society, how we define art, and then how things change over time. It’s a really exciting class to teach, and challenging too,” Byers said. 

While this class is centered around both the discussion and creation of art, not all students who take it have had much experience or interest in art before. 

One student without much previous art experience is First-year Brady Chisholm. 

“I’ve had next to no previous experience with art. When I was in elementary school I was getting the equivalent of a C letter grade in our art rotations, and it was never my strong suit to create art; it’s a good thing that it was a ‘bad art’ exhibit. That being said, I’ve always found art to be super powerful and moving, and I’ve always loved the messages that artwork can convey,” Chisholm said. 

Byers’ FTS also attracts intended art majors, such as First-year Paige Davidson who has been challenged to explore new mediums for this exhibition. 

“For my process it was more fun because we had to collect cans. Usually I don’t work with sculptural materials,” Davidson said. 

To create the exhibition, each student was given a “bad” piece of art as inspiration.

“They were each given a historically ‘bad’ art piece. So, these pieces their work is inspired by were considered ‘bad’ from the public when they were first conceived and made. Some of these artworks go on to be the most famous of our time. Artists are really great at carving out this new space where we test out things that are visually uncomfortable or we think through some difficult ideas, and those can’t always look like they have looked before. I tell students it’s okay that they’re uncomfortable, they’re in the right place. This is supposed to look bad. That’s part of the fun,” Byers said. 

Chisholm especially notes that creating his piece was unnerving due to the materials involved. 

“My piece is by Damien Hirst, titled ‘For Heaven’s Sake’. What Hirst did was take the skull of an infant that was sold through an auction house, and he covered it in platinum, and then encrusted it with 9 million dollars worth of diamonds. Even though I wasn’t working with any of the ‘real’ materials that Hirst was, I was still a little disturbed while making this. It was tough to not think about Hirst in his studio in the U.K. with an actual infant’s skull, working for hours with meticulous detail so closely with it. It was a bit of an eerie feeling, and made me a little uncomfortable while making the piece,” Chisholm said. 

Despite this, Chisholm notes a new appreciation for the emotion artists put into their work. 

Davidson’s piece conceptually challenges culture. 

“The piece is basically about highlighting the hypocrisy in cultures, because it’s based on Ai Weiwei’s set of three photos which is similar to mine. He criticizes his own culture and shocks it by breaking an artifact, so the whole purpose of mine is to shock my own culture,” Davidson said.

Through both the class and this project, Davidson has been challenged to think more about the conceptual inception of artwork. 

“In my experience with art it’s mostly tailored towards mark making and the actual execution of it. And I think I took this class and it’s done a really good job in, like, exploring what the intention behind art actually is and the purpose, meaning towards it, rather than it just being something to look at, Davidson said. 

From the class, Chisholm has gained a new perspective on the value of art in society. 

“It’s just a reminder of how important it is in our society and culture that people have a platform and a way to express themselves, even if it makes others uncomfortable or they disagree. We all have a different message and story to tell,” Chisholm said. 

In that respect, Byers’ goal for her students has been met.

“I hope that they never look at the world the same way again,” Byers said. 

The Salon des Refúses will be open from Oct 15 to Nov. 20 in the Schaefer Art Gallery. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.