The Museum of Bad Art – Yes, Really

I was vacationing in the Dominican Republic with my family when I was a teenager. We were shopping in some huts along the beach when I spotted an oil painting I just had to have. After very little bargaining, the painting was mine. My first work of art. Coming through customs on the way home, I unrolled the painting and anxiously awaited the officer’s assessment. Was he going to charge me extra for bringing this masterpiece into the country? No. He pointed to the artist’s signature – I.M. Takhe – and laughed until tears rolled down his face. I am comforted today knowing that my priceless painting would have been rejected by the Museum of Bad Art.

The museum has rigorous standards. They don’t accept any art that is deliberately bad, like dogs playing poker, anything painted on velvet, or, perhaps, my painting. Rather, pieces in the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) collection “range from the work of talented artists that have gone awry to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush. What they all have in common is a special quality that sets them apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent.”

I’m one of those people whose heart breaks for the losers in a sporting event. When I first learned of the Museum of Bad Art, I thought the owners of this private museum were cruel. If an artist doesn’t set out to make bad art, how shaming must it be to have their artwork labeled as such? Besides, isn’t the quality of art in the eye of the beholder? Um, no.

Characteristics of Bad Art

Travel writer Cash Peters has identified six characteristics common to many of the museum’s artworks:

  1. Hands and feet are hidden with long sleeves or are extended off the canvas.
  2. Colours are wonky (skies aren’t blue, but people are) and images are unintentionally fanciful (plants don’t look at all like plants).
  3. Perspective is inconsistently applied.
  4. Noses are attempted so many times that paint builds up on the canvas.
  5. If in doubt, the artist glues feathers, glitter or hair to their work.
  6. Artists seem to feel that the piece may be saved by the inclusion of a monkey or a poodle.

Technical skill, composition and content. Those are the same three categories mentioned in a serious discussion of how to tell if art is good or bad.

MOBA’s Philosophy

Many of MOBA’s works of art are donated by the artists themselves. Others are found at yard sales, thrift stores, or, like the first work in the 600-piece collection, tucked between garbage cans. Occasionally a painting is purchased. If it’s an exceptional work, MOBA has been known to spend twenty dollars.

MOBA’s motto is “art too bad to be ignored.” They have a playful and hilarious approach to their work, but it’s offered with a great deal of respect for the artists. As Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director, Louise Sacco, says, “it’s a tribute to the sincerity of the artists who persevered with their art despite something going horribly wrong in the process.”

Here’s an absolutely wonderful example of bad art, discussed by curator Michael Frank.

For photographs of the art, along with brief and hilarious titles and descriptions, click here.

To see the art itself you will need to visit their small installations in Somerville, Brookline or South Weymouth, Massachusetts. They used to host traveling exhibitions but haven’t had any lately. It’s too bad. I would have loved to see “Awash in Bad Art” where 18 pieces of art were covered in shrink wrap and installed in a drive through car wash.

The photo of the sheep isn’t from the Museum of Bad Art. They don’t take three-dimensional pieces, probably because they don’t have the storage or display space. If they did, would it qualify? Let me know in the comments below. 

 

 

 

 

7 comments

  1. Although I can’t see the sky in the picture of the sheep, to tell whether it is blue or not, I would think the blue sheep would qualify at MOBA worthy material. Sheep are not blue as a rule unless their wool is painted or modified with chalk, I believe.

    I think it is a shame that the customs officer laughed at your painting. It must have been heartbreaking for you at the time. I do believe that beauty IS in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone has the same taste in art, food, culture etc. I am actually happy for that fact since everyone having the same taste would make this a boring world indeed. 😉

    I look at it this way, everyone has to start somewhere. So, that being said, bad art merely works from an artist that has not mastered a technique yet. If such pieces are labeled as bad art it could stifle the creativity of someone who hasn’t had enough practice yet. Don’t we all deserve respect for having tried?

    Just my thoughts on the matter; it’s not like I am an expert at art or anything. 😉

    1. I hear you, Susan, and I agree with you in principle. There’s enough creativity stifling that happens in our lives without anyone needing to join in. But I was heartened by a few things from MOBA: other than the name of the place and their motto, they never, ever refer to the art as bad. In fact they don’t talk about the art techniques at all – just about the theme of each piece. I also like that many of the pieces are donated by the artists. Finally, the founders of MOBA do agree that the utmost respect should be afforded to artists who have made a sincere attempt that simply went wrong somewhere, either in conception or execution.
      Did you find the video funny at all? I thought it was hilarious, especially with the musical accompaniment to the painting.
      Thanks for commenting, Susan. No need to be an expert – none of us are!

  2. Thinking about it all, I do agree with what you are saying about MOBA but I do think the B standing for BAD in their name is unfortunate, though. I did find the video hilarious. ‘Is that all there is?’ had me chuckling.

    I am glad the founders of MOBA agree that the utmost respect should be afforded to artists who have made a sincere attempt. That at least makes me feel better along with the artists themselves donating paintings. Would they do that if they were being belittled? I don’t think so. =) You are right about the points you made and I retract much of what I was saying above about the MOBA but not about the stifling of creativity. I want to feel free to make mistakes and make a mess in my exploration of the arts until I find something that works. =)

    1. Well said, Susan. Very well said. I’ve gotten so caught up in researching and writing this website, that I’d forgotten about art. I too look forward to making mistakes, making a mess, and exploring.

      1. Wow, Karen, I just read the timestamp on your last response…5:35 am! I have never been a morning person and always gravitated more towards being a night owl. Does the world look different at that hour in the morning?

        If I could manage to go to bed earlier maybe I could manage to get up earlier as well. I will have to work with things the way they are for now since that is when my life is the most active, late in the day.

        Perhaps you could combine art with one of the categories for this website and get a little of both in? Life is all about balance after all, is it not?

        1. The world is so peaceful and quiet at 5:35 a.m. I love it at that time of day! I used to be a night owl when I was younger, but I can’t manage staying awake at night anymore.
          Good suggestion for combining art with the site. I’d started doing that with collages for self-care, but the recent self-care topics haven’t lent themselves to collages. Good reminder though. Thank you!

          1. I have often imagined that is what it would be like at 5:35 a.m. but other than getting up at that hour to start a long car trip (getting there for early in the morning to make the most of the day while there) I am usually snug under my covers sawing logs.
            I will admit now that I am getting older I am getting tired more at night and sometimes need a refreshing nap during the day. Perhaps over time I will transition into adopting your sleep schedule and be up with the birds too. 😉
            It would be great to have other forms of art tied to the self-care, change or challenge categories. =D

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *