This blog has been burning away inside me for many years. I’ve given it the title "The blurry line between bad bird art and applauded contemporary bird art". And you know what, I’m old enough and ugly enough to call things as I see them. After all it’s my blog. I also know for a fact that what I’m about to say will ring true with many accomplished, hard-working artists who paint birds. As a painting theme or genre, birds as a subject is always going to make it difficult for galleries to open their doors. I accepted this from an early age. But you know what, painting birds is what I love and where my heart lies. So what is good bird art?
I’ve always said ”Painting birds is easy, painting birds well is hard”. To me it’s all about the drawing and the painting. There you have it, nice and simple. I find that if an artist can draw and paint things the way they see things, they're generally talented enough to also master the other requirements of good bird art.... Things like tone, colour harmonies, composition, hard/soft edges, scientific accuracy and a painting that moves people emotionally. The really good bird painters depict birds that look like they’d fly out of the painting if you clapped your hands. They have a texture of feather and a roundness of form. This is a craft learnt only after years of hard graft - both in the field and in the studio. It’s an accomplishment that deserves to be rewarded rather than denigrated as a second rate art form. Deciding on what is good bird art should be a simple subjective process....or so my ignorant younger self believed. I could not have been more wrong. There’s a major gallery here in Australia which will never accept my work as either suitable or worthy. It’s a view I’ve always begrudgingly copped on the chin. But what really gets my goat is when other artists who clearly can’t draw or paint birds, do get accepted. It’s a classic case of bad art being rewarded - clear and simple! They have no idea about composition, tonal values, scientific accuracy and the learned ability to mix colour. Almost without exception their work is just flat and lifeless illustration. And don’t get me started on whether these works have an emotional message. Yet for some fucking reason these paintings are applauded as 'Contemporary Art', and falsely by association - good art! Well no they're not!!! It doesn’t matter how much high speak or arty bollocks you attach to them, they're still just Shit! And yes I can say that. If these paintings are to be held in such high regard I think it is my hard earned right to call them for what I know they are: SHIT. These 'artists' can falsely prop up their own work by blithering on about the connection between the destruction of species and their paintings. Species that they know nothing about, but pretend to care! I see this far too often for it to be a coincidence! I guess some people will say that all traditional tonal bird paintings have already been done, and there is nothing new to say. What absolute bullshit! Some will also declare that these so called 'Contemporary works' have a bigger emotional message. Well I’m sorry but that’s double bullshit; when viewing them I honestly feel absolutely nothing. As a lover of art, I wish I did feel something, but I feel nothing because they have nothing to say! It’s just bad bird art that, for whatever reason, our galleries promote as modern/contemporary art!
Female Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo case study: I’ve used a direct comparison of two paintings with similar subjects. One of these is hung in a top Australia gallery, the other has no gallery. I'll leave you to decide which is which.
Birds wing case study: Shown below is a cropped detail of a larger work. My issue here isn’t with the artist, who shall remain nameless. For me any artist attempting realistic bird art and earning a dollar has my congratulations. My grievance is with the gallery, which is in a position of authority and should know better but obviously doesn’t! This lack of any real discimination is then passed down to prospective buyers who are informed that this is art worth investing in! Buyers take these assessments as valid and informed opinions.
Below I’ve shown a detail of a bird’s wing from a painting hung at this same prestigious gallery. The gallery waxes lyrical about “these detailed paintings are more than realistic interpretations of wildlife” and “at the heart of the work is a deep connection with nature” . They then proceed down the well-worn path of environmental issues. They state how these works “have a strong environmental message” and “how our wildlife has been dramatically impacted”. True statements - but having absolutely nothing to do with these works. To me, all I see is a very badly painted wing. Nothing more, nothing less! It demonstrates a total lack of understanding of wing anatomy. It looks like a moulting museum specimen that’s been sucked up a vacuum cleaner and then spat out backwards. I struggle to understand how someone can get a bird’s wing so fundamentally wrong. It’s also painfully flat and excruciatingly lifeless. A mistake many people make is believing detail for the sake of detail is good detail. The truth is it takes no longer to paint well observed detail than it does painting pointless detail. The catalogue describes the artist as having “unreserved respect” and “through devoted attention (s)he extracts the absolute essence of the subject”. I won’t argue whether the artist has respect for the subject, but what I can say is, I don’t see or feel it in the finished piece. That’s because it isn’t there and no amount of arty high-speak will change that! It’s just bad art masquerading as good art under the guise of being 'Contemporary'. Shame on galleries for promoting poor art at the expense of artists who can do so much better.