You’re cruising through a gallery or someone’s house, and a work of art just makes you stop dead in your tracks. You’re mesmerized. Your heart beats faster. You don’t want to leave the space in the painting because it has moved you and changed you in a moment. Wow – that’s some good art.
Not all works of art have that power, though. Some people have chosen to describe the difference by labeling the powerful kind as “high art,” which makes the pieces that don’t have much lasting impact “low art.” Robert Henri in The Art Spirit defined high and low art this way: “Low art is just telling things, as 'There is the night.' High art gives the feel of the night.”
Now, I recognize that “high art” is a good term to use. It says that the work is superior in its ability to capture the viewer’s attention and to bring them to a new place emotionally, intellectually, or perhaps even spiritually. But somehow—in my mind at least--high art has become synonymous with good art, and low art is synonymous with bad art. The use of these terms has instilled a kind of snobbery in me over the years.
Lately, however, I’ve been questioning this viewpoint, and I’ve decided I want to get away from that kind of judgmental thinking. I want to replace the label “low art” with “decorative art,” and I want to use that term with respect, not disdain. Naturally, I still want to create works that move people, that somehow express what inspired me to paint and in turn inspires viewers. But if I create something that is simply an expression of my own interests or a representation of a favorite subject or an exploration of a great design or a fun and innovative use of a medium, that’s okay, too. It’s wonderful and even preferred to aspire to create high art, but I think there’s plenty of room in the world for decorative art as well. Yes, I know my decorative art won’t be hanging in any museums in a hundred years, and frankly, I’m okay with that.