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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“Bad Art” or “The Best Sculpture Made in the 20th century”

One thing is for sure – contemporary art, like politics, generates very strongly held opinions, that often – and perhaps predictably – can differ wildly. We don’t need to look very far for an example. How could the sculpture in our very own sculpture park be panned in an article in The Mass Media on the one hand, “UMass Boston :The Museum of Bad Art” (Skye Rhyddyd 2/21/02), while the very same work get rave reviews in the publications like The Boston Globe, The Herald, Art New England,and even the Harvard Crimson (see the web site: Arts on the Point.org). What one person loves, someone else hates, and, in each case – the viewer – or writer – feel very strongly about their views. They are sure they are absolutely right and completely justified in their opinion. How could this be? How could two people stand in front of the same work of art and see such different things?

In the case of a painting, one person will look at a non-representational work – say a deKooning, a Pollock, or a Picasso, and be amazed by its strength, its dynamism, its “message,” while someone else will say “It’s scribbles! Any five-year-old could do that! It’s stupid!” With a sculpture, one person will be drawn to marble statues of graciously draped women, or to realistic bronzes of – say John Harvard in Harvard Square while someone else will dismiss these as unimaginative, boring, or trite. On our own campus, some see Huru as a dramatic piece, monumental in scale, created by one of American’s icons of the 20th century, which adds immeasurably to the UMB landscape – while someone else looks at the same piece and sees a rusted pile of junk.

Where do these differences come from?

For an answer, we can turn to Abigail Housen, Ph.D., a developmental cognitive psychologist, who has spent 20 years exploring, defining, and describing the differences in our perception of visual images. Through extensive research, she developed a theory of aesthetic development which identifies a series of five stages that describe the way in which individuals think about and ascribe value to works of art. Like other developmental theories which define stages of growth or capacity, such as Piaget, Erikson, or Kohlberg, each of Housen’s stages builds upon the previous one – and a person moves through them only by accumulating experience in the stage in which they find themselves and by using the skills they are developing. Aesthetic growth or change is dependent on accumulated experience as viewer – one who looks carefully at two or three dimensional images, thinks about what they have seen, discusses their thoughts, and reflects on these experiences.

Given that we mostly material created as advertising which is characterized by realistic images designed to be instantly recognizable and universally appealing and which appear often in a rapid fire series of visual