Just being incompetent will only get you halfway
July 20, 2016 4:22 AM   Subscribe

eBay is full of outsider paintings of aliens, clowns and right-wing politicians, executed with endearing incompetence on scrap wood, and selling for hundreds of dollars to deep-pocketed collectors of authenticity. Now Tom Ellard has a guide to getting into this burgeoning industry.

Tom Ellard (previously; previously) is best known as the industrial/electronic music project Severed Heads, who were most active in the 1980s and 1990s.
posted by acb (28 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
He ain't talkin shit about Howard Finster is he?
posted by NoMich at 4:42 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love me some Tom Ellard -- among other things, he once graciously gave me permission to use a SH song title as the title of a comic I wrote and which was published by SLG, and I'm still thrilled to have corresponded with him -- but isn't this just a more verbose variant on the old cranky WHY A CHILD COULD DO THIS saw produced in galleries worldwide by sputtering meat-fuelled tourists in trucker hats?
posted by Shepherd at 4:59 AM on July 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Back in the day, we had the Museum of Bad Art [previously], which used to mock this stuff without gratuitous references to alcohol abuse, Oxycontin, and childish handwriting ... but I guess those were more innocent, less class-war-fragmented times ...
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:03 AM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

That's not the impression I got; Ellard points out the highly specific form of slipshodness that is an essential aspect of eBay Folk Art.
posted by acb at 5:03 AM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by mfoight at 5:05 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

That's not the impression I got; Ellard points out the highly specific form of slipshodness that is an essential aspect of eBay Folk Art.

The Reagan piece in the article isn't a Finster? If not, I take back my original fighty question.
posted by NoMich at 5:24 AM on July 20, 2016

Hard to say if the piece is metacommentary on classism in art or just the same sort of urban provincialism that led people in SF to shit on my wife for liking white bread and Phil Collins.
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:25 AM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Art never changes.
posted by I-baLL at 5:59 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I dunno. Folk-art collecting is not my thing (I think there's a patronizing air to it instead of genuine enjoyment), but this seems pretty mean-spirited. These artists accomplished what they set out to do. Untrained doesn't necessarily equal incompetent. Rural doesn't have to mean meth-addled.
posted by Think_Long at 6:07 AM on July 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Ellard could have spent two minutes googling Howard Finster and learned something interesting. Instead, we get this.
posted by hydrophonic at 6:11 AM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Though granted this post is categorized as a "rant" and I can definitely sympathize with an artist being frustrated that someone who puts way less time and thought into their art is commanding much more value.
posted by Think_Long at 6:36 AM on July 20, 2016

"No one hates art as much as a working artist" is probably the #1 thing I've learned tagging along with a family member who shows in galleries to her many and various art events where we talk with other artists, primarily about their profound rage that someone doing work they consider shit is selling better than them.

(It took me a few rounds of this to discover you're much better off pretending to be too uncultured/indifferent to have an opinion than to risk liking or even appreciating the wrong thing, which can lead to someone literally screaming at you at a cocktail party.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:16 AM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

NoMich, it sure looks like a Finster, it's signed Howard Finster, and the picture is identical to the third thumbnail here.

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore is one of my favorite places to go.
posted by marguerite at 7:18 AM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another problem is the professionalisation of reactionary kitsch.

In a part of north London, there is a minivan apparently belonging to someone who has a business designing and selling novelty rear windscreen wiper covers. There is a URL decalled on the side of the van, and the rear wiper is covered with a cartoonish cardboard cutout which changes regularly. We've had the Queen waving her hand, a pug, a cat, and Barack Obama. Often one of the side windows shows another (this time not animated) design. They appear to be the vehicular equivalent of novelty ties; my impression was that the target market would be someone like the office clown who corners you at the water cooler, tells you a joke, and preempts any move on your part to leave by blurting out the punchline and, reaching into his pocket, pushing a button that makes his bow tie spin, all the while his sad, watery spaniel eyes imploring you desperately for approval.

A few months ago, the design on the rear of the van changed to a (somewhat flatteringly drawn) cartoon of Boris Johnson, holding a small Union Jack in each hand, with one of his hands being on the wiper; a speech bubble read “Brighter with Brexit!”. Then when Britain voted to leave, it changed to a bulldog coloured with the St. George's flag. All of a sudden, it turned out that poor taste is not the worst thing about it. It's not only kitsch, but reactionary kitsch, but the execution is professional and a world away from a driftwood Reagan shrine.
posted by acb at 7:18 AM on July 20, 2016

"No one hates art as much as a working artist"

Based on my experience with artists, truer words have never been spoken. I've gotten into the habit of not talking about art or about it only on a superficial level at work functions. I work in the artier end of film distribution so this is way more of a challenge then it sounds.

As for l'art brut or outsider art or folk art or whatever on eBay or elsewhere I am unapologetically a fan. A friend of mine, a huge fan and collector (and occasional patron), really got me into it initially via paint by numbers. I was fascinated by the variety of that stuff. Around that time I discovered eBay which introduced me to a lot of mind blowing stuff from all over the world. A favorite artist of mine from that time, he wasn't really a folk artist, was a guy who would take other people's art and paint over it with mad religious scenes transforming it into something completely different. For me it is less about ability and more about the heart, vision or the internal consistency in a work. I can forgive a lot in a work of art if the work is engaging and pushing boundaries.

One of my favorite pieces in my friend's collection is a not very well painted portrait of a sailor of the Popeye school. A bare chested sea man with an iconic anchor tattoo on his arm. However, over time whether it was the miscreants who hang out at my friend's home or predate my friend's ownership, various artists have added their own tattoos. So the sailor now is covered in GG Allin-like tattoos!
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:40 AM on July 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Just being incompetent will only get you halfway

The politics of failure have failed! We must make them work again!
posted by blue_beetle at 8:48 AM on July 20, 2016

I'm not sure why the focus is on ebay. Dealers, academics, other artists, and the general public have celebrated outsider/folk/naive art for nearly a century now.

Google image search revealed that the Santa is by Rutherford "Tubby" Brown. Here's a short bio, and some more of his work: 1 2 3 4.

I didn't find anything for the alien/astronaut painting, though.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:36 AM on July 20, 2016

I'm not sure why the focus is on ebay

I'm not sure either. As far as I can tell he takes issue with people paying a lot of money for outsider art on eBay. Based on his blog I assume Mr. Ellard, along with being part of an 80's electronic/industrial band, taught art and is a curmudgeon with an axe to grind with those he feels are "phonies."
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:23 AM on July 20, 2016

Ellard also has strong opinions on vinyl (the sound quality is rubbish and the people who fetishise it are idiots) and old analogue synths (limited, unreliable and only in demand because people are, once again, idiots). Ironically enough, he himself collects late-80s digital synths; go figure.
posted by acb at 12:23 PM on July 20, 2016

My first reaction was wow, what an asshole.

Then I thought, imagine working in a scientific field where half the grant money goes to people without a degree or any formal training... And yeah, I'd rant about that, and I'd get just as territorial as all the other entitled elitists.

But seriously: what an asshole.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 12:35 PM on July 20, 2016

My first reaction was wow, what an asshole.

I kinda agree. As mentioned in previous posts, I think Ellard is a talented musician and artist, but his comments and opinions about the nature of art are obtuse and curmudgeonly in a not-insightful way.
posted by ovvl at 2:23 PM on July 20, 2016

I don't know; his piece on twee-folk music, and the canned authenticity of combining an acoustic guitar with an affected mild speech impediment, hit the nail right on the head.
posted by acb at 3:45 PM on July 20, 2016

I dunno, I think the joke's on him. I sell stuff on eBay, and it's amazing to me the amounts of money people will pay for really bizarre things that seem totally worthless to me. You can shake your head at it, or you can cash in (while shaking your head at it).
posted by mudpuppie at 5:16 PM on July 20, 2016

Nobody tell him about Christie's.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:52 PM on July 20, 2016

Hey, I have a Tom Ellard anecdote: in the mid 90s, some friends and I played an improvised set at an electronic music night at Sydney's now defunct Harbourside Brasserie. The line-up: sax, Roland JX-8P synth, and unless my memory is playing tricks on me, bongos (sounds amazing, right?). We capped off our set with a 10-minute vamp on the tune "Pure Imagination" from the original Willy Wonka flick.

After the final atonal sax squawk had died away, there was complete silence. Then a one-man-slow-clap began. That one man was Tom Ellard.

I look back on that moment with a very particular blend of mortified embarrassment and pride.
posted by misterbee at 2:21 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

BTW Tom Ellard's wife Stacy died last year - he has written very movingly of this here and here
posted by misterbee at 2:53 AM on July 21, 2016

his piece on twee-folk music

That seems to be more about corporatised Twee Folk Music that's selling something rather than regular old twee folk music, which I'm sure he hates as well (his head must explode when he hears Joanna Newsom). And he also hates people who talk to their cats in baby voices. His case of get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-dirty-apes is really impressive.
posted by Ashwagandha at 6:25 AM on July 21, 2016

That seems to be more about corporatised Twee Folk Music that's selling something rather than regular old twee folk music

I don't know; every time I hear the vocalist from Allo Darlin', I'm reminded of it. She has an acute (pun unavoidable) case of vocal cross-eye going on whenever she picks up a ukulele; it's as if she's demoing songs to her pug, whose name is undoubtedly Mr. Snorfles or something.
posted by acb at 8:36 AM on July 21, 2016

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