Tasteful Art

At my last critique group get-together, I brought this piece. It is constructed from some fabrics printed in a Rayna Gilman class, using found objects. They are combined with a batik fabric and some red silk. It is hand quilted with perle cotton. I named it Black and White and Red All Over. I know, how obvious and trite. It is not that large, about 10 inches by 12 inches. If you click on it, you can see a larger view.

Two members of the group said it was too tasteful and too predictable. The third said, what do you mean by that? Suitable for a hotel room? Then she said, but if you want to sell it, shouldn’t it be tasteful? As the person having my work critiqued, I am not allowed to say anything until they are finished. I think the consensus was that was what they meant. I admit to being taken aback by this and have been mulling it over for almost a week.

What does it mean when art is tasteful, too tasteful or not tasteful? Or what is the description we are striving for—edgy, interesting, cutting edge? But, can’t work be those things and still be tasteful?

Webster gives the following definition of tasteful:

having, exhibiting, or conforming to good taste

The definition of tasteless (I guess that is the opposite of tasteful) is:

a: having no taste : insipid b: arousing no interest : dull 2: not having or exhibiting good taste

I am sure that the critiquers did not think that art should fit the above definition for tasteless, but they obviously felt that there was something inherently wrong with art being tasteful or as they said – too tasteful. So, what should it be? What would make this piece less tasteful and is that what I really want to go for?

Help me! Please let me know what you think about this description. How would you interpret a critique of your work as too tasteful?

(Note: To clarify, this was not the extent of my crit — many design principles were discussed. Repetition, balance, etc. A look at the meaning (I had none) ensued. The predictable, too tasteful comments came up at the end of a pretty good crit.)

15 Responses to “Tasteful Art”

  1. Kristin L says:

    I always thought that art was about it’s impact on the viewer and could therefore cover a broad range. I believe that there’s room for art that is pleasant to look at and brings beauty into one’s home/garden/office (presumably this is “tasteful” art). There’s also room for the other end of the spectrum which is art that provokes us and makes us ponder things we might not have pondered without the influence of the art. Some may find this type of art tasteless, but I believe that’s a subjective judgement — perhaps it’s just not aesthetically pleasing to that individual. Certainly it is not “dull” or “insipid,” it just might not be something you’d hang in your living room. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the general blandness of hotel room art is what is dull and insipid.

    Art is subjective and I believe always has and always will cover the entire spectrum from beauty for beauty’s sake; to art that marks a place, a time, a people or an event; to that which smacks us in the face, often just for the shock value.

    I don’t think that one can call any artwork “too tasteful” without inferring that one considers only the messy, controversial, visceral works to be worthy of the title “Art.” I would interpret a critique of my art as too tasteful as a prejudice against traditional aesthetic values (to include form, line, color, skill, etc.) and a preference for “pure” emotional content. Or perhaps, the critiquers are just looking for more symbolic depth in the work and figure that no underlying message equates to dull art (though I don’t think “too tasteful” has to necessarily equal dull). Personally, I don’t have a reservoir of angst to draw upon to create deep, visceral art, so I have to rely on compositional balance, (hopefully) universal themes, and pleasing forms. For me, tasteful IS a goal.

    What is your goal?

  2. Regina Dwarkasing says:

    Hey Gerrie,

    While seeing this quilt, my first thought was: I love this one, I think it is beautiful. Interesting fabrics, well balanced, attractive. But is that wrong? Is it wrong to evoke a kind of wow-reaction?

    Of course the goal of a critic group in itself is somewhat different, but in my opinion you can also over-critize. For what it is worth, I hope you are a bit happy with my first reaction!

    Regina, Sint Maarten (DWI)

  3. jenclair says:

    How many individuals are in your critique group? Was there no positive comment? The comment “too tasteful” doesn’t serve much of a purpose as it is too vague to provide any help. Doesn’t that fall into the “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like” category?

    Why is it “too tasteful”? What does that mean? Not enough contrast? Lack of a focal point? A lack of balance? What could have been done differently? Moved something to another area? Remove something?

    I don’t believe the problem has anything to do with “tasteful.” If they were looking for “edgier,” then suggestions about how to achieve that might have been useful. Critiquing should give some specifics that the creator can then agree or disagree with, follow or disregard.

  4. PaMdora says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with tasteful. I’d view it as a compliment that you have the skill and ability to create such.I like the piece, would hang it in my home. Sometimes we all need something restful and meditative to make and look at, if only a respite between more emotional or conceptual work. In fact, I don’t hang any of my own art in my house. Too busy, it looks better in a gallery. But someday I hope to have the time to make some tasteful pieces and then I could do that!

  5. I think “tasteful art” means if fits the parameters of one’s experience in the art world. How edgey a piece appears is once again in the eye of the beholder. When I view your piece I am immediately drawn to the overlap of color and form used to project an image of a tunnel at a crossing. I like it. It would hang in my home.

  6. I like it. The only thing wrong with it is the title. I’m wondering if the trite title didn’t set up the stage for the unfortunate comment. I think maybe the commenter felt it was too much in your comfort zone, but I think it works just fine. Not every piece has to use lime green and hot pink. Maybe the more limited color scheme was your challenge. I see an archway or portal. Maybe build on that or use it in the (new) title?

  7. Judy says:

    I like it, even though I’m not a huge red and black fan….and, yeah, the title needs to be changed. I’m immediately drawn into that upper right circle and then down to the one on the lower left, and then the three rows of horizontal lines take me other places. How can anything be too tasteful? Did the critiquers ever explain what they meant by too tasteful? That’s like a Southern Lady who is too refined! LOL

    xo

  8. Sandy says:

    I quite like the piece. I think the layers are very well done, so that it has real depth. I like that every time you look at it you can discover more.

    I am wondering, too, if they did mean they were looking for something more edgy. Perhaps, if that is the case, something like a finely applied silkscreen print of a fourth colour, like yellow, would add tension. however, like others said, not everything has to have tension. I think if there was tension, the veiwer would be less likely to go back to look again at the depths.

    Don’t forget, not all opinions need to take up head room! even if they are from someone whose opinions you normally value.

    Sandy in the UK

  9. margaret says:

    Too tasteful? – perhaps what’s meant is – inoffensive; tells a nice story, a nice predictable soothing story, to which you listen politely.

    On seeing the piece, I though “oo, that’s nice!” – pleasing, harmonious, needing closer examination.

    Maybe “too tasteful” means it can all be taken in at once, it doesn’t need looking at again, it stays put?

  10. kathy says:

    I love your fabrics, Gerrie. Great layout and composition and balance, etc. with all of them. When I see it, I see mostly 2 values, lights and mediums. I was thinking I would add a little yellow and then I read Sandy’s comment. I am a great proponent of Jinny Beyer’s color theory…every piece needs a deep dark and a zinger color! But again, even these suggestions are just my opinion…in the end…it’s your piece and what you are happy with.

  11. Karoda says:

    too tasteful doesn’t convey much to me in creating art…my first question was the same as Kristin’s…what did you intend? Weighing the responses within your critique group is only going to be helpful to you if you understand their response.

    when i describe anything as tasteful, i’m saying that the aesthetics will appeal to a wide audience and is emotionaly accessible to that wide audience. tasteless, means the opposite, the audience is more narrow (not in mind, but numbers) and the appeal will be for those who get the message either readily or who are willing to dig for it. sometimes when viewing art or reading work that disturbs me (being disturbed is descriptive…not assigning good or bad) I have to enter it in shorter spells…turn away and come back…it might be vulgar, violent, and controversial…i might use the adjective tasteless upon first reaction, but if I’m not feeling lazy-minded then it could hold its own appeal and my first reaction would be meaningless and not be a good measure of the art’s emotional/cultural value.

  12. Jayme says:

    I had the picture of your quilt on my computer screen and Mark looked over and said “wow, that’s beautiful- whose is it?” he thought it was a painting until he looked up close and saw it was your quilt. He said the composition and colors are fantastic. I thought you would like to know 😉 Of course I think it’s great too!

  13. KT says:

    Oy. First I really do like the piece. I find the curves against the stripes contrdictory in a most pleasing way. Second, thanks for sharing what your crit group had to say. Gutsy, in my opinion.

    On the issue of tasteful vs. not, here is my input. We create because,well, we create. It comes from within us and hopefully is an expression of that what is ineffiable. Will it be every person’s cup of tea? No. Will it always match the sofa? No. It what is tasteful completely relative? YES.

    For me, the bottom line is to create what I create and if someone finds it tasteless then someone else will fall in love with it. But I do it for myself and my own growth and edification. Herf. To thine own self be true. Passion for what you do is the most tasteful of all.

  14. Diane says:

    “Too tasteful” sure seems like an odd comment to make, and to be honest, I think it’s especially odd to come out of a group specifically designed to critique art work. It’s obviously a subjective comment, but not helpful in any respect, because it IS so subjective. Does your group have critique guidelines (other than the artist not being able to say anything when showing work)?

    I guess the critiquer’s comment that it struck her as predictable sums up her view of what “tasteful” means. But that comment shows her bias that work should be unpredictable and surprising and NOT appealing to typical taste? And is that the goal you were aiming for with this piece?

    Your post, and these comments about it, are very interesting and definitely food for thought.

  15. terry grant says:

    OK, since I’m the one who said “too tasteful” in the critique session, I guess I need to comment here. After reading these comments I feel like the “mean girl”. Remember, we bring our work to each other for critique and I don’t think any of us would be happy with hearing only the praise, and not some thoughts about weaknesses in the work. We’re all big girls.

    First, I must say, as Gerrie also clarified, there was a lot of discussion of all aspects of this piece before I threw out the “tasteful” comment. We oohhed over the wonderful rhythm of those repetitions. We loved the mysterious “archway” that seems to lead you deeper into the piece and turned the piece in all directions to see if it worked as well in other orientations–no, she had it right to begin with. We admired the effect of layering and wondered and speculated about meaning.

    Now, I must also say that I had my tongue in my cheek just a bit when I said tasteful, and it wasn’t a huge criticism. It is a verbal shorthand that another person in the group and I have used before to indicate that perhaps the color combinations might be predictable or formulaic–something along the lines of “tasteful” decorator quilts. I have seen a lot of Gerrie’s work. Her fabrics are complex and luscious and she so often surprises me with the way she uses color. I think it is her strength.I felt that this red, white and black piece was a common, overused color formula and unsurprising. I still think there is a way to bring some surprise to the piece and I would not be surprised to see Gerrie work it over and surprise us once again.