Sincerity is a Non-Value in Art

Earlier this year I bought a book, “101 things to Learn in Art School” by Kit White to inspire future blog posts. I was getting tired of my other “go to” books “Steal like an Artist” and “Art and Fear’; plus I was interested in seeing what I missed in my own early art education.

There are a few potential posts brewing in my head from this book, but right now I keep coming back #35:

“Sincerity is a non-value in art.” – Robert Storr, lecture at Pratt Institute

Once a work of art leaves the studio and arrives in the larger world, your sincerity is a weak predictor of the work’s success. Outside of the studio, your work must stand on its own and reveal itself without your being present to defend or explain it. A sincere artist can make weak work, and in insincere artist can produce masterpieces. Don’t try to defend a work’s shortcomings with protestations of good or sincere intentions. It isn’t part of the larger world’s criteria of judgment. – Kit White

For me this hits really close to home. Why? Because I would classify my work as sincere. I think it resonates with a small handful of like minded individuals, but not much beyond that. The rest of the world shakes their collective head and says: “So what?” Ok, maybe thats a little harsh, but I think it’s true to some extent. Just because I want my work to be liked, respected and appreciated beyond the toy photography community, doesn’t mean it will be.

So the big question is: “Does it matter?” Is sincerity enough? Does toy photography need to be seen as art? Or is making interesting and pretty pictures that bring joy and happiness to both the creator and a like minded audience enough?

If sincerity doesn’t matter, what does matter? What are the criteria art is judged by? Should I start using toys to reflect current events like @Legojacker or showing how war affects children like the War Toys Project or showcase how insignificant we humans are like Slinkachu?  Can only serious photographs be considered “art” and happy photos of toys automatically classified as sincere and kitsch?

I don’t have the answers, nor do I expect you to either. I am a very sincere toy photographer and I don’t think that is enough.

~ xxSJC

What criteria do you use to judge art (and if art is too strong of a word to use, substitute photography)?

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Stefan
5 years ago

#butfirstletmeaskanotherquestion Who defines what’s art? Ok, surely many people have defined this before and many more will have agreed with those. But I, too, want to ask: Does it really matter? I know I’m in a super convenient position as this is ‘just’ my hobby; sure I’m happier with it when I get compliments or positive feedback. But what’s most important to me is that I’m happy with it. And my definition of what’s making me happy about my pics is ever changing. It is influenced by what I see, what I hear, what I read… (and as for my… Read more »

Stefan
5 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

Guessing I am getting the point: it´s easy for me to say I enjoy what I do and that´s enough. But what if you want to have more acknowledgement? Maybe it´s in one´s own attitude? This is a great topic to discuss over a glass of wine…maybe on a future toysafari?

Stefan
5 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

I’m far too stubborn to either grow or go ;-) This glass of wine is on me. Skål, Shelly.

Maëlick
5 years ago

I don’t get it. I don’t know if it is because I am not an English native speaker, because I don’t know a lot about art or because I the quote is out of context. (Or maybe it’s normal to not get it?) What sincerity has to do with art? “A sincere artist can make weak work, and in insincere artist can produce masterpieces.” And why wouldn’t the opposite be true? I am not sure I understand what “sincere” means in this content but I triple checked its definition in a dictionary and I did not learn anything new. At… Read more »

Maëlick
5 years ago
Reply to  Maëlick

Seems like I just can’t stop thinking about it. How many great artists made art without having a big and deep message or purpose. I mean for centuries painting was only used to illustrate the bible or depict powerful people. What was the purpose of Picasso’s or Monet’s paintings if not simply showing the beauty of it? I really don’t see where there’s a problem with that.

Maëlick
5 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

I think you successfully achieved the goal of making us think about what we’re doing. Or at least you did it with me. After writing my last comment I spent a lot of time thinking about it for a few days. But it’s only now that I have been able to force myself to take time to write a reply. I never said I don’t like your post. If that was the case I wouldn’t have taken time to write a comment. I can’t even say that I disagree with it. What I’m sure is that I understand your concern… Read more »

Lyn Miller-Lachmann
5 years ago

A corollary to this is that spending a lot of time and effort on a work of art doesn’t necessarily make for a great work of art. The disconnect between effort expended and outside recognition can be a huge problem for artists, as for anyone — including students. An education study a few years ago showed that students work hardest when their work is associated with achievement. Those whose work doesn’t seem to pay off, and those who reap rewards without doing any work are the ones who slack off or give up.