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Why I Love Really, Really Bad Art

My parents' eclectic taste made me into the savvy collector I am today

It’s been said everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but I pretty much know I have terrible taste in art. For me, paintings have to be pretty and happy and possibly even very pink. I am also partial to sparkles.

Look, I know, OK? I hate me, too. I’m like the Ice Capades on canvas or something with my taste. I blame my childhood. And really, what can’t we blame on our childhoods? It’s fantastic to have our formative years, and especially our parents, to use as scapegoats for all our ills. I am absolutely delighted to live in an era where this is a thing—when personal responsibility went the way of learning real subjects in school.

But still, if you grew up with the drawings that hung in my childhood home, you’d rebel, too. I mean, I’m glad my parents didn’t have velvet paintings of bullfights, or that really bad oil painting where Jesus is knocking on a high rise. (I never understood that one.)

Speaking of Jesus, they did have this:

This was Salvador Dali’s chipper version of Jesus’s last supper in a Ramada Inn lobby or something. What in the Sam Holy Hill is going on in this dismal conglomeration? Why is everyone kind of see-through? Why is Jesus making a gun finger? And what gives with the McDonald’s arches? My whole childhood, I stared at this picture hanging morosely in my parents’ room, and it explains, I think, why I’m an only child. Who’d get in the mood with THIS monstrosity looming over them?

I didn’t spend nearly as much time with "The World’s Most Depressing Last Supper," up there, as I did with this one, below:

I can’t begin to tell you the hours I spent trying to figure this one out. First of all, we’ve established that beige was the palette of choice for my parents when it came to their prints. They were going through a Beige Period. That’s not what concerned me as much as what in the dickens was a Trova, and furthermore, what was a Pace, Columbus. My mother kept this poster for decades, and I was in my 20s before I looked at it and said, “Oh, Columbus! Like, Ohio, Columbus!” And then I figured out that Pace must be a museum and that Trova must be an artist and this was, like, an ad for a Trova exhibit. This is what happened to us all before Google. We had to spend 15 years piecing together these beige mysteries.

I still have no idea why there are naked men squished together in a row with bar charts and point 2s on them, though.

My parents got a little bold and went more terra cotta this time:

And incidentally I might have to be hospitalized for depression and monkey trauma now that this childhood memory has come pirouetting back. This nightmarish Picasso was in the living room, and when I wasn’t giving Trova and his Pace Columbus my undivided attention, I spent a lot of time enjoying this family, with Twisted Baby Head, dad in his unitard, the horrifying monkey and everyone’s eating disorder.

Did dad just get back from Long John Silver’s with that pirate hat? Doubtful, because it would appear the last thing he ate was a dehydrated string bean, then he danced that off.

My parents also had a collection of really disturbing clown portraits that I believe they got at local art fairs and such. One was this vampire clown guy, clutching his throat with his head thrown back, either in rapture or because the rest of our paintings made him as sad as me. We also had a giant red clown who stared at me dolefully as I waited for dinner to be ready.

This, friends, is why I like the happy paintings. The fluffy paintings. Do you know what I like? I like this:

Look at this pretty picture, by happy-go-lucky Fragonard. OK, I don’t know the first thing about Fragonard’s life, and for all I know he loved him a beige, naked baboon as much as my parents did. But I don’t think so. Look at this picture. No one is sad. No one is a monkey. No one is clutching his throat or having a last meal at the Ramada. Why can't things be happy and swingy and puffy in art?

Why can't we all look up each other's skirts? In a not-at-all beige way?

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