Despite what many people would probably tell you, I don’t consider myself to be a negative person. So bear with me: I went to an art show a couple of nights ago at the local art space/gallery. It was intended to be a sex-themed exhibit, featuring art and live performances. And it was just awful. I’ve been to probably a dozen of these events, and I try my best to go with an open and positive attitude, to show support to local artists, to throw some good vibes toward some culture. But every time, without fail, I’m just left frustrated and almost angry at how far short of good the material always falls.

A couple of things I saw at the exhibit:

A pedestal in the middle of the room with a taco sitting on it, spraypainted pink

A dead bird in a ziploc bag, attached to the wall with thumbtacks

Some collages that were, literally, random pages ripped from magazines and glued to canvas, with globs of glitter dripped and pasted to it

Marcel Duchamp, when he took that toilet and signed his name to it and called it art, was legitimately creating something. It was a brilliant move; it changed things forever and recontextualized what could be considered art. It was, for lack of a better word, genius. Unfortunately, thirty minutes after he did it, some pretentious douche saw it, said “pfft, I know how to do art now,” and has, for the past eight decades or so, insisted on subjecting the rest of us to his efforts.

I think, though, it’s not so much the quality of the bad artwork that annoys me so much as it the actual people creating the art. The art is bad, yes, but the level of self-delusion and genuine arrogance it takes to not only call yourself an artist despite a fundamental lack of talent but also to dare to charge literally hundreds of dollars for it is, to my mind, beyond the pale. On top of that, these “artists” don’t really seem to have any deep knowledge of art (either historical or practical) whatsoever. They think all it takes to be an artist is an overinflated sense of your own talent, a subscription to Adbusters, and being thin to the point of anorexia.

I don’t live in a huge city, but it’s more than a wide spot on the road: there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter-million people here. You’d think at least a couple of them would have some kind of talent. But you’d be wrong—I can count on one hand the number of good pieces I’ve seen at shows over the last five years. I think most likely the greatest obstacle to a genuinely good local art scene is that this is very much the Bible Belt—there are literally thousands of churches around—so it doesn’t take all that much to seem crazy and “artsy.” And because being artsy or different is so rarely encouraged, it takes only the barest amount of strangeness—owning a Sonic Youth album, or not hating gay people—for someone to be looked at as some kind of nutsy iconoclast. As a result of this, these sensitive arty types—who are only weird and different in comparison to their incredibly narrow and conservative environment—think that their ideas, which, again, are generally fairly pedestrian, are in fact immense and profound. And because in general they have only a superficial understanding of the ideas they’ve glommed on to—because, this being the sort of place that usually disapproves of any sort of against-the-grain thinking, there was not much in the way of education in these areas—the art they manage to create is, almost always, quite bad. I very much doubt any of the artists at the event I attended could give you any sort of in-depth explanation as to what they were trying to do with their creations apart from giving some kind of noncommittal“it means whatever you want it to mean” sort of response. I’m fine with a dash of pretentiousness if there’s at least some substance. The situation I’m describing, though, makes for art and artists that are both arrogant and dumb, a potentially deadly combination. It’s a depressing situation all around.