The art of appreciating bad art

Not all art pushes boundaries and that is okay

Art, like any creative endeavour, does not exist in a vacuum. There is always a context and meaning behind what it represents. However, sometimes it’s important to forget all that and just have fun. While those might seem like contradictory statements, they don’t have to be.

Turning your brain off and having fun doesn’t mean that you should passively take in whatever content is shovelled toward you. Rather, you should be able to sit and enjoy something that, while not fine art, serves its purpose as engaging entertainment.

I will compare two movies by turning back the clock to the far-off year of 2022, one meaningful and the other shlocky. First, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a wonderfully animated stop-motion film set in fascist Italy focusing on the titular character’s struggle with life, death and what it means to be human. The film reinvents the story of Pinocchio, delivering a strong anti-fascist message while leaving the audience to consider the mortality of its characters and a little wooden boy.

I’ll compare Pinocchio to the more shlocky 2022 flick Violent Night, starring David Harbour as a killer Santa Claus eliminating a gang of criminals robbing a rich family. The movie is by no means arthouse. In fact, it’s quite dumb. In Violent Night, Santa is a jaded alcoholic and ex-Viking warrior who spends most of the film brutally killing criminals who get in his way.

The concept and content of Violent Night is absurd, lacking in subtlety and totally over the top, but I cannot help but enjoy watching it play out. It is crucial to be able to approach art with a critical lens, understanding its messages, nuances and even failings, but it’s also okay to just enjoy something dumb for a few hours.

There is a fine line between uncritically taking in any and all content and knowing when to just have fun. It is still important to engage with a diverse selection of genuine artistic works. I wouldn’t argue for pop culture to ever displace independent or lesser-known works of art.

One of the most moving experiences I have had with art was during a touring exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq from Cree artist Kent Monkman. Much of Monkman’s work juxtaposes the idealistic façade of early Canadian history with shows of brazen sexuality, such as Monkman’s piece parodying “Meeting of the Delegates of British North America to Settle the Terms of Confederation,” titled humorously “The Daddies.” Some of Monkman’s other powerful pieces, such as “The Scream,” touch on deeply painful depictions of colonization in process. Art like Monkman’s must, and should, exist to push boundaries, unseat the audience and create something that truly moves the viewer. Furthermore, it is important that a viewer has the ability to critically view Monkman’s, or any artist’s, pieces with a lens of valid appreciation or critique.

With that in mind, not all art has to do any of these things. Some artistic works can simply be visual, auditory or mechanical spectacle, such as Violent Night, or one of my favourite guilty pleasures, FortniteFortnite is a free-to-play battle royale which regularly features collaborations with characters and properties owned by corporations such as LEGO, Marvel, DC and WWE.

While Fortnite does nothing to expand my horizons, when a 12-year-old with a Thanos skin shoots me from across the map then hits the renegade I can’t help but love it. Fortnite at its core is a pretty corporate shooter that runs its consistent collaborations to prey on your recognition and nostalgia. But after recognizing that fact, putting it aside and playing for an hour it is honestly really fun.

It’s possible to recognize something kind of sucks but still take it for what it is and enjoy your time with it. A video game like Metal Gear Solid, which combines intense stealth action with oddball comedy and genuine critique of the military complex, is effectively the anti-Fortnite. Metal Gear Solid makes no effort to prey on your nostalgia, get cheap thrills or mindlessly entertain. It is a relatively slow game with a complex story that has genuine meaning.

Works like Pinocchio, Metal Gear Solid and Monkman’s various paintings pushed the limits of their respective mediums. However, crap like Violent Night and Fortnite are just fun and that is okay. Both works have their problems, which a viewer should be able to call out and critique, but there isn’t anything wrong with simply enjoying them.

There is a dual nature to artistry that doesn’t need to contradict itself. We need genuine art that pushes boundaries, makes us think and challenges the audience. But it’s also okay to just have fun for a little while.