My Kid Could Do That by William Dolan


When criticizing, it’s wrong to use the term “my kid could do that” in dismissing a work of art. It exposes the ignorance of the reviewer. Obviously, anyone that would look at something and say that is misguided.

A while back, I attended a couple of openings for shows of mid-career painters in a respectable first-tier gallery. The artists, while not stars, have impressive resumes. Based on who was there, and the prices of the work, you could say they have successful practices.

I found their stuff underwhelming. The work of the first artist, at least was a little interesting. There was a certain amount of expression of movement through line that showed some thought. However the level of thought displayed, was more like that of a stream-of-conscious doodle on the margin of a book one might do in the middle of a boring telephone conversation. It was the start of something, but was being displayed as finished work. It was pleasing to look at and it smelled nice.

The work of the second artist was less inspiring. The stuff was slapped together mixed media. It displayed a lack of meaning. The collage parts were ugly wallpaper patterns that were partially obscured by thin layers of pigment. The painted parts were awkward slaps of paint from oversized brushes. There was nothing to show that this artist had any vision or anything interesting to say. Since it was very derivative of Basquiat mixed with pattern painting. All I learned was that this person paid attention in art history class and has put together some stuff that is somewhat familiar looking.

I’m generally positive and hate to trash someone’s work but the term “my kid could do that,” seems somewhat appropriate here. There is a certain amount of laziness to the work. Each piece was a start, but due to a seemingly lack of effort, and exploration, the paintings look to me like the products of short attention spans, like that of a kid.

There’s a lot of art like this. It’s child-like in its execution and doesn’t express much. One could read anything in to it. It sits in the background of the opening like the tinkering of a jazz trio in the corner of a cocktail party. It’s really just decoration for a lifestyle. It’s not meant to challenge or inspire. It’s price, however gives it a certain exclusivity that shows that the buyer and the seller have attained a status above most people. This gives the impression of higher thought.

A lot of popular contemporary art is like this. It’s childish, largely unfinished and doesn’t say much. Though, maybe that’s the point. Any meaning can be attached to it. The dealer can write a few paragraphs that can position the work as something of incredible value. Since the artist spends little effort on it, the artist has more time to work on their writings and theories that can be presented as knowledge. The lack of substance in the work means that it will enhance the decor of the collector without scaring anybody, yet in some way it shows sophistication.

In any case, art like this shows a lack of attention to the work and more to the marketing and distribution. “My kid could do that” may describe the work itself, but the art is a part of a bigger whole. That lack of understanding of how the art got on the wall of the gallery is what exposes the commenter as misguided. However, the statement still holds true for the work by itself.