A few weeks ago, one of my favourite painters, Nicki Ault, posted on her blog, two stages of a painting of the view from her studio window.
Something she said about adding the snowflakes in the second stage, made me think about how we want our artwork to be perceived.
“I do have a bit of a fear that they make the painting a bit cute."
Why was Nicki afraid of the painting being ‘cute’? It’s a term that is used pretty widely in the world of art and design, particularly in relation to greeting card design. In that case it’s usually a compliment so why is ‘cute’ something we try to avoid in the world of Fine Art?
I looked up some dictionary definitions and wasn’t too surprised to find that the word isn’t even included in some of my older English dictionaries. I think it’s only through the internet that the word has become part of our UK vocabulary, though my mother did use it in its original, now outdated sense, meaning ‘shrewd’ ‘ingenious’ or ‘clever’.
Definitions I found included:
- delightfully pretty or dainty
All quite positive meanings - so why are we afraid of our work being dubbed ‘cute’?
I think one of the definitions I found, hints at the answer:
‘obviously contrived to charm’
This, for me, at least, suggests something less ‘worthy’, something shallow or insincere, maybe with overtones of deception, manipulation, not something that came from the heart!
To me this is fine for a greeting card, which is likely to be ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ but not for a piece of art that we hope will stand the test of time, the sort of work that, as in Van Gogh’s case, may not be appreciated until many years later!
|Nothing wrong with 'cute'|
There’s nothing wrong with ‘cute’ in the right context but I can understand why Nicki wanted to avoid it in her snow painting.
How to avoid it? I don’t have an answer except that every artist probably has to sense for themselves the whereabouts of the fine line that separates the ‘cute’ from the ‘non-cute’!
The dictionary gives ‘homely’ and ‘ugly’ as the opposites to ‘cute’. I think this is rather limiting. A work of art can avoid being cute without being ugly, though I do think that there is plenty of room for ‘ugly’ in fine art.
I think Nicki clearly avoided allowing the snowflakes to make her painting ‘cute’. What do you think?