My holiday in The Museum of The Worst Art Ever | Steve Canavan

When did the rise of naff art begin?

Friday, 20th August 2021, 8:37 pm
Updated Friday, 20th August 2021, 8:37 pm
Live, Laugh, Love - the kind of 'artwork' that makes Steve Canavan feel queasy. Picture by Shutterstock

I’m talking about this weird modern trait of instead of having a Van Gogh or a Monet or Turner on the wall, people now buy a big canvas print with some supposedly inspirational quote on it dreamt up by a trendy PR firm, most likely based in Brighton.

I write this after having returned from holiday (to Northumberland since you ask. What’s that? Yes it was lovely, thanks. Weather wasn’t ideal but at least we got the chance to fully road-test our new cagoules), where the walls of the house we rented were littered with the most ridiculous kind of art.

Alarm bells started ringing in the porch, where there was a massive canvas bearing the words ‘LAUGH. LIVE. LOVE’.

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Now, let’s analyse this for a second.

I understand it’s meant to be uplifting and positive but what – I mean when you actually really think about it – is the point of it? If you’re having a bad day – the kids are playing up, you’ve stubbed your toe on the bathroom door, the pills the doc has given you for your halitosis just aren’t working – are you supposed to see that artwork and think, ‘hang on, things aren’t so bad, I just need to laugh and live and love and all will be well?’ It doesn’t make any sense.

Before I’d had the opportunity to get over my annoyance, I walked two paces into the hallway and was greeted by two more.

The first was a picture of a settee with some cushions on it, above which were the words, ‘Dream, Imagine and Believe’.

I stared at it in puzzlement, trying firstly to work out how the slogan had any correlation to a settee (dream there’ll be a sale at DFS so you can get new cushions?) and secondly trying to fathom just what sort of human being would pay money for it.

On the wall opposite – and as hard to believe as this is – it got even worse.

Now bearing in mind the owners of the property could have gone for the Mona Lisa, or The Starry Night, or The Scream, or The Last Supper, or The Birth of Venus, or the hundreds of other incredible inspiring jaw-dropping paintings, they had purchased and stuck on the wall this: a picture of an iceberg, on which was written – on the section underwater - the words ‘Hard Work. Persistence. Late Nights. Rejections. Sacrifices. Discipline. Criticism. Doubts. Failure. Risk’ and on the part above water it said, ‘SUCCESS’.

It was perhaps the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen.

Possibly written by Margaret Thatcher, it was saying that by working hard and making sacrifices and suffering rejection (ie, basically giving up your life and happiness) then you could be successful – which would be moderately depressing on an every day level but to have to see it when you’re on holiday…

No matter how chipper I felt when I bounded down the stairs each morning, one glance at this depressing thing on the wall and I found myself reaching for the nearest bottle of strong whiskey.

I entered the kitchen thinking things couldn’t get any worse but there, above the sink, was the piece de resistance, a large print bearing the slogan: ‘Around here we only drink wine on days that end in Y’.

This might – might – have been very briefly amusing around 1983 when it was first thought of, but what kind of individual, 35 years later, thinks, ‘that’s hilarious, let’s spend 30 quid buying one to stick in our kitchen. My god, our guests are going to be in stitches’

There were – and I know because I counted in increasing disbelief – 21 pieces of this kind of art in the house (not to mention, above the coat rack by the back door, the word ‘Coats’ stencilled on the wall. Well, gee, thank god for that. I thought those pegs attached to the wall were an oven and was about to shove a chicken chasseur in there. Who’d have thought they were actually for hanging jackets on?)

It was as if we’d accidentally booked a week’s stay at the Museum Of Worst Ever Art. Ever.

It did make me realise, though, that however much it might irk me, there is clearly a market for this kind of tosh and on that basis I’ve decided to cash in and set up my own business (‘Canavan’s Crafts – putting the smart into art’).

I mean how hard can it be?

Above a picture of a brilliant sun-rise, I could have the words – ‘Keep On Shining’. Or maybe alongside a banana and an apple and an orange, the words ‘Fruits of Your Labour’? Completely meaningless and bobbins, obviously, but I guarantee some middle-class couple from South London – possibly with children called Sebastian and Penelope - will order it for their kitchen wall, then gaze at it as they nibble on their halloumi and pine nut salad.

Anyway, after all that spleen-venting I need a lie down. Or a glass of wine. After all it’s a day that ends with a Y. Cheers.