Ah yes, the age-old question which always seems to get people riled up. So I'm here to add my own fuel to the fire. Why? Well, it's getting pretty cold up here in Canada and my heating needs to come from somewhere, so...
I suppose it becomes fuel if one perceives it to be. I'm just here to share my thoughts, because I'm the type of person whose opinions somehow land right smack dab in the middle of the spectrum in an attempt not to have a very polarizing mindset and insulting absolutely every person imaginable.
So is there such a thing as bad art? Yes. But it may not be in a way that is typically thought of as bad art.
I might as well get the most obvious thing out of the way: people seem to use mechanics as a criterion to determine bad art. It's always the thing that people lambaste each other most about. And while they do have a point, perhaps there is a bit too much emphasis on mechanics.
A lot of the perceptions that I see from a lot of people is that the moment an art piece is considered intangible, then it's considered "bad". Abstract and contemporary art gets most of the bad press because it's hard to really relate to and contextualize. It's not impossible to contextualize, per se, but people are rather quick to write off these artistic forms as "bad" because let's be real: a majority of people don't want to have to think about the deep implications of a piece of art. If it looks good aesthetically, then that's enough. It's a sad reality, but outside the art world that is just the case.
But even then art is about conveying a message, whether it be a story, a political statement or an expression of our emotions. Mechanics is there, I believe, to supplement the message. Is it important? Yes. But the way I see it, mechanics is a way which further refines the presentation of said message, which can help it reach more people. The message doesn't have to be something esoteric or enigmatic. It could be that beauty in itself is the message, and that's why we create beautiful paintings. It doesn't have to be this hyper-intellectual snobbery that seems to pervade through many contemporary artist groups.
The reason why I think of mechanics as more of a refinement of presentation rather than the art itself is that there are many pieces of art which are not mechanically stunning but artistically they convey their messages well. The problem with bad mechanics is that it can divert the attention of the viewer away from the message which we are trying to send. The message is still there, it's just that most people are not willing to dig past that and just strike for the thing which is most apparent, which is more often than not the mechanical ability of the artist.
So how I perceive it, bad mechanics is bad mechanics, but it isn't necessarily bad art.
It's quite simple actually: bad art is art which has no life in it.
What I mean by this is that there is a lack of investment, effort, or passion from the artist who created said piece of art. It's like a robot created it, manufactured from a factory. A lack of emotion, a lack of drive, a lack of any love towards creating said art. It's cold, and it's lifeless. That to me is the epitome of bad art.
You could have the most mechanically stunning piece of work imaginable, but if it feels like the artist was sort of taken hostage and did the work not because they loved doing it, but because they felt they had to prove themselves to people, or tried to appeal to the masses, then it becomes "dead art" as I like to call it.
It doesn't necessarily mean that commissioned or paid work is bad. The fact that we're willing to be commissioned by someone is still a willingness to create. But when we compromise our artistic integrity in an attempt to get things like fame or fortune, the artwork just starts feeling kind of lifeless. It's akin to reading a book, or playing a video game: you know whether the creators really put their heart and soul into it, or they just created it for the cash grab, easy money. It's compromising in the worst way possible. Another good parallel is playing music: you could hit all the notes perfectly, in time, catering to all of the dynamic markings, but the music could still be as dead as a bag of bricks. If there is no life in the artist, there is no life in the art. It's that simple.
A good example to illustrate this is my dreaded experience with Instagram, oh boy. At times I was hardpressed to find something to upload to satisfy the Algorithm™, so I would make a quick piece or rough sketch just to get something out there. I had not realized until after I quit the platform that those pieces were by far the worst pieces that I have ever made. Not in a mechanical sense, but they just looked... dead. It's like they had no life in them. And it's because I compromised my artistic vision to cater to a stupid algorithm which doesn't care about its users at all. I became a "sell out" as people call it, trying to get my quick hit of likes, and as a result my artwork suffered dramatically.
This is why nowadays when I look at artists just starting out, it brings a huge smile to my face. Why? Because their creations are full of life, even if it's mechanically lacking. It looks like they gave their all when creating their pieces. It's also why the art of children is so colourful, whimsical, wacky, and alive: they're just having fun, not caring about what others think about it. And that's how a lot of us start as artists: because it's fun.
As artists get somewhat older we get bogged down by work, improvement, etc., to the point where we can be so mechanically talented but the life of the art has been stripped away. And for me personally, it's harder to inject more life into art than to make it more mechanically sound. Improving mechanics is quite simple (but not easy): just do more of it and you'll improve. But retaining the life in your work? Now that's a very challenging task that is not quite as simple to tackle.
It's very much like what Picasso said about his own artistic ability:
While having art that is full of life is what makes it "good", I don't think it's an excuse to neglect mechanics. A piece full of life can be made even more beautiful with the mechanics to back it up, but a dead piece of work is impossible to resuscitate even if one's mechanical ability matches that of a robot.