Geek Speak

Art With Robots Is Still Art — Sometimes Great Art

I like robots. That’s probably no surprise, if you’ve read this column once or twice. I like art, too. That might be a surprise, I suppose. But even if you were a little surprised at that, I'll bet your surprise would quickly evaporate when I told you the art I like frequently depicts robots. Or monsters. Or robots fighting monsters. Or, hell, robot monsters.

In other words, my aesthetics when it comes to art are pretty much identical to my aesthetics in any other arena. I like movies about robots that fight monsters, and I like paintings of the same thing. I like my books creepy, weird and macabre, and when I find an artist that turns thrift-store paintings into blood-spattered tableaus of death and decay, I’m in love. It probably goes without saying that I have no formal training or study in art appreciation or aesthetics, but I am the living embodiment of the old saw about not knowing much about art but knowing what I like.

Like I said, I like robots.

I used to tell people that I didn’t really like or get art, but that was because I was buying into some superficial, pretentious art-snob view of what art “really” is. I don’t do that anymore. I like what I like, and whether or not a serious art critic or artist would consider it art is pretty much immaterial to me. I look at comic books and I think “art,” even if a lot of serious art people would disagree with me (yes, I’m well aware some would agree). I look at Blucifer at the airport and I think, "Fuck, yeah! ART!” and I guess a lot of serious art people agree with me, even if lots of people hate it. Honestly, it doesn’t make a lot of difference to me. I just like what I like.

Most of my favorite contemporary artists are dismissed as “illustrators,” as if making art that has a purpose beyond being art is somehow inferior. I don’t buy it, personally. I see more breathtaking works of art on my paperback books, on my Magic cards and on Tumblr in a given day than I have in all the First Friday art walks I’ve been to put together. My favorite living painter is Chris Foss, and he comes in just a few shades under my favorite dead painter, Hieronymous Bosch. (Man, if Bosch were still alive, he’d be the go-to guy for horror book covers.)

Luckily, living in Denver gives me some great options to see my kind of art. Not only do I get a good look at Blucifer every time I make a trip to the airport, but we’ve got some pretty sweet galleries here in town that, even if they don’t cater to my unique tastes, at least run congruent enough to give me plenty of work to appreciate. I get to go to shows like DINK — the Denver Independent Comic and Art Expo — and spend time in the art shows of bigger cons, too. Heck, every once in a while I get to see — or even write about — a show like Malfunction (opening this Saturday, May 7, at Good Thieves Press, 2045 Downing Street) that features actual, honest-to-Asimov robots. Broken robots, in this case, along with weird glitch art, but robots all the same.

If you think you don’t like art, or have a kid who thinks they don’t (even worse), maybe try some robots. Or whatever pop-cultural, science-fictional weirdness turns your/their crank. Because art is for everybody, even people who think landscapes are boring but hellscapes are sweet, and who would rather look at variant art comic-book covers than Renaissance masters. It might lead them into “serious” art (hey, I discovered Bosch, didn’t I?) or it might not, but no one should have to go through life thinking they don’t like art just because people told them all the art they liked wasn’t art.