The Aww Factor

The most famous beneficiary of the Aww Factor is Vincent van Gogh.

In most western countries you will find many thousands of recreational painters attending night classes and afternoon clubs.

A significant percentage of these recreational painters possess a greater degree of artistry than did van Gogh.

The unfortunate van Gogh could not paint to save his life. Yes, there are a few paintings with interesting colour combinations, but as with the infinite number of monkeys and the infinite number of typewriters there are far more misses than hits.

There are three reasons why van Gogh is world renowned as a (so called) 'great artist', while the recreational painters are not; 1) very few recreational painters as limited as van Gogh would have the chutzpah to put themselves forward as artists, 2) few if any of the recreational painters have engaged in high value soap opera behaviour - self-mutilation and suicide, 3) none of the recreational painters are promoted by prominent and influential arty-farties.

If you show the works of van Gogh to a group of non arty-farties who know nothing of van Gogh or his works they will tell you that van Gogh's work is rubbish. Tell them his soap opera life story, and the more weak minded will instinctively apply the Aww Factor, and out of sympathy extend the status of artist to him. Tell them the prices currently paid for his work and they will elevate him to 'great artist'.

Van Gogh's life story makes interesting material for various art forms, but that is as far as it goes. The output of this energetic dauber is really not good enough to be accorded the status of art.

The Aww Factor derives its name from the sound of sympathy - often expressed in phrases such as 'Aww, bless him/her!'.

When the toddler returns from school carrying a crinkled piece of paper besmudged with paint it is appropriate for the parents to be pleased that (to some small, variable and debatable degree) the child has begun and finished a task (albeit with a multitude of promptings, without direction, and - in truth, not really finished at all, just stopped...), and has begun to understand (to some small, variable and debatable degree) the concept of two dimensional marks representing three dimensional reality (even if the dark green blob under the brown splatter never did represent dad in his red jumper, nor the pale blue car, but at the start the yellow sun (under the dog), and later mashed potatoes).

No harm is done when the parents attach the said paper to fridge door or wall. It is only when the parents invest the ghastly artefact with entirely illusory qualities that the Aww Factor comes into play; when all and sundry are invited to look upon the necessarily inept offering and recognise therein evidence of an early flowering artistic talent ("Well, the teacher says....").

For the indulgent parents' judgement to be totally awry is understandable, and, to a degree, forgivable. Forgivable because only the innocent toddler, and the (genuine) congenital idiot, are valid recipients of the Aww Factor.

The Aww Factor, when appropriately applied, reflects sympathy for a form of plucky failure; it does not confer the status of art on artless ineptitude.

In the 'art world' the Aww Factor is routinely applied to the talentless and to the psychologically damaged, and doubly so to those who are both.*

(It is not impossible for the tangible result of 'art-therapy' (in its widest interpretation) to be art (the work of Richard Dadd comes to mind, but in his case he was a talented artist before he lost his sanity), however as a general rule 'art therapy' does not produce art.)

* The Aww Factor is not routinely applied to the talentless and to the psychologically damaged in, say, civil engineering, surgery, or even shelf stacking.

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