Aug 21, 2013

Rolf Harris - Great Artist Or Lucky Amateur?

Rolf Harris is one of the world’s best known contemporary artists and his original works regularly fetch six figure sums. His painting is undeniably popular but is it actually worthy and does it really matter if it is? Rolf Harris’s work may be loved by the masses but art critics generally loathe it and have showered the artist with a barrage of unfortunate comments over the years with one branding him “a fairground painter at most”.

The Value of Success

I have no idea how Harris rates his own work and I am sure he would love to receive more critical acclaim but he is certainly getting the last laugh with the amount of money he has made. History is littered with great masters who have died poor men and you have to ask what is better for the individual, success or technical brilliance?

The Merit of Popularity

I have said it before and I will say it again. There is surely something affirming about popularity. 
Popularity is a merit it its own right and it is pure snobbishness to dismiss art as unsound when it so sought after. Unfortunately aficionados of the arts always deride anything which is popular and I feel this is probably at least in part to maintain their position of superiority which would be somewhat undermined by agreeing with the great unwashed.


Whatever the truth of the matter Rolf Harris’s work is most certainly popular. Doubtless this is in large part due to his high profile as an entertainer but give the public some credit. Those with money might buy his original work as an investment regardless of what they thought of the quality but people would not generally buy his prints unless they actually liked them whoever the artist was. I hope that settles the argument. Rolf Harris may not be the most technically gifted or inspired artist that ever lived but he paints images that people enjoy and that is surely just as important. Even more crucially he has inspired an interest in art and that is where I believe his greatest talent lies.


Art has always been a signature element of Harris’s live performances as an entertainer. He may not possess artistic brilliance but he does have a unique talent for engaging an audience with art. His act usually involves painting a picture quickly and in such a way that the subject of the work is not obvious until the painting nears completion. In this way he has created an interest in art amongst many people who may never have come to the subject at all. He can inspire interest and creativity in others and that is a rare talent which should be celebrated.

Rolf Harris has received the kind of criticism you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. The critic’s appear to feel that his work is so poor that it makes jack Vettriano look like Michelangelo but I am not so sure. At the end of the day the work of Rolf Harris is much loved and he certainly has the ability to inspire an appreciation of art generally. I have to conclude that whilst he is no Van Gogh he is not a lucky amateur either but rather an inspired teacher and that should be admired if nothing else.

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Sally Stacey is a professional writer who also owns a bridal shop and was on the board of a London based distribution company for 16 years. A frequent traveller for both leisure and business, Sally is always looking for a new adventure to write about

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