Could Children And Chimps Really Do Modern Art?

Psychology Today discusses a smart-alecky study in which art-majors were shown unlabeled paintings — some by great abstract artists and some by toddlers, primates, and elephants — and asked to pick the superior pieces. The professional works were preferred about two-thirds of the time, suggesting that chimpanzee and infant painters can at least hold their own in the realm of world-class contemporary painting. To me, the lesson is not that modern art is worthless — just that artistic expression is both highly subjective and can be found everywhere.

Below: works by a 4-year-old and by abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann.
56531-48206

, , , ,

  • Andrew

    God forbid we should take the creative works of children and other primates seriously.

  • Andrew

    God forbid we should take the creative works of children and other primates seriously.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=580380351 Potter Dee

      I think the real issue is the price tags being put on these paintings.

      • Andrew

        And that most of the money doesn’t go to the artists.

    • dirtyjohnny

      That might endanger carefully cultivated expertise. And what would corporate lobbies look like without art sans content and ever naive of context? Pornography or journalism, perhaps…

  • Anonymous

    “Abstract Expressionist” art is bad. There I said it. Scribble on a medium, call it art. Put a $450 price tag on it and hang it at the local coffee shop = lame.

  • Peetr

    “Abstract Expressionist” art is bad. There I said it. Scribble on a medium, call it art. Put a $450 price tag on it and hang it at the local coffee shop = lame.

    • Rrauben

      If you have a rep, or “degree.” Something little kids and chimps lack. Yet their work is just as relevant.

      It’s all about MARKETING & $$$, not so much about creativity or signaling.

  • Tuna Ghost

    To me, the lesson is not that modern art is worthless — just that artistic expression is both highly subjective and can be found everywhere.

    Or that a third of art-majors are full of shit and don’t actually know what they’re talking about, which should come as a surprise to exactly nobody.

  • Tuna Ghost

    To me, the lesson is not that modern art is worthless — just that artistic expression is both highly subjective and can be found everywhere.

    Or that a third of art-majors are full of shit and don’t actually know what they’re talking about, which should come as a surprise to exactly nobody.

    • Rrauben

      Only a third?

  • Rrauben

    Modern, “abstract’ art, has been couched in a great deal of academic intellectualism, but as Zen will so cogently reveal to you, if you give 2 shits, the genuine creative impulse naturally exists in any child… which is also naturally equivalent to any chimp’s.

    “Well-trained” adults spend all this time and energy trying to get back to that incredibly potent state… but the problem is: they filter the experience through their egos and ambition… and this is the corrupting influence… that prevents them from simply expressing what a young (unadulterated) child or chimp just can naturally express.

    “Learning” tends only to inhibit this mode of expression. As does the lingual mind. You just have to shoot from the gut. Young children, chimps, they nothing else, hence…

    Human “adults”… just get over your superiority complex. It becomes more obvious thereafter.

    http://www.sacredclown.org

  • Rrauben

    Modern, “abstract’ art, has been couched in a great deal of academic intellectualism, but as Zen will so cogently reveal to you, if you give 2 shits, the genuine creative impulse naturally exists in any child… which is also naturally equivalent to any chimp’s.

    “Well-trained” adults spend all this time and energy trying to get back to that incredibly potent state… but the problem is: they filter the experience through their egos and ambition… and this is the corrupting influence… that prevents them from simply expressing what a young (unadulterated) child or chimp just can naturally express.

    “Learning” tends only to inhibit this mode of expression. As does the lingual mind. You just have to shoot from the gut. Young children, chimps, they nothing else, hence…

    Human “adults”… just get over your superiority complex. It becomes more obvious thereafter.

    http://www.sacredclown.org

  • Rrauben

    If you have a rep, or “degree.” Something little kids and chimps lack. Yet their work is just as relevant.

    It’s all about MARKETING & $$$, not so much about creativity or signaling.

  • Rrauben

    Only a third?

  • Guest

    Also, if this subject interests you, you should definitely check out the fantastic documentary, My Kid Could Paint That…

  • Guest

    Also, if this subject interests you, you should definitely check out the fantastic documentary, My Kid Could Paint That…

  • Anonymous

    I was pretty dismayed by the end of my stint at art school. Pseudo intellectual wank ruled over technical skill. Any piece of crap was valid as long as it came with a vague, waffling lecture from the artist explaining how clever they are.

    Rothko is the only abstract expressionist I can get into. A child could probably approximate the forms and paint application but not the feeling you get from looking at them.

  • dumbsaint

    I was pretty dismayed by the end of my stint at art school. Pseudo intellectual wank ruled over technical skill. Any piece of crap was valid as long as it came with a vague, waffling lecture from the artist explaining how clever they are.

    Rothko is the only abstract expressionist I can get into. A child could probably approximate the forms and paint application but not the feeling you get from looking at them.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Yeah, I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly. But there is an undeniable difference in the EXPERIENCE of a work created in conscious violation of historical norms of representation and technique and of a work created in total ignorance of it.

      Words just don’t get me there, though. On one hand I’m fighting against a centuries-old technological revolution that reduced the photorealistic paradigm to an off-the-rack commodity and on the other a century-old aesthetic culture that hasn’t found any credible replacement, just offered a handful of inspiring challenges that don’t really add up to a coherent whole.

      • dirtyjohnny

        “…and on the other a century-old aesthetic culture that hasn’t found any credible replacement, just offered a handful of inspiring challenges that don’t really add up to a coherent whole.”

        It’s not just hard to put one’s finger on, it leaves papercuts. If modern art doesn’t do the trick so well these days, it’s probably because “conscious violation of historical norms” only works for a week or two. Eventually you have to start building some sort of tradition or you are trying to practice the antithesis of culture. You eventually wind up with political uprising or senseless murder as the only meaningful acts remaining, and I’m not sure they will sustain meaning either. This is is the problem with the “Romantic Artist”, the Rebel With or Without a Cause, with Punk Rock. Fuck the Police, for sure, but eventually you have to teach your kids something… and you can’t do that in the pose of a prodigal son. Gotta stop pouting and sneering, but it’s harder to be righteous when you speak out and you just might not be right. Of course anyone who grows a few grey hairs and techniques is called a snob, or else a naive and contemptable old hippie trying to make the moment last… So, burn your art behind you in defiance and refusal, but that’s already advertising.

        • Liam_McGonagle

          I think that may be an unncessarily pessimistic and reductivist way of looking at things.

          Yeah, it’s clear that the commodification of photorealistic representation made art appreciation A LOT more difficult–we no longer have a single fixed point of reference from which to evaluation technique and composition. That makes people uneasy, uncomfortable with their own judgments and places severe barriers to sharing our appreciation of art with others. To that extent it could be said to have greatly weakened the functionality of art in society.

          But what focusing on this loss ignores is that the death of photorealism opened space for both a plethora of alternative schools, of which “modernism”, but which people usually mean “abstract art”, is but a single example. Most of the movements that sprung in the wake of photorealism’s demise are still alive and kicking, even if they don’t enjoy anything like the supremacy of their predecessor.

          Some might even say that “death” may not be the right word to describe what happened to photorealism. There are still plenty of people who enjoy Thomas Kincade, even if his only aspiration seems to be to warm over the faded “glories” of play-it-safe types like Norman Rockwell.

          I say that the situation we have today is roughly paralell with movements in politics and economy–specialization. No, we don’t have a single predominant model that commands uncontested allegiance from the masses. What we have is a richer variety of alternatives, each of which may be superior to the old paradigm within a given context. Looking to express a pre-verbal existential angst? Abstract art does that way better than photorealism. Looking to articulate a rippling alienation with some aspect of the social order? Some variety of expressionism is just what you need. Want to crack wise about some specific ridiculous hypocrisy of the powers that be? Surrealism just may be the ticket.

          Art was always a collaborative endeavour between artist and audience. The new multiple-school paradigm just forces the audience to become a more active participant.

          • dirtyjohnny

            I think I came off a little wrong here. I wasn’t responding to you in an exact point for point kind of way. I was riffing on your post, which I found interesting and it brought several things to mind.

            I actually agree with you more than it sounds. My post was a bit sarcastic less of an opinion than a parody of prevalent perspectives. I sound pessimistic and reductivist because I’m teasing the art “narrative.” I reduce it because I think it needs a bit of the wind taken out of its sails. I’m an artist myself, and I think art benefits more from a gracious position of concentrated effort and technique than it does from an ever more exaggerated notion of it’s own capacity for originality or influence on society.

            I’m certainly not pining for photorealism, nor do I think there has to be any central, unifying school of art to moor our uncertain times to… We have left behind the narrative device of the “cannon” in some sense. It doesn’t make for such a pat story about art, but it’s still an expressive story for those with patience. I go back and forth on this point. Sometimes I’m glad there’s a less centralized and officiated quality to art, but I occasionally still think everyone’s making records and nobody’s making hits.

            I quoted you quite purposefully because I thought it was nicely said and worth expanding on. What I was trying to zero in on is a kind of destructive mode of art. Not all modern art, but rather a specific strain. I remember reading about the NoWave music scene in New York and someone said something along the lines of “Punk rock set out to destroy music, but it failed. No Wave was created to destroy punk.” I think sometimes you have to destroy to create space for the new, but I’m suspicious of these statements and motives. The role of fiery destroyer is conveniently self-aggrandizing for the artist, and it also conveniently excludes any competition or followers. You can’t blow up an explosion, right? So it leaves just a handful of dark, rebellious mavericks enveloped in the smoke of their clove cigarettes. Must be nice for them, but it sucks for everyone else. I basically think that routine is born out of hidden ego motives and degenerates into absurdity with a quickness.

            I keep coming back to a loose sense that art would benefit most from a more gracious and humble sensibility. Not destroying the past, not materializing the future with it’s own hard won originality. Instead, focus on what one knows best, knows uniquely and loves most in life. When I write (not blogs or posts, but my heartfelt stuff) I have a little ritual. I keep rough drafts and when they’ve been rewritten I burn them in an urn. When I do this I say a little prayer, “Thank you, and may these words return as true.”

          • Liam_McGonagle

            No, I was glad that you made me draw out my thinking a bit more here. It made me realize just how summarily I’d treated the topic.

  • Oneiric Imperium

    Modern art is crap.

    • Andrew

      Faulty Generalization.

      • dirtyjohnny

        Crap is Moder Art.

  • Oneiric Imperium

    Modern art is crap.

  • Andrew

    Faulty Generalization.

  • Sheca

    Children and chimps are good psychologists, too.

  • Sheca

    Children and chimps are good psychologists, too.

  • hucksawyer

    Gordon Gecko explained art in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street:
    “Bud: How much is enough, Gordon? When does it all end, huh? How many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough, huh?
    Gekko: It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a Zero Sum game – somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred – from one perception to another. Like magic. This painting here? I bought it ten years ago for sixty thousand dollars. I could sell it today for six hundred. The illusion has become real, and the more real it becomes, the more desperately they want it. Capitalism at its finest.”

    I’ve been on to the damn ‘abstract expressionist’ art for years! There’s a painting of a bunch of scribbles that hangs in our office at work. I keep telling people that we should establish a basic qualification for art. If a blind monkey with a paintbrush, or a 3 year-old who forgot to wash his hands, can paint the painting, then we disqualify it.
    This is because actual painting is difficult. You have to learn geometry and you have to develop a taste for colors and patterns. Splashing paint on a canvas isn’t art. I don’t care who splashed the paint.

    Also, here is Fred Reed complaining about art:
    http://www.fredoneverything.net/Arts.shtml

    • Andrew

      And if a critic cites Gordon Gecko, then we can disqualify his criticism.

      • dirtyjohnny

        Ha. We’re very big on disqualification around here. Now THAT’S what I see in Art’s secret heart. Exclusion. She’s a jealous whore dolled up like the muse. But real nurses don’t wear latex… “Jealousy… what made you get the same shoe’s as me?”

        If you take Gordon out of the game what about Machiavelli? Baltasar Gracian? They had some hard words. Maybe art really is for softies.

    • superfluous

      it’s actually much more easy just to disqualify the art works you don’t happen to like. it’s also possible that the damn abstract expressionist painting is replaced by something else you don’t like, either.
      it seems to me that your definition of art is that art in and of itself is of good quality, rather than being a category of stuff of variable, subjectively defined qualities (that is, bad art is still art – it’s just not very good at it..)
      on a side note, it’s not the chimps’ or kids’ fault that you don’t like (abstract expressionist) art.

  • Anonymous

    Gordon Gecko explained art in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street:
    “Bud: How much is enough, Gordon? When does it all end, huh? How many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough, huh?
    Gekko: It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a Zero Sum game – somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred – from one perception to another. Like magic. This painting here? I bought it ten years ago for sixty thousand dollars. I could sell it today for six hundred. The illusion has become real, and the more real it becomes, the more desperately they want it. Capitalism at its finest.”

    I’ve been on to the damn ‘abstract expressionist’ art for years! There’s a painting of a bunch of scribbles that hangs in our office at work. I keep telling people that we should establish a basic qualification for art. If a blind monkey with a paintbrush, or a 3 year-old who forgot to wash his hands, can paint the painting, then we disqualify it.
    This is because actual painting is difficult. You have to learn geometry and you have to develop a taste for colors and patterns. Splashing paint on a canvas isn’t art. I don’t care who splashed the paint.

    Also, here is Fred Reed complaining about art:
    http://www.fredoneverything.net/Arts.shtml

  • Andrew

    And if a critic cites Gordon Gecko, then we can disqualify his criticism.

  • Greg

    So many people throw the word ‘art’ around as if everyone knows what it means. When we read something like this it kind of forces us to realize the concept is harder to define than we thought, especially when it is qualified (eg. “good art” vs “bad art”).

    IMO children can absolutely do art. Chimps? I’m not so sure. That art-majors can be fooled into not knowing the difference between child/chimp art and that of so-called “great” abstract artists shows that a lot of art majors are throwing their money away, that a lot of art professors are just a bunch of sophists that literally don’t know what they are talking about, and that perhaps we need a more sophisticated way of qualitatively judging art and artists so that such confusion no longer arises.

    In other words, if we can’t tell the difference between good art and chimp art, maybe we should figure out what’s wrong with our concept of good art and not try to find the next Picasso among chimps and toddlers.

    • grenichgrendel

      Disagree…it may be that a requisite level of intelligence is required for art creation but that doesn’t mean that a chimp, elephant or other relatively intelligent mammal does not possess that intelligence level…they are very smart (smarter than we’ve often given them cred for) and have at least a rudimentary self-awareness. If a small child can create art so can they.

      • Greg

        I think a necessary condition for something to be art is that the artist must intend it to be art. I’m not even sure what it means for a chimp or elephant to intend to create art. To attribute such intention to a non-human animal is pretty controversial, but I suppose it is possible.

        In my opinion, intelligence is necessary but not sufficient in order to create good art. One must have at least a rudimentary concept of culture and one’s place within it. While a chimp or elephant may have intelligence, and while they might even have culture, the belief that they are aware of their culture is quite controversial, to say the least. However, again, I suppose it is possible.

        Yet, even if we grant for the sake of argument that they could create art, without being able to access chimp or elephant culture from the “inside”, what could their art possibly mean to us other than to give us some small insight into what it means to be a chimp or an elephant? It might have aesthetic value, but that doesn’t make it art.

        • grenichgrendel

          Hmm…I may have come across as too certain in my assertion. I meant more that art from chimps can’t be ruled out absolutely and dismissively. Every time human beings find something that definitely sets apart from other animals we find an animal doing roughly the same thing…the difference between humans and animals is mostly in degree….although actually one of those lab chimps that have learned sign language and some cultural concepts from their keeps are still not definitely ruled out by your argument. It’s all speculation.

        • dirtyjohnny

          The line we are arranging ourselves on either side of is more divisive than it sounds. The study was doubtlessly glib. The results are debatable in value and relevance. What’s interesting is people’s willingness to attack the perceived art establishment or come rushing to a misunderstood tradition’s rescue.

          I gotta root for the chimps and elephants. The “West” has resorted to ever more circuitous rhetorical spaghetti in the defense of our Selfhood from their Themhood. I’m not actually out to make a big pitch for chimp art, but the “controversial beliefs” you mention should likely be much less controversial than our own high regard for all things simian and hairless.

          I’m curious about your definition of art. It seems to be specific and fixed. I’m an artist of sorts, but I’ve always found defining art to be a useless and tiresome exercise. Admittedly, I usually find philosophical exertion to be appropriate mostly in political, ethical and religious matters. I have the tendency to view taste as culture and class influenced. Good taste is taste with access to resources. Bad taste is mostly too commonly represented and reproduced to be valued. Unless, that is, it is so bad as to be “authentic”, in which case it can be sold back up the ladder… As you can imagine, there is little room in this picture for placing weight on the intentions or intelligences of artists. They play less of a role than many would like to imagine.

  • Greg

    So many people throw the word ‘art’ around as if everyone knows what it means. When we read something like this it kind of forces us to realize the concept is harder to define than we thought, especially when it is qualified (eg. “good art” vs “bad art”).

    IMO children can absolutely do art. Chimps? I’m not so sure. That art-majors can be fooled into not knowing the difference between child/chimp art and that of so-called “great” abstract artists shows that a lot of art majors are throwing their money away, that a lot of art professors are just a bunch of sophists that literally don’t know what they are talking about, and that perhaps we need a more sophisticated way of qualitatively judging art and artists so that such confusion no longer arises.

    In other words, if we can’t tell the difference between good art and chimp art, maybe we should figure out what’s wrong with our concept of good art and not try to find the next Picasso among chimps and toddlers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=580380351 Potter Dee

    I think the real issue is the price tags being put on these paintings.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly. But there is an undeniable difference in the EXPERIENCE of a work created in conscious violation of historical norms of representation and technique and of a work created in total ignorance of it.

    Words just don’t get me there, though. On one hand I’m fighting against a centuries-old technological revolution that reduced the photorealistic paradigm to an off-the-rack commodity and on the other a century-old aesthetic culture that hasn’t found any credible replacement, just offered a handful of inspiring challenges that don’t really add up to a coherent whole.

  • Anonymous

    Disagree…it may be that a requisite level of intelligence is required for art creation but that doesn’t mean that a chimp, elephant or other relatively intelligent mammal does not possess that intelligence level…they are very smart (smarter than we’ve often given them cred for) and have at least a rudimentary self-awareness. If a small child can create art so can they.

  • Andrew

    And that most of the money doesn’t go to the artists.

  • Greg

    I think a necessary condition for something to be art is that the artist must intend it to be art. I’m not even sure what it means for a chimp or elephant to intend to create art. To attribute such intention to a non-human animal is pretty controversial, but I suppose it is possible.

    In my opinion, intelligence is necessary but not sufficient in order to create good art. One must have at least a rudimentary concept of culture and one’s place within it. While a chimp or elephant may have intelligence, and while they might even have culture, the belief that they are aware of their culture is quite controversial, to say the least. However, again, I suppose it is possible.

    Yet, even if we grant for the sake of argument that they could create art, without being able to access chimp or elephant culture from the “inside”, what could their art possibly mean to us other than to give us some small insight into what it means to be a chimp or an elephant? It might have aesthetic value, but that doesn’t make it art.

  • justagirl

    con artistry is a very simple form of art that can make even the most undeserving douchebag very rich. just ask mr. brainwash.

  • justagirl

    con artistry is a very simple form of art that can make even the most undeserving douchebag very rich. just ask mr. brainwash.

    • Tuna Ghost

      He’s not a con artist, he’s just not very bright and has friends in the right places

      • justagirl

        HAD friends. he used them and abandoned his loving family. he put unimaginable price tags on stolen ideas . he calls poster reproductions “one of a kind, original” art pieces because spray paint happens to splatter. brainwashing or conning people into thinking his designer imposter “art” is worth something more than a kick in the teeth. he is a con artist – a lucky one – with good penmanship. I can’t believe you disagree with this.

        • Tuna Ghost

          I was always under the impression that he was a goober who genuinely thought he was making art, and the public went along with it because they were as ignorant as he is. Then again, all my knowledge comes from “Exit Through The Gift-Shop”, so the possibility that I am wrong certainly exists.

  • Anonymous

    Hmm…I may have come across as too certain in my assertion. I meant more that art from chimps can’t be ruled out absolutely and dismissively. Every time human beings find something that definitely sets apart from other animals we find an animal doing roughly the same thing…the difference between humans and animals is mostly in degree….although actually one of those lab chimps that have learned sign language and some cultural concepts from their keeps are still not definitely ruled out by your argument. It’s all speculation.

  • Anonymous

    Hmm…I may have come across as too certain in my assertion. I meant more that art from chimps can’t be ruled out absolutely and dismissively. Every time human beings find something that definitely sets apart from other animals we find an animal doing roughly the same thing…the difference between humans and animals is mostly in degree….although actually one of those lab chimps that have learned sign language and some cultural concepts from their keeps are still not definitely ruled out by your argument. It’s all speculation.

  • Anonymous

    I think people are getting mixed up on the idea of art.

    There are not throngs of artists out there waiting to make millions off of the gullibility of the masses. The vast majority of people trying to make it as an artist are on the low end of the economic scale. If you create a painting and sell it for $450 then isn’t that painting worth $450? Didn’t someone find enough in it to pay that price? Is it worth $100 to go watch Spiderman The Musical? If you like it then it is.

    One last thing. Allot of abstract art is not as random as you would think it is. Some is just an attempt to mimic great abstract artists. But the really good ones know the rules, and they know why they are breaking them. Think of it as a painting for painters or music for musicians.

  • hunter349

    I think people are getting mixed up on the idea of art.

    There are not throngs of artists out there waiting to make millions off of the gullibility of the masses. The vast majority of people trying to make it as an artist are on the low end of the economic scale. If you create a painting and sell it for $450 then isn’t that painting worth $450? Didn’t someone find enough in it to pay that price? Is it worth $100 to go watch Spiderman The Musical? If you like it then it is.

    One last thing. Allot of abstract art is not as random as you would think it is. Some is just an attempt to mimic great abstract artists. But the really good ones know the rules, and they know why they are breaking them. Think of it as a painting for painters or music for musicians.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4K3KM67XITZTXUE45K42KS4OEE brian

    People read something like this and they see what they want to see. For instance I read this and see that 2 out of 3 times the Art Majors picked the professional painting. That sounds like a pretty good authentication of Abstract Art’s Merits. I mean…if it really was all just random scribbles then you would expect a result of 50/50. 2/3rds is a viable statistic proof in any statisticians book. Now other people see the statistics and see it as proving that monkeys and babies can at least ‘hold their own’ in the abstract art world. Others see it as a way to examine the concept of what art is….Hmmm each of us looking at the same statistics, yet seeing different meanings. Somewhat like abstract art, itself, no?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4K3KM67XITZTXUE45K42KS4OEE brian

    People read something like this and they see what they want to see. For instance I read this and see that 2 out of 3 times the Art Majors picked the professional painting. That sounds like a pretty good authentication of Abstract Art’s Merits. I mean…if it really was all just random scribbles then you would expect a result of 50/50. 2/3rds is a viable statistic proof in any statisticians book. Now other people see the statistics and see it as proving that monkeys and babies can at least ‘hold their own’ in the abstract art world. Others see it as a way to examine the concept of what art is….Hmmm each of us looking at the same statistics, yet seeing different meanings. Somewhat like abstract art, itself, no?

  • dirtyjohnny

    That might endanger carefully cultivated expertise. And what would corporate lobbies look like without art sans content and ever naive of context? Pornography or journalism, perhaps…

  • dirtyjohnny

    The line we are arranging ourselves on either side of is more divisive than it sounds. The study was doubtlessly glib. The results are debatable in value and relevance. What’s interesting is people’s willingness to attack the perceived art establishment or come rushing to a misunderstood tradition’s rescue.

    I gotta root for the chimps and elephants. The “West” has resorted to ever more circuitous rhetorical spaghetti in the defense of our Selfhood from their Themhood. I’m not actually out to make a big pitch for chimp art, but the “controversial beliefs” you mention should likely be much less controversial than our own high regard for all things simian and hairless.

    I’m curious about your definition of art. It seems to be specific and fixed. I’m an artist of sorts, but I’ve always found defining art to be a useless and tiresome exercise. Admittedly, I usually find philosophical exertion to be appropriate mostly in political, ethical and religious matters. I have the tendency to view taste as culture and class influenced. Good taste is taste with access to resources. Bad taste is mostly too commonly represented and reproduced to be valued. Unless, that is, it is so bad as to be “authentic”, in which case it can be sold back up the ladder… As you can imagine, there is little room in this picture for placing weight on the intentions or intelligences of artists. They play less of a role than many would like to imagine.

  • dirtyjohnny

    Crap is Moder Art.

  • dirtyjohnny

    “…and on the other a century-old aesthetic culture that hasn’t found any credible replacement, just offered a handful of inspiring challenges that don’t really add up to a coherent whole.”

    It’s not just hard to put one’s finger on, it leaves papercuts. If modern art doesn’t do the trick so well these days, it’s probably because “conscious violation of historical norms” only works for a week or two. Eventually you have to start building some sort of tradition or you are trying to practice the antithesis of culture. You eventually wind up with political uprising or senseless murder as the only meaningful acts remaining, and I’m not sure they will sustain meaning either. This is is the problem with the “Romantic Artist”, the Rebel With or Without a Cause, with Punk Rock. Fuck the Police, for sure, but eventually you have to teach your kids something… and you can’t do that in the pose of a prodigal son. Gotta stop pouting and sneering, but it’s harder to be righteous when you speak out and you just might not be right. Of course anyone who grows a few grey hairs and techniques is called a snob, or else a naive and contemptable old hippie trying to make the moment last… So, burn your art behind you in defiance and refusal, but that’s already advertising.

  • dirtyjohnny

    Ha. We’re very big on disqualification around here. Now THAT’S what I see in Art’s secret heart. Exclusion. She’s a jealous whore dolled up like the muse. But real nurses don’t wear latex… “Jealousy… what made you get the same shoe’s as me?”

    If you take Gordon out of the game what about Machiavelli? Baltasar Gracian? They had some hard words. Maybe art really is for softies.

  • Anonymous

    I think that may be an unncessarily pessimistic and reductivist way of looking at things.

    Yeah, it’s clear that the commodification of photorealistic representation made art appreciation A LOT more difficult–we no longer have a single fixed point of reference from which to evaluation technique and composition. That makes people uneasy, uncomfortable with their own judgments and places severe barriers to sharing our appreciation of art with others. To that extent it could be said to have greatly weakened the functionality of art in society.

    But what focusing on this loss ignores is that the death of photorealism opened space for both a plethora of alternative schools, of which “modernism”, but which people usually mean “abstract art”, is but a single example. Most of the movements that sprung in the wake of photorealism’s demise are still alive and kicking, even if they don’t enjoy anything like the supremacy of their predecessor.

    Some might even say that “death” may not be the right word to describe what happened to photorealism. There are still plenty of people who enjoy Thomas Kincade, even if his only aspiration seems to be to warm over the faded “glories” of play-it-safe types like Norman Rockwell.

    I say that the situation we have today is roughly paralell with movements in politics and economy–specialization. No, we don’t have a single predominant model that commands uncontested allegiance from the masses. What we have is a richer variety of alternatives, each of which may be superior to the old paradigm within a given context. Looking to express a pre-verbal existential angst? Abstract art does that way better than photorealism. Looking to articulate a rippling alienation with some aspect of the social order? Some variety of expressionism is just what you need. Want to crack wise about some specific ridiculous hypocrisy of the powers that be? Surrealism just may be the ticket.

    Art was always a collaborative endeavour between artist and audience. The new multiple-school paradigm just forces the audience to become a more active participant.

  • Tuna Ghost

    He’s not a con artist, he’s just not very bright and has friends in the right places

  • justagirl

    HAD friends. he used them and abandoned his loving family. he put unimaginable price tags on stolen ideas . he calls poster reproductions “one of a kind, original” art pieces because spray paint happens to splatter. brainwashing or conning people into thinking his designer imposter “art” is worth something more than a kick in the teeth. he is a con artist – a lucky one – with good penmanship. I can’t believe you disagree with this.

  • Tuna Ghost

    I was always under the impression that he was a goober who genuinely thought he was making art, and the public went along with it because they were as ignorant as he is. Then again, all my knowledge comes from “Exit Through The Gift-Shop”, so the possibility that I am wrong certainly exists.

  • dirtyjohnny

    I think I came off a little wrong here. I wasn’t responding to you in an exact point for point kind of way. I was riffing on your post, which I found interesting and it brought several things to mind.

    I actually agree with you more than it sounds. My post was a bit sarcastic less of an opinion than a parody of prevalent perspectives. I sound pessimistic and reductivist because I’m teasing the art “narrative.” I reduce it because I think it needs a bit of the wind taken out of its sails. I’m an artist myself, and I think art benefits more from a gracious position of concentrated effort and technique than it does from an ever more exaggerated notion of it’s own capacity for originality or influence on society.

    I’m certainly not pining for photorealism, nor do I think there has to be any central, unifying school of art to moor our uncertain times to… We have left behind the narrative device of the “cannon” in some sense. It doesn’t make for such a pat story about art, but it’s still an expressive story for those with patience. I go back and forth on this point. Sometimes I’m glad there’s a less centralized and officiated quality to art, but I occasionally still think everyone’s making records and nobody’s making hits.

    I quoted you quite purposefully because I thought it was nicely said and worth expanding on. What I was trying to zero in on is a kind of destructive mode of art. Not all modern art, but rather a specific strain. I remember reading about the NoWave music scene in New York and someone said something along the lines of “Punk rock set out to destroy music, but it failed. No Wave was created to destroy punk.” I think sometimes you have to destroy to create space for the new, but I’m suspicious of these statements and motives. The role of fiery destroyer is conveniently self-aggrandizing for the artist, and it also conveniently excludes any competition or followers. You can’t blow up an explosion, right? So it leaves just a handful of dark, rebellious mavericks enveloped in the smoke of their clove cigarettes. Must be nice for them, but it sucks for everyone else. I basically think that routine is born out of hidden ego motives and degenerates into absurdity with a quickness.

    I keep coming back to a loose sense that art would benefit most from a more gracious and humble sensibility. Not destroying the past, not materializing the future with it’s own hard won originality. Instead, focus on what one knows best, knows uniquely and loves most in life. When I write (not blogs or posts, but my heartfelt stuff) I have a little ritual. I keep rough drafts and when they’ve been rewritten I burn them in an urn. When I do this I say a little prayer, “Thank you, and may these words return as true.”

  • Liam_McGonagle

    No, I was glad that you made me draw out my thinking a bit more here. It made me realize just how summarily I’d treated the topic.

  • superfluous

    it’s actually much more easy just to disqualify the art works you don’t happen to like. it’s also possible that the damn abstract expressionist painting is replaced by something else you don’t like, either.
    it seems to me that your definition of art is that art in and of itself is of good quality, rather than being a category of stuff of variable, subjectively defined qualities (that is, bad art is still art – it’s just not very good at it..)
    on a side note, it’s not the chimps’ or kids’ fault that you don’t like (abstract expressionist) art.

21
More in Art, art history, Culture, painting
Clark: A Gonzomentary

In the spirit of mockumentaries like Spinal Tap, Hunter S Thompson's Gonzo style, and the art world in general, Clark is an indie web series that has been ravaging the...

Close