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A Treatise on the Nonexistence of Art
Pretty Nearly, Anyway
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Art is mostly fraud perpetrated by narcissistic academic quacks on a public easily gulled. They should be prosecuted. This is as true of literature as of painting and sculpture. If modern sculpture were placed in a junkyard, art critics couldn’t find it. Most of what we are told are great works are great works only because we are told that they are.

Consider the Mona Lisa, for mysterious reasons regarded an epochal detonation of artistry. Why? She is an excessively round woman who looks as if she is about to spit. We have to be told that she was an astonishment and marvel. Otherwise we would rate her a a pretty fair effort for an art student somewhere in Nebraska.

Yet put her at action with Christie’s and some witless digital arriviste would buy her for the price of an aircraft carrier.

Art has nothing to do with what the thing looks like, and certainly nothing to do with beauty. If it did, an indistinguishable copy would serve as well as the original. But no. The point is not to look at the thing, but to feel superior for owning it, and how can you do that when every mutt in Boise can get an equally good one for $37?

I remember reading of a rich woman in New York who had an original something, maybe a Cezanne or Monet or anyway one of those blurry painters with nice colors. She was attached to it. It gave her life meaning. She kept it in a sealed, temperature-controlled display case full of helium, or some such. She probably spent whole mornings appreciating at it. It made her a celebrity. Critics came to her salons and said, “Yes, yes, the handling of the light, the highlights, the expressiveness, ah, only he could do it….”

Then they ran a mass-spec on the paint, which turned out to have been manufactured in 1958. It seemed that only Monet and someone else could do it. The critics stopped coming to visit. Her life was as naught. I don’t know that she jumped from a skyscraper, but it would have given the story balance and proportion.

Is it great art? Only your mass spectrometer knows for sure.

In fact beauty just gets in the way of Art, and constitutes a threat to it. The two are not compatible. Suppose a budding art critic visiting a museum discovers by chance his plumber, who is looking with admiration at, say, David’s Leonidas. This makes sense, never a good thing in art criticism. The Leonidas is a good painting, and looks like an actual person.

The critic is horrified. You can’t be a refined authority with a pince-nez and limp handshake and like what a plumber likes, for God’s sake. To distinguish himself from hoi poloi, he has to like something that his plumber doesn’t. So he starts appreciating maybe Modigliani, whose paintings sort of look like people but, finding that too many ordinary Joes like the guy, the critic moves on to perhaps Braque and Picasso. If you can like pictures of square people with three noses, you separate yourself from most of the competition. Not from third-graders, though, who have always done that sort of thing.

You see the critic’s progression. To maintain superiority, he has to appreciate ever worse daubs, so that he can be increasingly alone in his exalted insight. The up-and-coming critic goes through Mondrian, who painted what would normally be considered linoleum patterns, and arrives at Kandinsky, who sold his drop-cloths.

There is nothing worse than Kandinsky. The critic who appreciates him has reached the pinnacle.

Mondrian.  Tell me it isn’t a linoleum pattern.
Mondrian. Tell me it isn’t a linoleum pattern.

The critic’s need for truly awful art has a reverse and democratizing influence on the production of art. Since anybody can produce awful art, or successfully assert that anything awful is art, large and receding vistas open up for bunco artists. You can sell anything at all to suburban beautification committees.

A danger to the art-crit racket is that of the emperor’s clothes. I once took my daughter Emily, then seven, to the Hirshhorn Gallery on the mall in Washington. The building looks like half of a 55-gallon oil drum made of concrete. Buildings ugly as warts are more advanced than those that are attractive and therefore pleasing to people with common sense. Outside there is a Sculpture Garden, full of headless bronze torsos, some with gaping holes in them, and blobbish people without the usual supply of arms and legs. We are not talking the Nike of Samothrace. The impression is that a vocational school held a welding contest, and everybody lost. Tourists from Kansas walk through, apparently wondering whether they have somehow fallen into an asylum.

Inside we found inexplicable blotches and stripes. One in particular was a huge canvas, mostly of an off-white that suggested that it needed washing, with a sort of rust-colored circle in one corner. I asked Em what she thought of it.

Her analysis: “A red dot. Big deal. Gag me.”

Art critics can’t even recognize art. Suppose you went on a castle crawl in England and found an original, unknown play by Shakespeare, a really good one, like King Lear if it combed its hair and put on a clean shirt. Suppose that you copied it out and sent it to fifty publishing houses and Shakespearean scholars, saying that you were a graduate student trying to imitate the bard’s style, and what did they think of it?

If any deigned to answer it would be to tell you with lethal condescension that your puerile attempt showed that you didn’t understand the towering nature of the Bard, etc. They would be telling you that Shakespeare couldn’t write Shakespeare.

But if you found a grocery list by Willy Bill in an attic at Stratford, you could sell it for the price of an aircraft carrier at Christie’s. How much sense does that make?

You have to tell the critics that it’s art, or they don’t notice. Every few years someone copies out The Reavers, or Crime and Punishment, changes the names, and sends it to New York—where it is rejected out of hand. See?

The trouble with great literature, or what is said by tenured pomposities to be great literature, is that it tries to deal with the human condition, the place of man in the cosmos, the meaning of life, and other trite subjects that we all think about every day. These themes are dealt with more succinctly on the wall of the men’s room at Joe’s Bar: “Shit happens.” “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” “The whole world sucks, and everybody thinks it’s gravity.”

Great literature is chiefly the boring accounts of things we have already done. We’ve all had loves and lost them, we’ve all had Granny die horribly of cancer, and we all shudder at the injustice of the universe. We don’t need Malraux or Mann to rub these things in.

Now, while there is no great literature, there is great writing. Hamlet’s soliloquy, despite the thunderous ordinariness of its ideas, is marvelous because of the writing. Hunter Thompson, the Duke and the Dauphin in Huck Finn, Don Marquis on Shakespeare, all of Milne—them is art. But not great Literature.

In Washington, go to the Corcoran Gallery’s annual show of the best art by high-schoolers in all fifty states. You will find more variety, imagination, and sheer delight than in five hundred acres of Velazquez in the Prado. But you dare not say so because most of it a plumber might like. Perish forfend.

(Republished from Fred on Everything by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Arts/Letters, Ideology • Tags: Academia, Art 
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    This article by Fred is absolutely spot on. But I can’t help but feel like I am in an alternate universe right now.

    Are these the things we would be talking about on Unz if we did not have such a royally screwed up nation? Without having to bitterly talk about the immigrants and the bankers who are screwing up the country. Without having the impending sense of doom of an ugly race war somewhere on our horizon.

    We would be free to talk about the sorry state of Art in our country?

  2. Goodness, Mr. Reed, you sound as if you’d read Tom Wolfe.

  3. Fred wrote:

    them is art

    Great literature Fred is not.

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  4. Thank you, Mr. Reed, for allowing me a glimpse of how an authentic, genuine, pristinely oblivious phillistine views the world. Unless, of course, this is an overly subtle lampoon.

  5. The late Ephraim Kishon, in his very witty book “Picassos süße Rache” (Picasso’s Sweet Revenge), has an account of an amusing event which I shall try to put into English since it appears never to have seen translation. A TV program “Hidden Camera” had covertly filmed an art exhibition in Hamburg:

    “Two cheerful chimpanzees were enlisted to splatter various colors upon some fabrics, after which, the productions of these talented monkeys were brought to an exhibition entitled “Young Guns from the Third World”, which took place in the prestigious Hanse district of Hamburg. The high-profile audience wandered around the grand opening in a state of spiritual elation as they moved between the exhibits. The art experts attending did not fail to extol these breathtaking works to the skies: “Although the influence of European painting, especially Malevich and Miräs is unmistakable, I look at the pictures with pleasure and respect,” enthused the renowned critic of “Die Zeit” (Time); congratulating “these artists from Africa” for such “unusual talents”. The Director of the Hamburg Hall of Art turned his trained eye with its exquisite expertise upon the works and declared “I find the images fresh and young and beautifully decorated – the painters work with the simplest means: yellow-green-yellow-green at the beginning of a blue – and as a counter-weight, up and down, a perfect red!” Altogether a million viewers watched “Hidden Camera” on TV. Yet the renowned critic of “Die Zeit” continues to write there and the Director of the Hall still dominates that cultural institution as the supreme authority in all matters of art. ”

    Fred, of course you are spot-on but, since the demand for competent works far exceeds the supply and since both critics and dealers have to make a living and investments must hold their value I can’t see things changing any time soon.

    Roger Scruton has a rather striking video commentary here

    Kishon is interviewed here

    • Replies: @marylou
  6. A Mexican gringo once went to the Louvre
    In blue denim coveralls, playing the rube:
    “That thar Mona Lisa be passably fair;
    But with Thomas Kincade it would scarcely compare.”
    Leonardo gazed down from his Scaffold on High,
    Hanged his harp on a willow, and uttered a sigh.

  7. Flower says:

    A very accurate description of our political process, thanks.

  8. Eustace Tilley (not) [AKA "Schiller/Nietzsche"] says:
    @Jus' Sayin'...

    Would-be Arbiter of Culture: There is only one “l” in “philistine.”

    • Replies: @John Jeremiah Smith
  9. Pete1215 says:

    This article is outstanding. His thought-experiments are sometimes terrific. If you intermingled modern sculpture with random samples from a junk yard, would art critics be able to tell the “art” from the junk? The usefulness of the stuff from the junk yard might at least be determinable. Most modern sculpture is pointless and boring.

  10. There’s an interesting blog post by Steve Sailer on this subject based on some work by psychologist, James Cutting:

    • Replies: @Eustace Tilley (not)
  11. OutWest says:

    Isn’t this what the Dadaists told us. Art makes sense about the same as the world in general.

    But think of the mischief the connoisseurs would cause with their money if not diverted into relatively harmless art.

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

    — Anton Ego, Ratatouille

  13. @Jus' Sayin'...

    Spell check broken? Or are you just so busy being a superior fop to bother?

  14. My only complaint, Fred, is that you compared a child’s art to Velazquez’s.

    Mondrian or Klee? Sure, I understand that. But Velazquez? C’mon. Just pick up a brush and see how difficult it is to paint a crock sweating water droplets or Venus’s sweet derriere.

    • Replies: @Bill Jones
    , @Priss Factor
  15. Here’s the real tragedy of “great” art.

    Chicago plastics manufacturer Stefan Edlis faced more than $20 million in U.S. capital gains taxes by selling his Andy Warhol painting to billionaire Steven A. Cohen eight years ago.

    He paid zero. Half of the proceeds from the $80 million sale of Warhol’s 1964 “Turquoise Marilyn” were tax exempt as an asset of Edlis’s private foundation, he said. The other $40 million was used to buy more paintings, which was permitted under a long-standing provision in the tax code that allows investors to defer capital gains by buying similar property of equal or greater value.

  16. Priss Factor [AKA "skiapolemistis"] says:

    [It’s not proper policy here to use multiple handles simultaneously. Pick one name and stick with it.]

    This another gag column?

  17. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:

    Here is great art.

  18. “90% of everything is crap” is optimistic for modern art.

    • Replies: @Mustela Mendax
  19. Absolutely on target, Mr. Reed! Calls to mind some of Bill Watterson’s (i.e. the creator of the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes) thoughts on the pomposity of many in the art world.

  20. Eustace Tilley (not) [AKA "Schiller/Nietzsche"] says:
    @Tim Howells

    Fred, you are 95% correct in this essay (because you are wrong about the Mona Lisa; please read the work of Lillian Schwartz to find out why). Those who read the Steve Sailer blog article (highly recommended) should read on to the Ian Leslie essay (which was its inspiration) at:

    at which you will learn that “…artistic canons are little more than fossilised historical accidents.”


    “…the most reproduced works of impressionism today tend to have been bought by five or six wealthy and influential collectors in the late 19th century. The preferences of these men bestowed prestige on certain works, which made the works more likely to be hung in galleries and printed in anthologies. The kudos cascaded down the years, gaining momentum from mere exposure as it did so.”

    Two further considerations: 1. Why the flight from representationalism, and 2. Why the flight from common standards into individualism?

    1. Art (real art) is power. Consider the effect that “The Oath of the Horatii”, “The Death of Marat” and “The Raft of the Medusa” had on the Parisian publics of their day. Consider the power that the Nuremberg rallies had on the Germans of their day. Why have clear-sighted rulers (Lorenzo de Medici, Ludovico Sforza, Pope Julius II, King George I) paid handsomely for works of art? They knew they were getting good value for their money.

    Our Elite Rulers (fill in the blank with your own theory as to Who They Are) want to control us in every way possible. They don’t want a hypothetical painter of great genius painting an explosive work outside of the Approved Narrative, let’s say, “Duma” (the village in the West Bank where 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Saad Dawabsheh was burned alive by a small group of violent ultra-extremist “settlers”). “Duma” must not be allowed to have the powerful impact on the public that “The Raft of the Medusa” or “Guernica” had in their day. The public must be allowed, nay, obligated, to see as many Jews&Nazis Approved Narrative films as possible, or whatever else is given to them to experience, from 30-second commercials to video games.

    In painting and scupture, the Elite want Nihil to be their ideal. Nothingness. Vacuity. Emptiness. “We have abolished Art in the name of ‘Art’.” Well done, Ms. Guggenheim!

    2. There can be no mutually-agreed-upon standards of taste (or even morality) in the New World Order. The more confused the proles are, the better. If they rally around any artistic or quasi-artistic image, it must be either co-opted (like the “Peace Symbol”) or banned if it cannot be co-opted (like the Confederate Battle Flag). The swastika (which cannot be co-opted) is banned in Germany and Austria but legal in the US, because in the former nations it still carries forbidden power . The more people can be made to say and think Fred’s “Red Dot on Cream” is “art”, the more inauthentic their reactions can be made to be. “Well, what do the Experts say? I’m not too sure what I think…” Similarly, a fetus is not deemed worthy of legal protection (because “They” say so), Bruce Jenner is a woman (because “They” say so), and diversity is strength (because “They” say so).

    Artists originally did not sign their work and their work was in the style of their respective community, as all Egyptian art was in the same style and all Assyrian or Chinese or Mayan art was in the same style. It had nothing to do with “me”. It was apparently the Divine Greeks who introduced this disease into civilization. I hope another commentator can correct me here.

  21. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:

    Reed’s piece on art is useless but revealing about most Americans feel about art.

    I’d say art — at least ones that get the most attention — has been mostly useless since the rise of Pop Art (and the likes of Rothko before that), but he is surely pulling our leg when he says Mona Lisa is nothing special.

    As for ‘great literature’ vs ‘great writing’, the fact is great writing can be vapid and pointless. Some writers are full of wit and brilliance — masters of style, really — without having anything to say. It’s like most TV commercials are really well-done in terms of visual technique and all that but exercises in vapidity nevertheless.

    So, there is a thing called great literature, and it is when depth of feeling, gravity of thought, originality of insight, and command of style all come together.
    They don’t just render reality/truth/life as a series of sermons but as problems of irony, ambiguity, contradictions, multiple meanings, and conundrums.

    Kafka’s THE TRIAL isn’t just about great writing about a simple idea. It’s about an idea with endless permutations.

  22. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:
    @Eustace Tilley (not)

    “It had nothing to do with ‘me’. It was apparently the Divine Greeks who introduced this disease into civilization.”

    But most of Greek Art followed strict models too, and they became the standard for the Romans for centuries and was later revived during the Renaissance, and Western styles reflected Classicism until the modern era.

    When it came to stuff like architecture and public art, there was bound to less of ‘me’ since they were massive projects involving many people.

    But the matter of ‘who did what’ did come into play in discussion of Chinese painting and Islamic poetry, so it wasn’t just a Western invention.

  23. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:
    @Ronald Thomas West

    He also misspelled hoi polloi though it could have been on purpose.

    Given all the time he spends in Mexico, I’m surprised it wasn’t hoy pollo.

  24. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:

    “My only complaint, Fred, is that you compared a child’s art to Velazquez’s.
    Mondrian or Klee? Sure, I understand that. But Velazquez? C’mon. Just pick up a brush and see how difficult it is to paint a crock sweating water droplets or Venus’s sweet derriere.”

    Both you and Fred Fred Cabbage Head are missing the point.

    Modern Art has to be appreciated in historical context.
    For a long time, the art establishment insisted on certain proper styles and traditions. It got stuffy, so it was understandably refreshing for the art world to expand on its expressive possibilities. Modernism was unduly harsh on traditionalism and classicism — sometimes for ideological reasons — , but it opened up a pandora’s box of all sorts of possibilities, for good and ill of course.

    Also, the worth of art isn’t just about technical difficulty but about originality. A work can be technically difficult but lacking in inspiration, individuality, and originality. Suppose someone spends years learning how to draw like old masters. Surely, his or her skill is worth something, but he or she will have added nothing to the sum of artistic possibility. On the other hand, suppose someone does something that is technically simple but very original and brilliant. Take FAR SIDE and CALVIN AND HOBBES. Most of us can learn to draw like that in a week, but most of us wouldn’t have been capable of coming up with something so original and unique.

    Now, in the long run, I think the works of modern art that will have lasting value are those with originality + timeless/universal relevance or endless fascination stemming from unresolved strangeness, which is why Picasso continues to fascinate.

    Originality raises eyebrows certainly but usually becomes pointless or standard once the novelty wears off or its innovations has been incorporated into the new standard grammar of aesthetics.

    PS. What’s with Reed’s animus against Kandinsky? He’s not my cup of tea either, but he was certainly an interesting artist.

    In the pic below, consider the juxtaposition of mathematical order and anarchic chaos. It says much about the modern condition to be sure.

  25. @Eustace Tilley (not)

    Would-be Arbiter of Culture: There is only one “l” in “philistine.”

    Curse you, Kurt! That’s MY line.

  26. @Priss Factor

    Modern Art has to be appreciated in historical context.
    For a long time, the art establishment insisted on certain proper styles and traditions. It got stuffy, so it was understandably refreshing for the art world to expand on its expressive possibilities.

    Lulz. Oh, stop.

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  27. @Eustace Tilley (not)

    Art (real art) is power.

    No, Art is not power. Art is not modern interpretation. Art is not judged in an historical context. That’s all critic-fodder bullshit.

    Art is aesthetic depiction. Don’t get to telling a pack of lies and other phony-baloney hoo-hoo.

    • Replies: @Eustace Tilley (not)
  28. Ken Smith says: • Website

    Perhaps this later painting of Mona Lisa could change Fred’s opinion. Leonardo’s half-length portrait is more famous than this full-length portrait.

  29. marylou says:

    It would not surprise me.
    This happened long time ago, and I believe it was in Cologne.
    A big modern art exhibition.
    On opening day early, a rusty VW bug drove into the courtyard, unloaded an old refrigerator, opened the door and placed a paperplate with a large helping of doggie poo on the shelf. There may have been more, but this is what I remember.

    I forgot what the sign next to this piece of art said.
    Experts discussed the relevance of the dog s..t in relation to the throw away society exemplified by the paper plate, etc. and so on. Of course nobody realized it was a prank by a few college students.

  30. @Priss Factor

    “consider the juxtaposition of mathematical order and anarchic chaos. It says much about the modern condition to be sure.”

    No, no – you’re quite wrong: here we see spiraloid, fluoric antagonisms of archetypical chimeric esotericism … isn’t it obvious?

    [with acknowledgement to Michael Spencer and Ephriam Kishon]

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  31. Eustace Tilley (not) [AKA "Schiller/Nietzsche"] says:
    @John Jeremiah Smith

    “…when the 12-year-old Hitler heard his [Wagner’s] music live for the first time, …in the Austrian city of Linz in 1901. Describing the experience, …Hitler wrote: ‘I was captivated immediately’. Many others feel the same way. They listen to Wagner and are captivated, overwhelmed, smitten, and delighted.”

    Wagner acted through his art; the musically intelligent German Volk were acted upon, like marionettes on strings.

    Art is power, but it requires an aesthetically aware audience who are susceptible to its subversive magic. Maybe that’s why so many Americans such as John Jeremiah Smith are not even aware of this fact: they are so aesthetically dead, they do not even feel it.

    • Replies: @John Jeremiah Smith
  32. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:
    @John Jeremiah Smith

    You’re a real dammy.

    The human mind is capable of appreciating all sorts of possibilities and combinations. The idea that art should only be ornamental or representational or nice & beautiful severely limits human imagination.

    Modernism was freedom before critics turned it into dogma.

    But critics tend to do that, which is creativity must be wary of criticism. Criticism is necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff, but too often critics become ideologues and radical intellectuals who dictate what art should be. Artists mustn’t follow such advice, but the problem is the intellectual types tend to take over institutions that shape future artists.

    It’s like the French New Wave opened up all sorts of possibilities but intellectual radicalization of film culture eventually led to the emergence of idiots like Chantal Akerman whose JEANNE DIELMAN is surely the worst film ever made.

    • Replies: @John Jeremiah Smith
  33. @Jus' Sayin'...

    Naw, Fred hit the target dead on. Modern art has nothing to do with artistry. It has to do with conspicuous consumption.

  34. A large group of people is waiting to view the latest Modernist exhibition and doors open at the advertised time of 2 pm. The crowd moves quickly into a large room, completely filling it, and there is silence: the walls and ceiling are completely bare; people look around self-consciously. Everybody is unsure of what’s happening, you can hear them whisper:

    “Where are the works?”

    Suddenly a loud and resonant voice sounds out:

    “Quite … brilliant! We see clearly here the intention of the artist!”

    Now there is total silence as the voice continues:

    “These empty walls convey to us the cosmically upthrusting cellular currents of timeless transfiguration…”

    another voice, of similar timbre takes up the commentary:

    “Yes indeed, how profound … and the ceiling, surely … IS prefigured vibrational synthesis as optical distance to melodic hypertrophy!”

    Now people in the group all begin to murmur agreement in low and respectful tones as the first voice continues:

    “… and this very floor, upon which we stand … so clearly an allegory for the Apollonian consummation of rhythmatized linear layers ..”

    Suddenly a small side door opens and a little man appears:

    “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry to have kept you waiting, please step this way the exhibition is now open.”

    [with due thanks to Michael Spencer and Ephriam Kishon for their coaching in Kunstblabla]

  35. @Eustace Tilley (not)

    Heavens to Betsy, a gratuitous insult. That never happens on the Internet.

    “Art” is by nature subjective, as “beauty” is subjective. Which does not mean, necessarily, that there is no such thing as “Art”, but is does mean that “Art” consists of what the perceiver thinks it consists of.

    If you are feeling up to it, you might further beat me about the head and shoulders by demonstrating the objective nature of Art. You know, prove it.

  36. @Priss Factor

    If you thought for a second I would look at a linked Youtube video, be advised that I do not Youtube.

    I can’t say as I would disagree with anything you wrote, necessarily, but I also can’t say that I put any value in “Art” criticism, or in “Art” as vector in the historical sense. The truly creative will create, and the truly venal will critique. Leaving my soul untroubled. 😉

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  37. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:
    @John Jeremiah Smith

    “If you thought for a second I would look at a linked Youtube video, be advised that I do not Youtube.”

    You dammy.

    • Replies: @John Jeremiah Smith
  38. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Let’s hope someone puts flowers on the graves of all those deluded French railway men & randomly selected hostages who gave their lives for Art in John Frankenheimer’s The Train*.

    That said, I’d chortle to see some commenters here condemned to live in the Bau-Wau-Haus.

    *Yeah, yeah: I know the movie is fiction.

  39. Hi Fred, I agree but what else would you expect.

  40. The real purpose of Modern Art is to make money, for the artist, for the dealer and for the collector. The greed of the artist and the dealer are obvious, the collector less so. Basically, lots of rich people buy “Art” not because they love the paintings but because they loss the Tax write offs. Tax deductions are based on FMV. So, rich guy A buys a painting for $100,000 and sells it to Rich guy B for $1 million. Rich guy B sells it Rich guy C for $2 million. Then Rich Guy C donates it to a museum or charity and takes a $2 million tax write off against his real estate/stock market gains. Later the process reverses itself, only from C to B to A.

  41. @Priss Factor

    Hey, not all abstract Art is bad. Some is great. But I was glad to read The Painted Word. Confirmed everything I’d personally witnessed in a dozen European Art Museums.

    Spend some time in any great Art museum and watch the patrons walk around, program in hand, eyes down as they read the paragraph pertaining to the next cultural wonder they are instructed to behold which, having cast a cursory glance around the room at the other assuredly inferior stuff on the walls and having dismissed them as so much fodder, they present themselves before and do obeisance to by……walking up to it and burying their nose in the type-written description there on wall to the left from which they (as Fred has stated above) derive their instructions on how to decipher the masterpiece. Whereupon they move to the right and stand three feet from the nine foot by twelve foot canvas and minutely inspect, looking first here and then there while mentally checking off the key points from their reading. Having thus satisfied the required Cultural Enrichment lesson they look back down to their program and armed with bearings and distance to the next Icon, continue on their journey.

    Hardly a glance about, rarely backing up far enough to take in the whole picture at once and never sitting down on the benches in the middle of the room and just soaking it all in or allowing themselves to look at the picture a number of times over the course of ten or fifteen minutes.

    But Fred is right. A lot of found and conceptual Art is just crap (literally), the “message” of which is to shock the Philistines out of their complacence. This may have been revolutionary one hundred years ago but….how can it be so today? It’s old. Stale. Shocking the bourgeoisie is a tad bit dated, wouldn’t you say? They call themselves radicals but their message is over a century old. Who are they kidding? Themselves? N’est-ce Pas?

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
    , @rod1963
  42. Thanks Fred, for perspective.

  43. @Priss Factor

    “If you thought for a second I would look at a linked Youtube video, be advised that I do not Youtube.”

    You dammy.

    🙂 To each his own. Over the years, it became apparent to me that Youtube had some potential redeeming value, but like all things that can be used for good, the default mode is for the bad. Also, I’m a cheap bastard who has abandoned what others call “Civilization”, so I don’t pay for the bandwidth video demands.

  44. Anymouse says:

    Overpriced modern art, like London real estate, is very handy for money laundering.

  45. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:

    “But I was glad to read The Painted Word.”

    That’s a funny book but keep in mind that Wolfe’s artistic tastes are totally pedestrian.

    He goes for Norman Rockwell.

  46. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:

    now this is hipster crap

  47. Priss Factor [AKA "The Priss Factory"] says:

    “here we see spiraloid, fluoric antagonisms of archetypical chimeric esotericism … isn’t it obvious?”

    I don’t know Reed doesn’t like it. It still looks neater than what Mexicans do with their garbage.

  48. Mark Caplan says: • Website

    A witty piece, but it didn’t make sense to lump together the linoleum pattern designers with the two geniuses Leonardo and Velasquez.

  49. Truth says:

    “Consider the Mona Lisa, for mysterious reasons regarded an epochal detonation of artistry. Why? She is an excessively round woman who looks as if she is about to spit. We have to be told that she was an astonishment and marvel. Otherwise we would rate her a a pretty fair effort for an art student somewhere in Nebraska.”

    You’re right Fred, these Gosh-damned Cheese eatin’ Euros don’t know shit about real art and stuff!

  50. Anon7 says:

    You’re not the only one who feels that way, Fred.

    A few years ago, I took my 90 year-old father, who had been a registered architect for most of his adult life, to the opening of a new wing of an art museum. In front there was an enormous sculpture made of welded steel beams.

    After helping my infirm dad, who was mostly deaf, very near-sighted and suffering from dementia, shuffle into the museum, I asked him what he thought of the fancy new sculpture. Without missing a beat, he raised an eyebrow and said “You mean that pile of steel beams someone left out in the yard?”

  51. rod1963 says:

    I laughed the junk in the Guggenhiem. What a bunch of talentless poseurs promoted by stupid rich people with no taste.

    All nihilistic junk promoted by nihilists. Call a dump truck and have it hauled away along with the artists and incinerated.

    Shock value? Sorry doesn’t work anymore, maybe a century ago. Nowadays so-called modern artists have thrown so-much c**p at the people over the last 40 years, they’re numb. TV helped a lot in this.

    Radicals, certainly not. They just had no talent, none. So they called their collective expression of incompetence radical and foisted it on clueless rich people looking to differentiate themselves from the masses. What better way than to buy a colored square painted by some lunatic Frenchman and endorsed by some effete snob with a degree in art. The proles would be baffled and awed by the rich man and his advante-guard junk.

    Now it just gets laughed at.

    • Replies: @SecretaryNS
  52. @rod1963

    Your comment is very much along the lines of the effect Madonna had on the music scene. While she was undeniably talented, so much of her wild success hinged on upending traditional moral values, but if those values were a gold mine, she tapped them dry. The later efforts of morons like Miley Cyrus and (oh I forget her name, how delicious, I have to Google it)..Lady Gaga! I had to Google her name, oh sweet justice! Anyway, the sad attempts at further undermining those values by scum like these completely fell flat, since…what values? How can you shock and undermine tradition when it was discarded during your toddler years?

  53. a German says:

    Art exist, what you talk and write about is a market and public scenery. You’re hooked to value, monetary value and second hand self expression. Event driven viewpoints of a mass media drilled personality.

    Art is artificial from viewpoints like this.

    Artists are figures of a market, call the others creators.

    I’ve seen fantastic things creators made. But they reject to give them to consumers, galerist’s, critics, journalists and all the other vampires and zombies feeding themselves with their works.

    “Works of art are of an infinite loneliness” (R.M. Rilke)
    Probably you will find not all on a public toilet door.

  54. Mondrian’s Gray Tree is actually pretty good:

  55. As a long-time fan of Piet Mondrian, I have to tell Fred:

    The reason something like Mondrian’s neoplasticism seems so mundane to you is because it had so much influence that you are surrounded by it in the modern world.

    Whether you like it or not is not the question. It was something and now it’s in everything, for better or worse.

    You of course can’t see that, because you don’t know.

    That’s called ignorance.

  56. @another fred

    To call all of modern art crap would be overstatement, but some of it certainly is.

  57. MajorPony says:

    Kandinsky is the worst?

    Not by a long shot.
    You apparently haven’t been to MOCA in Los Angeles lately.

    My son accompanied me and said he feared we were being punked in some sort of Candid Camera situation. That any minute someone would come from behind a curtain and laugh at us for paying to see the “art”.

    Although frankly that would have made far more sense than what actually happened, which was that we paid to wander from room to room squinting in disbelief at the trivial garbage heralded as Important Art.

    And it will come as no surprise to any of you that most of the “art” was commentary on racism, sexism, patriarchy, conservatives, etc.

    Tack a standard black microphone cable to a blank white wall and you’re an asshole. But claim that the cable represents the depersonalization and otherizing of People of Color in the world of American art and you are instead heralded as the next Rosa Parks.

    It’s. All. So. Very. Tiresome.

  58. you mean graffiti not art?

  59. Art is indeed difficult to define. At it’s most basic, you could say that it’s the tension between strength and beauty. But what does it mean to perceive art? Well, if you look at a bird, you’ll say that it’s not art, because it occurred naturally. Most people say that art must be a deliberate attempt to deny nature by creating new meaning. So a bird isn’t art, but a painting of a bird is art. In other words, we don’t accept signs as art. A sign is a real thing, like a bird. A symbol is a representation of a sign; a painting of a bird. So most of us believe that art, in some ways, must be a symbolic representation. This is strange, because nothing is more authentic than a sign. But can a bird really be art? And if it can, then how? That depends on how we choose to project meaning. When we look at a painting of a bird, we are struck not only by its unique qualities, but also by the fact that we are being asked to enter into a world of suspension of disbelief. We know that the painting isn’t a real bird, but we also know that the artist wants us to judge the painting on its bird-like qualities. Stepping back from reality, they claim, is the first step towards aesthetic appreciation. And by extension, they claim, signs are not art. Symbols are. But that doesn’t make any sense, since we experience signs, not symbols. You can’t pet a painting of a dog. Art is part of physical reality.

  60. One of a universally recognized few unmistakable conditions in a great civilization on the precipice of collapse: the worship of freakishness as art.

  61. Johan says:

    “If modern sculpture were placed in a junkyard, art critics couldn’t find it. ”

    In the Dutch media there appeared an article which reported that on reconstruction of a site, the constructors had put some metal object which stood outside in a metal shredder.. which later turned out to be an object of art.. art of the seventies.. erected by some artist who had already passed away.
    In another article it was reported that a wall in some building had been overpainted, the wall previously contained some decoration which, as turned out later, was not just decoration but was supposed to be valuable modern art.

    Essence of the story, not grasped by the liberal media who reported about the loss of important art.., modern art, if it is not labelled as being art, and if the original fans of it are no longer alive and present to protect it and add to it a pretentious theory which makes art of it.., ends up in the garbage can or just deleted by non suspecting, non pretentious ‘barbarians’. Ain’t it comical.

  62. Johan says:
    @Priss Factor

    “consider the juxtaposition of mathematical order and anarchic chaos. It says much about the modern condition to be sure”

    Yeah sure, say that again, and put it on a description aside of the work in some art gallery, the pretentious and hyper-reflective modern intellect, capable of selling ordinary stone for precious material, adding intellectual value to it is the foundation and only reason of its value. So everyone will parrot variations like that around, and more decadent bourgeois public trying to avoid boredom by any means possible will put their share of money into the pockets of the art elites.

    To quote Schopenhauer:

    “Therefore let even the young be instructed betimes that in this masquerade the apples are of wax, the flowers of silk, the fish of pasteboard, and that all things—yes, all things—are toys and trifles; and that of two men whom he may see earnestly engaged in business, one is supplying spurious goods and the other paying for them in false coin.”

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