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December 08, 2008

Contemporary Art: A Bursting Bubble?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The Prospect magazine in the UK has an article titled "A second tulip mania" concerning prices and sales of contemporary art (tip from Arts & Letters Daily).

The writers use economist Charles Kindleberger's classic analysis of speculation bubbles as a template for looking at that sector of the art market.

You might want to read the entire article, but below are some out-takes in case the link goes bad.

The bubble in contemporary art is about to pop. It has exhibited all the classic features of the South Sea bubble of 1720 or the tulip madness of the 1630s. It has been the bubble of bubbles—balancing precariously on top of other now-burst bubbles in credit, housing and commodities—and inflating more dramatically than all of them. While British house prices took six years to double at the start of this century, contemporary art managed it in just one, 2006-07. (Over the same period, old masters went up by just 7.6 per cent and British 17th to 19th century watercolours actually lost value.) ...

The Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang saw his work appreciate 6,000 times, from $1,000 to $6m (1999-2008); work by the American artist Richard Prince went up 60 to 80 times (2003-2008). The German painter Anselm Reyle was unknown in 2003; you could have picked up one of his stripe paintings for €14,000. Now he has a studio with 60 assistants turning them out for about €200,000 each. ...

But this bubble is now deflating. Sotheby's share price has lost three quarters of its value over the past year, sinking from its peak of $57 in October 2007 to $9 in early November—close to its 1980s low of $8. The latest round of contemporary art auctions in London has gone badly. ...

The way [that helped get the bubble started] was led by people like Charles Saatchi and the Miami property magnates, the Rubells. Saatchi laid down a blueprint in the late 1990s that others have tried to copy—he bought the work of young artists, established a museum in which to display it or lent it to public museums, and used the media interest that such shows attracted (by virtue of the outlandish works involved and the association of celebrities) to sell on part of the collection at auction at greatly inflated prices. Some of the proceeds would then be reinvested in the work of other new discoveries. Saatchi's famous 1997 show, "Sensation," demonstrated that this "specullecting" was a great way to make a splash as an arbiter of taste. ...
Contemporary art turned out to be an ideal vehicle for speculative euphoria. The market is almost entirely free from state interference. Governments have had little interest in regulating the trinkets and playthings of the super-rich. Art works are a uniquely portable and confidential form of wealth. Whereas all property purchases have to be publicly registered, buying art is a private activity. And unlike old masters, which are often linked by history to specific places, contemporary art knows no frontiers. ...

Investors became beady-eyed about tracking which artists leading museums considered important and followed the prices of their works on Artnet's database like stock market indices. ...

The correlation between value and rarity in art went out of the window. Paintings by old masters such as Vermeer and Rembrandt hold their value because there are a finite number in the world. This is both a guarantor of value and limits the extent of any speculative activity. But, as Kindleberger has shown, it is a condition of a speculative mania that new "assets" be manufactured to meet raging demand—so the recent bubble has focused on the works of living artists such as Hirst, Koons, Prince and Murakami. ...

As the art bubble has neared its peak, the great art-entrepreneurs such as Hirst, Banksy, Prince or the Chinese artists, Xiaogang and Yue Minjun, seem increasingly like these 18th-century promoters. Not only have they pumped out identical works, but they have also sought to capture more of the value for themselves, bypassing the gallerists with whom they are obliged to share 50 per cent of sales and selling direct out of the studio or placing new works straight into auction. Five years ago it was unknown for a work of art that was only one or two years old to be sold at auction. Now this is common—the best example being the Hirst sale of over 200 new works at Sotheby's in September.

I follow the art-as-investment world very casually, so I have to assume that the various numbers in the article are correct until demonstrated otherwise.

One of the theses of the book that I plan to peddle to publishers early next year is that Modernist art probably lacks long-term staying power due to its disconnection with long-term human experience of life and the world. For instance, edgy references to early 21st century pop culture or politics is likely to be grist for head-scratching by the end of the century, if not a lot sooner.

That's why I've long considered the market for Modernist art to be more speculation than investment and fueled in part by the art-ignorance of the buyers.

On the other hand, I won't be surprised if a new contemporary art bubble doesn't re-emerge once the economy turns around and has exhibited several years of prosperity, human nature and generational turnover being what they are.



posted by Donald at December 8, 2008

That's why I've long considered the market for Modernist art to be more speculation than investment and fueled in part by the art-ignorance of the buyers.

Frankly, I doubt that there is much to be ignorant about in the first place. The works of the luminaries of contemporary art mentioned in this article are, at best, cute and clever designs that are however at the same level of sophistication as the work of any competent industrial design team. At worst, they're just another step in the endless series of increasingly pathetic imitations of dadaism. At least the original dadaists had the decency to openly advertise their works as non-artistic products of a nihilistic and degenerate civilization. Displaying a urinal in an art gallery was maybe a good joke ninety years ago, but such gimmicks have gotten really boring and lost all originality long since.

Just the other day, I was browsing through some reproductions of paintings by J.W. Waterhouse. Call me an ignorant reactionary philistine curmudgeon, but that is art, not a bloody shark in formaldehyde. Yes, there was originally something interesting in the shock value of dadaism, there were some interesting ideas to be explored in abstract art, and surrealism has produced some quite magnificent works (e.g. Dali). But all this fizzled out decades ago, and we're left with a bunch of pathetic posers sucking at the taxpayer teat and hoping to break big one day by appealing to ridiculous posturing of the rich and convincing the speculators that their work is likely to appeal to some Greater Fool tomorrow.

Posted by: Vladimir on December 8, 2008 4:10 PM

I've been wondering Donald, while I know you're probably not a fan of the rather formally loose style of the Remodernists, what do you think of their aesthetic position against contempo gallery art?

Posted by: Spike Gomes on December 8, 2008 8:58 PM

Who cares?

Post my comments, Donald. The ones I left yesterday and a few I left today. The righteous indignation of human turds that infested this formerly interesting place is not vocal enough.
I want more wounded innocence posturing. More exclamation.

Or be a man - ban me. But post my comments first - I have a right to be heard. You gave that right to the pair of resident snakes - but gag me.
Ban me - but publicly.


Posted by: Tatyana on December 9, 2008 9:50 AM

Tatyana (and others) -- I'm fed up with comments that resort to name-calling as their main argument or that toss in crude names as part of the argument.

Commments are welcome provided that they relate to the post or previous comments and (ideally) are made in an adult manner one would expect at business meeting, dinner party and so forth. There's enough flaming and trashing on the Web as is, and no good reason for this blog to become part of that.

Calling someone a "lefy" or "dumb Neocon" on a comment to one of my posts will get posted if there is substantive material to go with it. Calling someone a "s**t " or "c**t" will likely result in the delete button being clicked.

So if you follow the rules, your comment will appear.

I know I've been lax at times policing this. In part that's because when comments on a post go beyond 25 or 30, commenting tends to become a few people debating amongst themselves and I sometimes tune out on that. (Remember, my wages here as well as Michael's have been at the inflation-fighting level of $0.00 for some time now, and we do have non-blog lives to lead.)

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 9, 2008 10:50 AM

Donald - Thanks for re-asserting some level of civility around here. It gets tiresome seeing the shift from topic to flame duels ... even though some of the duels at least remain on topic.

As for the topic here most artists who consider themselves Modernists agree that the market for PoMo celebrity art has been a negative bubble, moving too much money and attention to one hit wonders like Damien Hirst. Following Spike's comment I've been Googling "Remodernism" which seems like an intriguing development.

And I look forward to your book on under appreciated art and artists.

Posted by: Chris White on December 9, 2008 12:23 PM

When Van Gogh died a lot of cash was tied up in academic paintings done by people no one has heard of since. Not long after his death, cash started flowing away from these paintings toward Van Gogh's paintings. The academic paintings were stranded as historical curiosities, whereas Van Gogh's paintings can now be used as security to get hefty loans from major banks. So if we ask ourselves "Where was the cash value of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings during his lifetime?", the answer is simple. It was wherever the cash value of Andy Warhol's paintings will have gone a century from now, when people will be able to go to garage sales and spend $5 or so to buy one of the original prints Warhol cranked out.


Posted by: John Emerson on December 9, 2008 1:34 PM

" At least the original dadaists had the decency to openly advertise their works as non-artistic products of a nihilistic and degenerate civilization."

There is a high tendency of depression and instability among artists, and I see a lot of people who are unstable, depressed but who lack both talent and the artistic mindset dominating artistic circles because these subgroups are predisposed to accept their eccentricities. The actual work that such people produce is pretty uninspired. I know that artistic fads and eccentrics have always existed but by insisting that art be nihilistic and gloomy these gatekeepers not only ignore and suppress positive art and functional artists but they turn the general public off to art.

The below link is far from the grossest "artistry" out there but it shows how the arts are frequently a hiding place for people with little to offer in any other context.


Posted by: hello on December 9, 2008 4:12 PM


The below link is far from the grossest "artistry" out there but it shows how the arts are frequently a hiding place for people with little to offer in any other context.

The naked-emperor situation of the "modern art" scene was effectively demonstrated as early as 1924, when the American journalist Paul-Jordan Smith perpetrated the famous hoax posing as a leader of the fictional "Disumbrationist school" of art:


The story is both hilarious and instructive. What I find really depressing is that eighty years ago, a hoax like this was at least still somewhat distinguishable from the work of preeminent artists of that era. Today, it wouldn't even be possible to tell the difference.

Posted by: Vladimir on December 9, 2008 7:38 PM

Off the subject of painting, but relevant:

The best example of modernist determination would have to be the cult that still surrounds the work of Australian poet, Ern Malley. He was a hoax, an invention by James McAuley and Harold Stewart, who nonetheless became a sensation through the pages of the avant-garde Angry Penguins magazine in 1944. Ern Malley's lines were lifted at random from such things as a publication on mosquito breeding grounds.

It helped that the inventors of Ern also confected a tragic life for him, and had him die of something called "Grave's Disease" in '43.

When the hoax was exposed, there was much hilarity across the globe. Gradually, however, vanguardist intellectuals such as Herbert Read came to the defense of Ern Malley and Angry Penguins.

Only recently, one admirer has written: "It was the greatest hoax because the creation of Ern Malley escaped the control of his creators and enjoyed an autonomous existence beyond, and at odds with, the critical and satirical intentions of McAuley and Stewart." (That quoted sentence is the reason we have Arts faculties...and the reason why we probably shouldn't have them.)

Ern Malley has recently been anthologised (in full) in the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on December 9, 2008 10:26 PM

"when the American journalist Paul-Jordan Smith perpetrated the famous hoax posing as a leader of the fictional "Disumbrationist school" of art"

Compared to the stuff produced by legitimate art students I knew in college those paintings are quite excellent.

My favorite art hoax involved critically renowned paintings that turned out to be the work of a chimpanzee.


Posted by: hello on December 9, 2008 10:50 PM


My favorite art hoax involved critically renowned paintings that turned out to be the work of a chimpanzee.

Funny how the same trick got successfully repeated 30 years later.

A couple years ago, John Stossel gave a few 4-year-old kindergarteners some paper and paint to play with and showed the results to a few art critics alongside some "real" (and expensive) abstract art. Guess what -- they were unable to tell it apart:

Posted by: Vladimir on December 10, 2008 1:13 AM

Give me a break, indeed. The ABC John Stossel link isn't a valid criticism of modern art, it IS an example of how one can have an opinion, then construct an experiment designed to validate that opinion. Stossel sets out to "prove" that the emperor (in the case of his "exposé", abstract painting) has no clothes. He does so here primarily by using reproductions as the basis for making comparisons among the paintings rather than actual paintings. He further misrepresents the work of the artists he sets out to skewer.

The topic of Donald's post is whether there has been a bubble in the market for contemporary art. Many, including me, think that this is the case especially for a small segment of the high-end market. This, however, is a separate and distinct issue from whether the art in question is valid and whether or not it will have enduring interest (or value).

To use an example from a different sector, a 3500 sq. foot loft apartment in NYC or LA might well have seen its market value balloon dramatically from the late nineties to 2006 only to see the bubble burst. Someone may be left with a mortgage that is more than the current salable value of the loft. The loft, however, remains unchanged. Its intrinsic qualities have not been altered. It still has a great view, granite counters, 3 bathrooms, etc. etc.

Certainly there are contemporary artists who have been selling for dramatically high prices who will be essentially forgotten footnotes in a century. And artists who are virtually unknown today who will become highly regarded in fifty years. It is a mistake, IMHO, to try to turn these perennial truths into a judgment on the intrinsic worth of modernism. Furthermore, it begs the question of what is or isn't "modernist".

Posted by: Chris White on December 10, 2008 8:44 AM

Those artists mentioned in the article are no chimps. They are talented artists who only turned troublesome once they started actively capitalizing on their fame by reproducing and depreciating their own works. The sad truth is that market demand suppresses creativity because it provides the artists with an alternative path to success.

A few years ago, Pupu was deeply captivated by a painting from Zhang's Bloodline series -- it reminded Pupu of Arshile Gorky's haunting portrait of himself and his mother. Now, there are two many of them.

Posted by: Pupu on December 10, 2008 1:16 PM

What do you think it is about Emperors that so many of us are easily convinced they're wearing no clothes?

Posted by: Jim on December 10, 2008 3:37 PM

I've debated the issue of quality in art with Chris White a number of times, since he is a fan of modernism and I am not.

It boils down to this--modernists have no way to objectively distinguish good modernism from bad modernism. To do so would mean to introduce some sort of hard criteria by which to judge the value of an artwork. And when that is done, modernism can be compared to realism and found grossly lacking. Then the great ruse of modernism having any kind of true aesthetic value falls apart.

So the only real way to distinguish "good" modern art from bad modern art is money. What some loser paid for a painting is the sole criteria of whether or not a painting or painter is considered important. I find it funny that the perennial socialist Chris White is involved in the field, as he seems to hate the rich so (unless they want to swing some money in his direction, or so it seems. I guess everybody has their price).

The real reason for the switch from realism to modernism is control. Because if any kid can paint like you, you are completely replaceable. Talent is no longer an arbiter that gives the artist any kind of control. Its the gallery and the insider collectors who control the market. Completely. You play ball, you say what they want, and you get rewarded. You wander off the ranch, you get dropped.

Its hard for the Chris White's of the world to believe that, because so many of these imposter artists mouth the words of the revolutionaries. They all seem so countercultural, no? They must be against the status quo, the big money conservatives. Not quite! The really big money wants to totally transform the society. They are just selling it through the revolutionaries, saying that change will bring us closer to Utopia, rather than to the totalitarian hell that wil actually result.

That's the real story. So now the uninformed can understand how and why beauty is being flushed down the toilet.

BTW, Its too bad that censorship has found its way onto this site. I'll have to leave then. All censors become tyrants in time, and it won't be any different here. Toodle-loo, all, its been nice knowin' ya!

Posted by: BTM on December 11, 2008 9:18 PM

BTM, you surprise me. One thing I like about Chris White is that he puts his full name to his opinions (which are nearly always contrary to mine). I don't like to do it, but I put my full name to my opinions because it seems rather dishonourable to make strong and critical statements anonymously. It's a personal rule: I don't expect others to do likewise, not knowing enough about their personal situations.

The idea that, free of charge, I should be able to go on to another person's blog and say whatever I like, leaving them with the responsibility, is novel. To expect to do so anonymously is very novel indeed.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on December 11, 2008 11:33 PM

Is red a better color than blue? Is a rectangle with a height/width ratio of 5/4 more correct than one with a 3/2 ratio? How many layers of paint are required for a proper work of art?

Art, by definition, defies being judged by any objective "hard criteria." A given individual or group that shares a particular aesthetic may have criteria by which they judge art, but it will, by definition, be a subjective criteria. To assert that whatever "hard criteria" one's own aesthetic demands is the only true, objectively correct, view is simply ego asserting itself.

Like ST, BTM has a predilection for simple dichotomies. My sense of how power and wealth are entwined does not mean I "hate the rich." If I find fault with global corporate capitalism, that does not mean I am not a capitalist. As a small business entrepreneur I accept clients who can use and pay for my services. While I might be able to imagine some Utopia in which life is differently organized, that does not mean I hate or reject the life that exists.

As I have noted in many of these art related threads, there are galleries, artists, collectors, critics, museums, schools, and fans for traditional realism, "outsider" primitivism, and any other "ism" you might care to mention. To think that there is some grand conspiracy against art and artists who do not serve the needs of a cabal of dealer and insider collectors is paranoia.

Do I admire the work of Hirst? No. Do I think his work is overvalued? Yes. Do I think there has been a bubble, especially at the top end, for contemporary art? Yes. Have artists like Hirst, Koons, et al shown themselves to be far better as self-promoters than creators of compelling art? I'd say so, yes.

Obviously there are a lot of wealthy and influential people who disagree with me. And I am free to say that they are overspending on art that is too trendy and, frankly, boring.

The on-going dialogue, critics who laud or lampoon Hirst, museum curators who exhibit Pollock or Vermeer, collectors who buy van Gogh or Koons, painters who study and revere Rembrandt or Hans Hofmann, all become part of making up Art History.

Posted by: Chris White on December 12, 2008 12:31 AM

Who cares what my name is? What about what I said? How do I know that you are using your real name? Who cares? I don't.

"Art, by definition, defies being judged by any objective "hard criteria."

That's a load of BS! There is no "definition" of art that excludes criteria! Once again you sidestepped the issue! Modern art proponents have no citeria to even distinguish good from bad modernism, much less any other kind of painting. The term "art" by its very nature is a distinction between good work, and mediocre to poor work. Any old thing that someone can make is not "art", just because they say so. The term "art" is exclusive by nature, not all-inclusive.

I don't have a predilection for simple dichotomies. You have a predilection for forcing every argument against your point of view into a simple dichotomy in order to try to dismiss it, without addressing any of its points that you disagree with. Like how does the modern art lover distiguish good modern art from bad. And you can't, or won't, because you won't offer any criteria. And you won't do it because then modern art can be compared to realist art and found grossly deficient and risible. You shuffle off the question and say it is in the hands of collectors, critics, museums, blah blah blah. What makes a work of art good or bad? What makes a play or a song good or bad? What is it? Silence.

"To think that there is some grand conspiracy against art and artists who do not serve the needs of a cabal of dealer and insider collectors is paranoia."

Its not paranoia--its corporate capitalism! The same big boy cronyism thing you rail against is pervasive in your field of endeavor, yet you never come down against it, because you like living in a psuedo-intellectual milieu of the modern art world. See, you guys love to stick it to the crummy culture that these capitalists create in movies, music, etc, for the common folk, yet you can't see the same crummy culture being forced on the art world because you get off on the idea that you are smarter than the average Joe. You get it and they don't, and it makes you feel grand--a little bit less than ordinary.

"Have artists like Hirst, Koons, et al shown themselves to be far better as self-promoters than creators of compelling art? I'd say so, yes."

How can you tell what is "compelling" art or not? What are the criteria? Hee, hee, hee...!

"I am free to say that they are overspending on art that is too trendy and, frankly, boring."

So what's wrong with modern art capitalism? Too much money being spent on the wrong things? Isn't that my argument? When did you change your mind and somehow adopt merit as a standard of judgement? I thought art by defintion defied judgements. Unless it comes to money, that's the only real criteria. Thank you for making my point.

"The on-going dialogue, critics who laud or lampoon Hirst, museum curators who exhibit Pollock or Vermeer, collectors who buy van Gogh or Koons, painters who study and revere Rembrandt or Hans Hofmann, all become part of making up Art History."

Um, I thought it was the creators/artists who made up art history. So what you are saying is that all this other BS is the important stuff? Money, art criticism, etc. are just as important as the creators themselves? Are you kidding me? Collectors are as important as the artists themselves? What kind of nonsense is that?

I can see what your priorities are here. Its about being part of the insider milieu, about being smarter and hipper than thou. And if money is the sole criteria, well, so be it. Half-assed scrawls and paint randomly thrown on a canvas are just as good as the best skillful realism. Not by any kind of aesthetic criteria, mind you, but because of money. There are no insiders manipulating the big money markets, are there? No, just honest shlubs, working for the betterment of the greater society. Sure.

You are a really interesting study in, shall we say, "personal dichotomies", Chris White. Modern art is garbage, and the reason it was foisted on the rest of us is to destroy the idea of beauty, to throw standards out the window in order to change society for the big boys. And to make money for said big boys in the process. When anybody can be an "artist", artists are completely replaceable, just like the lowliest factory worker. And all the control goes to the hands with the money.

(Art) Capitalism in a nutshell.

Posted by: BTM on December 12, 2008 3:46 PM

My criteria for good art is whether I like it or not. The reasons I may like a piece of art can be many. I like Picasso's sketches because I find it amazing how he can convey so much with just a few looping lines of a pencil. I like Sergeant because of his amazing use of light and his ability at realism with emotion. Put the two side by side, which one is better? I can tell you which one is harder to do, maybe. But difficulty of execution does not automatically mean good art. I don't really don't give two shits how hard a painting was to execute if I don't like it.

Posted by: JV on December 13, 2008 12:46 PM

BTM - Round and round we go. My opinion is that the criteria for judging art are subjective, not objective. This is not the same thing as saying that there are no criteria for art.

The simple answer for how a modern art lover tells the difference between good and bad modern art is the same as the old gag about what constitutes pornography; you know it when you see it. It either turns you on or it turns you off. And there is no expectation that in any group of viewers each individual will have the same response. This holds true for within or between realism and abstraction.

If a painting hangs on a tree in the woods where no one sees it, is it still art? When I reference collectors, critics, et al I presume that art is more than the act of creation or the object created in a private a pas de deux between the artist and his/her muse; I presume (especially in a thread about whether there has been a market bubble in contemporary art) that art requires an audience, a market, as well as a creator. Were it not for art patrons from the Renaissance on there would be no art to admire, appreciate and enjoy from Michelangelo or Titian or Vermeer or Rembrandt or...

Artists (not to mention galleries and collectors) do not exist in a vacuum. In a capitalist society markets define value for objects and services. I think teachers are undervalued and stockbrokers overvalued. Our society apparently disagrees. I think that there are artists whose art is overvalued and many artists whose works are undervalued. Again, the art market disagrees with me on some things and agrees on others. Absent the sort of central controlling agencies you seem to think exist this will always be true. Just as it is true that there are collectors and dealers and curators who cynically manipulate the market as best they can. Which is true in any human endeavor. This To make this about "good" realism and "bad" modernism quickly becomes a theological debate; if evil exists, can there be a God? Is your God the same as my God? Can there be more than one God?

Posted by: Chris White on December 13, 2008 12:53 PM

JV and Chris White,

That's what it all boils down to--that neither one of you guys can distinguish a good work from bad other than your own "preferences". You have no criteria to distinguish what is good from bad at all. And that is because both of you are almost completely ignorant about art.

What happens if your preferences change--does a great work become junk? Does anybody but you and a small group of others think this way about a piece or not? What happens if you die, does the work become junk? What if fashions change, and common tastes change? Does anything stand? Why?

What you argue for is the complete destruction of culture--that aesthetic values and great works have no objective criteria or common value that will last throughout time, because as you say, "art is subjective". That is obviously false, for how can ancient art be recognized as such? It's the philosophy of a madman!

The real truth is that I don't really care what you like or what you don't like. And the reason why is because you both so completely ignorant of what you are looking at that you can't intelligently communicate what makes a great work great to anybody else. That's the complete destruction of culture, period--that people have obligations to the larger group other than just pleasing themselves. Its too bad that you choose to remain adolescents rather than act like adults. Its amazing how people reveal themselves as being ignorant--"I don't know why I like the doodle, I just do"--its like talking to a 5 year old about anything of substance. What a joke.

You two need to figure out that your idiosyncratic personal preferences are completely irrelevant in both determining what is important in the larger culture and how to keep and tranfer that knowledge to the future generations. Gaze at your hairy navels somewhere else. I'm tired of garbage being foisted on the rest of us because the pseudo-intellectuals like to look smart. You aren't.

I got some news for you Mr. White. If you have been staring at paintings for 40 years and can't tell anybody what makes a work good or bad, you are an ignoramus. I can't think of anybody else who has worked in any kind of field for that long that can't tell a good job from a bad one. If you can't, then you are basically admitting to being incompetent. And I know darn good and well that you know what good and bad are. You just won't admit it because, as Shouting Thomas likes to point out, you are obsessed with thinking that you are smarter and holier than your fellow man. "I'm smart, I get the modernism--I took art history classes, I like the philosophy, etc. The regular guy, he's a dope, he's stupid, blah blah blah" and yet somehow, when you ask for an intelligent conversation, all you get is posers talking about their feelings. Its like PhD's talking about Oprah. I've seen it all before. We all have. Its just that most of us outgrew it.

You guys haven't, though. Modern Art sucks, you can't even tell me what makes it good, and the only thing holding it up are posers and money. And the insiders who are making the money are laughing at you posers all the way to the bank, while they ruin every single one of the arts. They know a good scam when they see it, unlike you, because they are smart--not posers.

You may now continue staring at your navels now while the entire culture goes down the toilet.

Posted by: BTM on December 14, 2008 3:50 PM

So much venom, so much self-righteous anger, and all over what; you don't think my aesthetic tastes are valid? The entire culture is going down the toilet because too many people like modernist art?

How much of the ART in art is in the inspiration, how much in the conception, the execution, the object, or the appreciation? Is religious art aesthetically better than non-religious art? Which perspective system is aesthetically superior?

These are rhetorical questions. They may be interesting jumping off points for conversations, but have no objective answers, only diverse opinions.

I have little interest in convincing you or anyone to like abstract paintings or sharks in tanks or hyperrealist portraits or impressionist landscapes. I enjoy conversing with people about work they like. I enjoy introducing people to art and music that I like. My tastes are quite eclectic. I find aesthetic absolutists of all stripes to be boors, like rabid jazz fans who hate Be Bop and everything that came after, and I recognize that there is nothing that will sway them from their insistence on some narrow aesthetic purity.

Posted by: Chris White on December 14, 2008 5:58 PM

"The real truth is that I don't really care what you like or what you don't like."

I'd hate to see what happens if you DID care. Ha, BTM, that's quite a rant. I think Western culture will survive the likes of CW and myself just fine. Which is good, because I happen to love Western culture.

As for shifting preferences, yes indeed, now that I'm in my 40s, I've found some of the art that I liked in my 20s to be juvenile and simple-minded. Have you never changed your mind about a piece of art or a genre? If not, well then, bully for you. I don't find that kind of consistency as some kind of virtue, but it's not a bad thing either, I suppose.

That said, my tastes overall haven't changed too drastically over the years.

One thing I'm curious about, though. I stated a very specific reason why I enjoy much of Picasso's sketches, which are quite modern. I said that I liked how much emotion and form he could convey with just a few simple lines. That's a criteria right there. It's not one I impose on every piece of art because not every piece of art is attempting that. But it's the reason I like Picasso's sketches. Am I wrong to both articulate the criteria and to respond in a very emotional way to those works? It seems you think so. Whatever, buddy.

Posted by: JV on December 14, 2008 5:58 PM


"I'm smart, I get the modernism--I took art history classes, I like the philosophy, etc. The regular guy, he's a dope, he's stupid, blah...

I'm not sure where you think CW or I said anything like that. You don't like modern art? OK, that's fine with me. You're the one characterizing those who don't share your preferences as "stupid." Or more accurately, you believe your preferences are actual, empirical facts. I'm not relativist, but I'm also not arrogant enough to think my artistic preferences are the only ones of value.

As stated before, I appreciate technical proficiency and accuracy of rendering. I believe that is the main (sole?) criterion for you in determining artistic value. That's fine with me. But it's not mine. You feel somehow imposed upon by cabals of either pseudo-intellectual critics or shadowing businessmen looking to scam the plebs. And yet you are the one who wishes to impose your viewpoint upon others, and/or offer it up as the one true POV.

Posted by: JV on December 14, 2008 6:24 PM

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