Comment Rescue: Selling Each Other What We Don’t Want or Need

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263 Responses

  1. Avatar veronica d says:

    One thing I notice regarding queer literature is this: when trans women write books that are (in a sense) for trans women, we end up with something more deeply textured than when cis people try to write about us. Now, this is due in part to basic psychological reality. If you have not experienced gender dysphoria, nor gender transitions, then there is stuff you will never viscerally understand. Which, fine. I’ve never climbed a mountain, but I might still write about a mountain climber. Whatever.

    But there is other stuff, the cultural texture. A trans woman writing in a trans space is intimately familiar with a huge body of discourse, including other contemporary texts, historic texts, the online conversation, all the long history of the trans community, and thus her story can be (in part) a response to all of that.

    And this is a very important thing. It’s part of a broad social discourse.

    But to the point of the article, this is not black-or-white. This discourse is not limited to trans women. Others can peek in and see stuff. That stuff might be valuable, if not as valuable as it is to a trans woman. But human experience is broad and it’s nice to see other parts of it.

    Myself, I can often sense when a writer is “commenting on” a broader discourse, even when I’m not part of it. It’s hard to explain exactly why, but often such texts have a “feel,” like, “the way she is writing suggests she expects her audience to ‘get this’ in a way I don’t.”

    If you do that enough, you get good at it. It’s how you learn about other cultures. There is something special about “shared knowledge that we don’t need to explain.”Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I don’t know about this sometimes an outsider can hit the nail on the head about a group or provide for an interesting perspective. Sometimes an insider is so loyal to the community that they can miss a lot and write shallowly because their insider status prevents them from digging past the surface. Other times an artist just wants to go out of their own group.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I think you need both an outsider’s and an insider’s perspective. Not, obviously, in the same work or when writing a book. But if you really want to dig into a group, a culture, a society — you need viewpoints from inside, outside, from people who have moved from one to the other, etc….

        Any singular viewpoint is going to be too limited when dealing with a group, pretty much by definition.Report

  2. Avatar j r says:

    Richard Prince is not a favorite artist but he does make Suicide Girls more interesting via his commentary.

    This is an interesting idea that I would love to hear more on. How is that you feel that Prince makes Suicide Girls more interesting?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      Perhaps there should be a saying that Prince makes it marginally more interesting but not significantly so.

      Years ago, I was in a discussion on Suicide Girls. I can’t remember the exact starter but my point in the conversation was that the women of Suicide Girls were conventionally attractive women who generally had dyed hair, piercings, and tattoos. Some might have be curvier than others.

      This goes to the incomprehensibility of scenes to outsiders. The whole Suicide Girls thing does nothing for me. I have no idea where the name comes from and find it kind of silly and “edgy”. I am fascinated and perplexed about how people born say in 1975 decided to embrace tattoos like no previous generation. For a variety of reasons, I am indifferent to opposed to tattoos in ways that are outliers in my generation. So when I see people talking about a need to get inked on facebook and it produces dozens of likes and comments, I just have an “Oh. Okay….” attitude.

      But if you blow it up, add some commentary like “On the beach meets Fail Safe meets 28 Days Later meets Lord of the Flies meets the Road”, and put it on a gallery or museum wall. That is something I can talk about. I like that it produces more discussion points than SG original which seems to be about just producing the boring and anti-intellectual badass and kickass*. I wouldn’t purchase it. It is not what I would place on my walls but the whole idea of Richard Prince, appropriation, the rage and anger at the exhibit, are things that I can talk about.

      *Kickass and Badass are currently my two least favorite words in the English language. I consider them anti-intellectual and anti-analysis.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I have no tattoos, but I agree — the 1975+ generation decided ink was good. Out of nowhere.

        I’m rather fond of the SGs, but only in the sense that they are pretty girls, often involved or referencing geek, gaming, or other cultural aspects that’s big with the 1975+ crowd, and I’m rather fond of the goth look anyways — to an extent, and they seem to fit it.

        The photography is generally solid and professional (the instagram/selfie stuff, obviously not as much), their tattoos seem to be enough for accent, but not becoming human canvases, etc. And some of their work is quite artistic — but they don’t put that stuff on Instagram.

        I don’t own a sub to their site, but I happily accepted tickets to a burlesque show they put on. (The DJ they used — another SG apparently — was really solid. Happily surprised, and my biggest complaint was that they should have published a soundtrack listing. I’d have bought practically everything I didn’t already own).

        But really, it’s pretty dirty pool to lift other people’s pictures, caption it, and sell it like you did something special. About ten thousand people a day do that on Reddit, and far more cleverly.

        All you did was screw a model and a photographer out of commission or license fees. Which is a dick move, period.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          Tattoos and piercings are some of the only ways people born after 1975 can rebel. The Baby Boomers got rid of a lot of other social mores like a great deal of the one’s regarding sex and gender. Rock music long lost would ever subversive element it had but is now just what people listen to. Clothing already underwent the great de-formalization Tattoos and piercing were the only way young people could really do something to rebel against their parents.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            There is always religion. If the parents are Evangelical Christians, the kid can become Wiccan. And the other way around. I’ve seen it both directions.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              The Alex Keaton move is also still popular.

              Interestingly my parents are very liberal and I ended up further to the left.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            You can always cut off your head:

            you’ve tattooed all your body parts and pierced your lip
            and pierced your nose
            and bolted this and branded that and done the drugs
            and done your friends
            and done the friends of other friends
            so why not try some amputation
            you can feel so stupid when it’s over

            cut off your head
            do it yourself
            don’t ask a friend
            that’s gross
            use a big knife
            that cuts both ways
            open your heart
            cut off your head


        • Avatar Griff says:

          It’s a bit implausible, though, to think Prince screwed anyone out of anything here. The people whose images he appropriated could never have made $100k on those images. In fact, they probably couldn’t have made any money at all. It was Prince who injected the “fine art” monetary value into the images. As a result of which the Suicide Girls have managed to sell prints for $90 — which is somewhere on the order of $85-90 more than they would have been able to get without Prince’s intervention.Report

          • Avatar aarondavid says:

            How is that better than someone selling bootleg concert t-shirts? And if it is better, why?

            I agree with the fact that SG basically found money at the $85-90 level, but that still doesn’t excuse what is basically a bootleg print.Report

            • Avatar Griff says:

              The difference would be that the amount of money you could sell a bootleg T-shirt for is the same as the amount of money the band could sell an “official” T-shirt for, and the potential pool of buyers is the same. Thus, the bootlegger is taking money out of the band’s pocket. Whereas here, no one would have paid any money for this image before it had Prince’s name attached to it; the “value” (such as it is) came entirely from Prince. It didn’t matter what images he chose to reproduce. Once he picked some and put his name on them, they became valuable works of art. The money SG is making off their own prints is actually riding on Prince’s coattails from an economic perspective, not the other way around.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            But what was “fine” or “artistic” about what Price did?Report

            • Avatar Griff says:

              I’m not making a value judgment here, just noting the empirical fact that when Richard Prince puts his name on something, “fine art” collectors are suddenly willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for it.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Which is why it all feels like a circle jerk to me. For reasons no one (here at least) has yet articulated, Price has been “chosen” by the gatekeepers. That makes his art valuable. That makes people like him and want it. That makes his art more valuable. Etc.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                I feel the same way about sports talk which brings in much more money.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Yes and no. Sports is far more (though not entirely) objective. Usain Bolt wins the race because he is the fastest, not because some group of race experts decided he was the best. Is Price’s artwork “better” than the Suicide Girls? That is literally an impossible question to answer. But we can answer the question of whether Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant is better… or at least have far better tools at our disposal to help answer it.

                Again, I’ve yet to hear ANYONE here articulate why what Prince did was worth anything from either an artistic or financial perspective beyond simply asserting that that is what the facts on the ground tell us.

                So, again, I’ll ask, why is what Prince did valuable artistically? Why is it art? What makes it different from what people post on YouTube comments sections millions of times a day?

                If you know want to know why Peyton Manning is better than Tim Tebow, I can answer that pretty comprehensively.Report

              • Avatar switters says:

                Saul was talking about sports TALK. Not just sports.

                Moving on though, do you think comparing Kobe to Jordan is any more objective than comparing Prices artwork to the Suicide girls? I don’t, at all. I agree it’s a circle jerk, but no more so than sports talk, or really everything about sports except the actual competition.

                The only thing that make Prince’s work valuable is that someone is willing to pay money for it. I’d say the same about the value of either Jordan’s or Kobe’s services. Purchasers expect to either receive a return on their investment or derive so much value from the ownership that they’ll get the same whether they sell the piece for greater than the purchase price or not.

                Peyton Manning is better than Tebow because he plays the game (in this case, football) better. In this case, Price played the game better than SG. Better than a lot of others as well. And the sales price of his works is proof of this in the same way the Giants beating the patriots in two superbowls proves they were the better team both times.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                Which is why it all feels like a circle jerk to me.

                Well, yeah. That’s pretty much a given in the postmodern art world. The question is whether it’s copyright infringement.Report

          • Avatar morat20 says:

            He took someone else’s work and sold it. At the very least, that’s ethically shady. It doesn’t matter if the original creator couldn’t have sold it for a fraction of that.

            You’re an artist and take people’s junk they’ve tossed away and make a sculpture and sell it for huge bucks. Go you. You’re an artist and take my pictures I’ve posted online and resell them for huge bucks? Dude, WTF.

            Did you pay me for the rights to use my photo? Was it under a creative commons license? Did you even ask?

            Ethically, dick move, even if I’m willing to blow it off. Not because I thought “oh man, all those big bucks should have been mine”. Because you took MY work, my art, and just used it without so much as a by-your-leave.

            The fact that it reeks of crass commercialism is just the insult. The injury is taking my work and reusing it without permission. (Then there’s the whole etiquette of stuff like the Creative Commons license).

            The money is a red herring — it’s unimportant other than, as noted, being the insult added to the injury.Report

            • Avatar Griff says:

              That’s a little different than what you said above, but I think I understand what you’re getting at now. The thing is, he’s not really selling the instagram photo. In some ways the content of the underlying photo is fundamentally irrelevant; he could literally choose any instagram photo at random (and that may be exactly what he did). Instead, he’s selling the Prince work, which (if you buy his schtick) is essentially ABOUT questions of artistic merit, value, and ownership. The “circle jerk” nature of the art world that Kazzy references upthread is one of the main subjects of Prince’s work (artists like Jeff Koons also fall into this camp, and are equally controversial when it comes to whether what they’re doing is really “art”). Another subject is the question of representation, and the relationship between a photograph and the physical thing being represented; if Prince takes a photograph of a photograph, does that intermediation change the nature of the representation? Does it make a difference if it’s part of a larger series? If it’s part of a mural or pastiche? If the title of Prince’s work is a reference to another well-known photograph that suggests a relationship or dialogue between the prior work, Prince’s work, and the image that Prince is rephotographing? Why do these things make a difference (or not), and how does that inform what we think about photography, art, and culture more generally?

              Believe me, I understand the skepticism surrounding this kind of work. But the very conversation going on in this thread is in some sense a vindication of what Prince is trying to do.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @griff — He could get permission of the photo’s subject to turn their image into “art”. He could gin up a fake Instagram photo, with a paid subject, and post that. The artifact would largely be indistinguishable from his art, except the lack of unwilling subject.

                Many things he could do to make a similar point.

                The “humans of new york” guy gets permission of his subjects. That matters.

                I did not get permission to post the pictures of men who harass me, including one man who physically assaulted me. I feel justified in this.

                Sometimes people take my picture on the subway, like this happens often enough. I’ve probably noticed it happen maybe a dozen times. Of course, I imagine it happens more. I won’t always notice.

                This feels very invasive. After all, I have no idea where they will post that image, to what audience, what they will say about me, nor what others will say about me. Which okay, every time I walk out the door I accept that people will see me. Some of them will judge me. But I do that with the normal odds of harassment and humiliation found on a typical urban subway trip. It happens. I deal.

                When someone snaps my picture, where will they post it? On a site dedicated to attacking and humiliating women? On a site for attacking queers? Just among his douchey friends, so he doesn’t have to limit his attacks to that one day?

                Or will he look at it while he jerks off? Fucking pervy shit.

                Anyway, none of these have gone viral, thank goodness. But still, it feels invasive.

                (Sometimes I return the favor and take their picture. Why not?)Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                @veronica-d Out of curiosity, do you have the same reaction to Eisenstaedt’s VJ photo?

                This seriously isn’t a challenge; seriously curious about what we are and are not OK with artists doing.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                Well, at least he took the picture himself. That matters.

                Strictly speaking, it was sexual assault. Right? The sailor grabbed her out of the blue and kissed her, although I guess few people at the time thought in those terms, but women these days do. So that’s a thing.

                But setting that aside, I’m fine with the photo. It was in public. It was a major historic moment. It did capture a mood.

                I mean, if a journalists takes a photo at the Boston Pride Parade with me as the subject, since a honking enormous purple haired transsexual is perhaps visually interesting — I’d be okay with that. I’m in public. I’m dressed to be seen. I feel no shame, as the days of gay shame are long over.

                In fact, this year at Pride a number of people approached me and asked to photograph me. Which fine. It’s Pride. I look great. Snap away! I guess one group put me in their newsletter. Cool.

                The creepy fuckers taking pictures on the subway are a different sort of thing.

                I don’t think we can pass good laws about this sort of thing, but I think we should call it what it is: gross horndogs invading a woman’s privacy. This is a different thing from journalists doing their job.Report

              • Avatar Griff says:

                This is a totally different point — Morat was talking about the interests of the photographer, you’re talking about the interests of the subject. They happen to be the same person in some of these cases, but I think the issues they present are very distinct. I will stipulate that Richard Prince doesn’t seem to be a particularly admirable guy and I wouldn’t especially want to be his buddy. I don’t agree, though, that the ideas he’s exploring could equally well be explored if the subject of the photograph was complicit in Prince’s project. He’s trying to provoke thought and discussion about ownership and the distinction between the public and private spheres (and how those concepts are changing with the advent of new technologies and new cultural norms). Appropriation without prior approval is part of the point of what he’s doing.Report

              • Avatar morat20 says:

                He’s trying to provoke thought and discussion about ownership and the distinction between the public and private spheres (and how those concepts are changing with the advent of new technologies and new cultural norms). Appropriation without prior approval is part of the point of what he’s doing.
                If he wanted to do that ethically, he wouldn’t sell the pieces for 100k.

                Seriously, you want to do that? By all means. Don’t profit off someone else’s work. That’s just being a jerk.

                Which makes the “I’m just putting a mirror up to technology and change and ownership in the digital world and being all deep” kind of hard to swallow, because “I’m making a point here” rarely coincides with “I’m pocketing a 100 large”.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                I don’t agree, though, that the ideas he’s exploring could equally well be explored if the subject of the photograph was complicit in Prince’s project.

                Well maybe true, but this does not get him off the hook. If your art requires you be sleazy and treat others badly, then you should perhaps think more deeply about how to approach your art.

                After all, in the extreme, my “art” might require I engage in criminal sexual assault, but I don’t think many people would buy that as an excuse.

                “Your honor, I mean to explore theme of social alienation in the face of extended non-consensual sexual abuse, so I had to kidnap the woman and fuck her against her will. Otherwise the art would suffer.”

                I would expect the judge to respond: “Cool motive. Still rape.”

                Anyway, obviously Prince is not guilty of that. I don’t even know if he is guilty of a crime. That gets played out in court. (If anyone decides to take him to court. I haven’t been following the aftermath of this.)

                But still, it remains sleazy as fuck, and fuck his “art” — pretentious nonsense from a pompous bag of dicks.

                “I want to make a point about appropriation by appropriating something.”

                OMG how fucking banal. This is “Guy in your MFA” level of douchey.


                Anyway, blah blah blah. Why does anyone take this human turd seriously?Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          For some reason, the Jewish prohibition against tattooing sticks with me. I will gladly eat unkosher food but I have a strong “Jews shouldn’t get tattoos” stuck into me and this was not even something that got a lot of emphasis in Hebrew School. I don’t remember any sermons on the issue.

          I guess it is in the eye of the beholder but I have seen plenty of SG shots where the women seem to become human canvases because of their tattoos.

          The new burlesque is something I don’t quite understand because I see burlesque as being run by middle aged and ancient men with Yiddish accents during the 1930s-50s like people from my great-grandparents generation. I don’t get how it was revived out of nowhere in the name of geek feminism with a twist of Rocky Horror.Report

          • Avatar morat20 says:

            I’m not terribly sure how to explain burlesque. My wife probably could explain it, but I knew of it simply because a friend of ours did it.


            Perhaps it’s just that, my generation-ish, wanted to put their own stamp on sex. Not free love, not husbandly duty, but a sort of self-expression. Same as with tattoos.

            Whether it’s meaningful or decorative, there for your pleasure or the pleasure of others — it’s up to you.

            So yeah, I’m gonna say it’s all part of differentiation, individualization. Burlesque shows, each act tends to be pretty individual and the dancers generally choose everything from costume to moves to theme.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              I get that part.

              I don’t get why they specifically decided to reach back to a style of risque performance from the vaudville era. Then again, I am perplexed about why some hipster guys think silent film villain facial hair is a good idea.

              A large chunk of the 1975 generation is addicted to sepia tones. Does it have to do with the alleged artificiality of the age? Do we see the late 19th and early 20th century as being the last era before extreme mass production and reproduction?Report

              • Avatar morat20 says:

                *shrug*. Why did the 80s love neon and leg-warmers? Who knows?

                I know Burlesque was deliberately rescued, as it were — I think there were a few prime movers and shakers who happened to love the art form and popularized it (Dita, for instance) a bit more.

                But if you think about it, it’s a pretty good time for a ‘risque art’ to make a comeback. The backlash against the free love movement had ended, the AIDS scare was…well, contained at least (modern tests and treatments meaning it’s harder to pass on and far more treatable), and you have a bunch of 20-somethings who were hitting their creative zones and had already taken to adorning their own bodies.

                SG certainly came out of the tattooed zeitgeist and goth movements — it’s not exactly coincidental that they popped up right as the generation of ‘growing up goths’ and ‘viewing tattoos as self-expression and art’ hit, well, legal age for posing naked. (Or were 20 and in college and hey, free money. Or were 20 and in the best shape of their lives, etc. However you want to put it).

                Burlesque came from those same impulses, really. Although I don’t think it’s because people reached back to the past. I think it was just that there already WAS an artistic, erotic form of striptease. Otherwise they’d have invented it.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      What are the nature of his comments? Because there is something a bit off about an “insider” mocking a group of “outsiders” and making a fortune doing so.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Richard Price’s real problem is that he is a thief. He is taking Marcel Duchamp’s definition of art to it’s natural limit and doing so with the commercial and private photographs of others. Even if the photographs are arguably public because they were put on the Internet, Price is denying the Suicide Girls and their staff, the fruits of their labor. Price is making a fortune off the works of others, who got a pittance.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Richard Prince does take appropriation to the extreme. I think it is more questionable for Roy Lichtenstein though because I believe that Lichtenstein does change and transform from the comics that influenced him by changing the color, the scope, highlighting the behind the scenes look. You see some influences of pointalism in Lichtenstein. He also largely stopped taking from comics by the mid-1960s and it only represents a fraction of his output.

      Yet this does not stop comic book fans who love their favorite artists (as they should) but don’t realize that the mass produced nature of comic books was done under a work for hire doctrine. Lichtenstein choose the art world. Comic book artists did not. What do they want? Do they want people to just collect comics and abandon gallery art?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Lichtenstein engaged in real workmanship because he actually turned the comic books into paintings by his own hand and introduced his own touches. Prince’s work seems like Duchamp’s idea taken to it’s natural limits.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “Lichtenstein does change and transform from the comics that influenced him…”

        Yeah, Lichtenstein changed the type of plane so that one F-86 is shooting down another. Is it a dramatic and transgressive statement on the brutal cynicism of war? Or was the dummy just not able to tell the planes apart?

        “Lichtenstein choose the art world. Comic book artists did not. What do they want? Do they want people to just collect comics and abandon gallery art?”

        I think what they *want* is for people to recognize that Lichtenstein is using a substantial part of someone else’s creative work. Maybe Lichtenstein copied a random panel out of a comic book, but he did copy; this isn’t one of those cases where two musicians hit on the same four-chord progression.

        PS I love the not-at-all-subtle dig at comic book artists, there. As usual, here’s Saul Degraw crapping all over those icky tradesmen who want to work for a living (ptui!) instead of spending their days marinating in the glory of pure aesthetic philosophy.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      @leeesq “Richard Price’s real problem is that he is a thief.”

      What you’re describing isn’t really a problem. It’s part of the definition of being an artist.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I think there’s a difference here, and while plenty of it might be in the eye of the beholder, Price is pretty far on the edge.

        Or perhaps call it artistic etiquette.

        If I’m a professional model or photographer, and someone takes my image or my work and resells it without my permission or paying my fees, even if he’s somehow in the bounds of the law, it’s not exactly polite, is it?

        Appropriate the Mona Lisa is one thing, steal a selfie off a woman who makes her living as a model and then reselling it for more than she makes in a year? Yeah, I don’t think that’s business as usual.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          What if Richard Prince hired some models off of Craigslist with the Suicide Girl look and paid them 500 dollars to pose for him. He then made them look like Suicide Girls on Instagram and added the text and then sold it for 100,000 dollars.

          Is that cool or not?Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            How long was the photo shot and how much woman did the woman do? If it was only one day, $500 seems right. If it was more than a day, it seems wrong.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            If the models in question signed the releases that allowed this usage, and were compensated in a manner they considered appropriate? Sure, that’s totally cool.

            If he said “I just wanna take some photos for my portfolio, to use as advertising” and then he turned around and sold them as artworks? No, that’s not cool.Report

          • Avatar morat20 says:

            Yep, as long as it was in the contract. His photos, he paid his models the price they agreed on, and got the rights.

            I wouldn’t care if he sold them for a million a pop.

            He stole someone else’s photographs. He didn’t take them himself, nor hire a photographer to take them, nor pay a model to pose. He just stole someone else’s artistic work, slapped a label on it, and profited obscenely.Report

  4. Avatar Glyph says:

    I would have called that Richard Serra piece “You Sank My Battleship”.Report

  5. Avatar LWA says:

    Its commonly assumed (an I’m as guilty as anyone) that “Modern” = “Non-Representational” which isn’t really the case.

    However, what does separate Modern from pre-Modern is that to a large extent, Modern work takes a critical, even sometimes hostile stance towards popular and dominant culture, while pre-Modern assumed an authoritative stance.

    But as many others have pointed out, art itself is the product of the dominant culture. So we have the spectacle of work that intends to attack the dominant culture, being purchased and thereby co-opted by it.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      This seems right. Before the 19th century, Western art was highly dependent on the patronage of wealthy individuals or institutions. This led it to be highly deferential towards the establishment or at least show any deviance with great subtlety like the portraits of the Spanish Royal Family by Velazquez or Goya, which hid signs of disrespect in them. When patronage became less importance, artists became more free to paint or sculpt what they wanted. As the 19th century progress, art became increasingly subversive and anti-bourgeois. We seem to be in a weird place where the wealthy patronize artists to be subversive while most people like to stick with what they can understand.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      There is a lot of contemporary art like Hockney which is very representational. Wayne Thiebaud (who I adore) always considered himself to be representational. Though modern portrait painters tend to go for superrealism and giving their work the feel of a photograph. They also tend to add more ironical gestures and looks. I saw one from the 1970s that featured a 20-something man in a white and red long-sleeved horizontal stripped long-sleeved t-shirt. The man had a very wry and judgmental expression. Something that read “Are you really going to wear that to the party?”

      This is very different than a Sargent portrait.

      I think your second paragraph is spot on. These fights are fights over being the dominant culture and what makes a culture dominant. The fandom side rules by numbers and popularity. No painting is ever going to sell for 500 million dollars (probably). The art world rules by controlling the academy and attracting the upper-middle class and above. I went to a Hockney exhibit a few years ago with my parents. My dad made a comment about how decades ago they had an opportunity to buy a 7000 dollar Hockney painting but could not afford it. 7000 dollars was well beyond their budget then. The Hockney would be worth a lot more now.

      It seems to me that there is something in the geek rage of “Why do people need to spend 7000 dollars on a painting because it is by Hockney or some other artist. Wouldn’t the world be better if we all just put stuff like this on our wall?”

      My answer to this is an absolute no.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        It seems to me that there is something in the geek rage of “Why do people need to spend 7000 dollars on a painting because it is by Hockney or some other artist. Wouldn’t the world be better if we all just put stuff like this on our wall?”

        Do you have an example of someone actually making this argument? You may be mischaracterizing any number of critiques of the contemporary art market.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I happen to like Sargent. He was one of the finest portrait painters America ever produced and he incorporated a lot of modern techniques in his portraiture. His Madam X was considered a very daring and sensuous portrait when it came out.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        The art world rules by a lot of asskissing, same as it always has.

        I love commercial art, in no small part because it is actually graded by enough people to matter.Report

  6. Avatar LWA says:

    I also argue that unlike previous eras, the plutocrats of this era belong to a different cultural sphere than the peasants.

    Michelangelo, the Pope, and the illiterate tilesetter working below the scaffold of the Sistine Chapel occupied vastly different social realms; but they all shared a similar cultural space and understanding of the world, which is why they could all enjoy the same painting, even if on different levels. The artist’s mission was to present the truth of reality that they all shared. Sometimes he believed it, sometimes it was agit-prop.

    The purchaser of a Richard Prince’s Suicide Girls work occupies a different cultural space than the ordinary person. However subversive Richard Prince or the Suicide Girls are, they aren’t subversive or threatening to the worldview of the 1%.

    The same can be said of any of the “controversial” artists who usually make the noise- Mapplethorpe, Koons, Serra.
    Its hard to be the vanguard of the proletariat when you don’t even like them very much.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I think I sort of see what you are saying but I think it needs to be spelled out more. I am also not sure that I fully agree.

      I will probably not be part of the one percent. I will almost certainly not be part of the .1 one percent. Yet all the artists you mentioned are not subversive or threatening to my worldview. Is this because I grew up close enough to the one percent that it rubbed off by proxy? I read comics as a kid but my parents also took me to Lincoln Center for classical music and to museums. They showed me modern and controversial art and were secular.

      Will I ever be able to afford a Koons or Serra? Probably not? Would I rather go see a Serra exhibit than spend four days at Comic Con seeing the latest Star Wars trailer and going to panels with comic book artists? A million times yes.

      So what is the phrase for people who are not ever going to be part of the high-end gallery and auction world as customers but still prefer the high-culture stuff over discussing the latest episode of Game of Thrones or Mad Men or going to Comic Con?

      Suicide Girls is not exactly the home of pearl clutching conservatism. Why do you think Prince and Serra are hostile to the worldview of the Suicide Girls scene and/or the otherwise liberal geek?Report

    • Avatar aarondavid says:

      Well said @lwaReport

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The class analysis is wrong. Many wealthy people have the same tastes as the plebes and a lot plebes like some very subversive stuff. What is different between Michelangelo’s day and the present is that their were much fewer subgroups in society because the legal and economic structures did not support the diverse range of subgroups that exist in modernity. Since there were fewer subgroups than more people operated in the same cultural space regardless of class. There isn’t much of a shared cultural space because of the increased number of subgroups.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        Actually you are right the class angle doesn’t quite catch it, for the reasons you mentioned.

        I think it is fair to say that there is a vast disconnect between the world’s of high and popular art.

        High art speaks to a very narrow band of educated people. And by taking a critical view of popular culture it does seem- no it IS- off-putting to anyone who isn’t in on the joke.

        Put that together with the fact that the intellectual elite tend to be affluent and you can see why people like Sarah Palin can view Saul and me as the “elite” while David Koch is just a regular Murkin.

        It touches on previous conversations about why the is so much anxiety even as our overall level of wealth rises.

        It’s easy for non intellectuals, regardless of income, to believe they and their sacred totems are being excluded even mocked by a privileged elite.
        Because, frankly they are.

        When the avant garde opens fire on the unjust oppressive culture the ordinary working class becomes collateral damage.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          I would argue in a nation of 300 million people, there is a good chunk that likes some form of high art and it varies. Richard has me beat on classical music but I perhaps have him beat on performing arts and visual art for high art tastes.

          Koch might be a wrong example because the Koch brothers do give a lot of money to high art and culture. The issue with the Palin side dislking people like you and I is that we are well-educated but we also tend to be income wealthy instead of capital wealthy. Maybe we will have our own successful businesses but they will be small. In short, we are not job creators. The Koch Brothers are job creators. You can woo the Koch Brothers to build a faculty or office park in your town. You can’t woo an architect or a lawyer in the same way.

          There is also the fact that I might not be wealthy. Maybe I will be a victim of the recession, maybe not. Does my tastes just come off as “You think you are so much better than us but you are really just as bad off economically” then? Is there a question of “Why can’t you like Jurassic World and UFC like the rest of us?”Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “High art” is like expensive wine. For the properly-educated palate, it can be very rewarding. But getting that education takes a while, requires as much teaching as discovery, and it also needs active participation–you aren’t going to learn to appreciate art unless art appreciation is something you actually want to do. And if all you want to do is drink Two Buck Chuck, then you aren’t going to understand why people who enjoy a two-hundred-dollar bottle of wine actually *do* enjoy it more than 2BC.

          And the thing is, this isn’t a moral judgement about either side. The guy snarking about how “illiterate peasants aren’t mentally capable of understanding why that red streak on a white canvas is so important” is making exactly the same mistake as the guy who says “we did a blind taste test and nine out of ten random people thought Two Buck Chuck tasted better than Two Hundred Dollar Charlois XIV, that means wine is bullshit!”Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

          “I think it is fair to say that there is a vast disconnect between the world’s of high and popular art.”

          For what it is worth, most classical music people–both consumers and musicians–happily straddle the worlds of classical and popular music. The stereotype of the classical music snob who wouldn’t be caught dead listening to lowbrow music is outdated, if it was ever true.

          FWIW, my office listening tends to alternate between classical (often Baroque, to be more specific) and bluegrass. Right now I have on a Valerie June album, which is hard to classify. Put a gun to my head and demand a one-word classification and I would probably go with “blues” but I wouldn’t be happy about it, even apart from the gun to my head.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            But Bluegrass is an interesting choice because it is a form of folk music and not exactly the most popular of genres out there. It is listened to by downhome Kentuckians but also by professional class types searching for the authentic. A more interesting choice could have been if you alternated between Classical and Indie Rock, Top 40, Classic Rock, Hip-Hop, Nashville Country, etc.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          “High art speaks to a very narrow band of educated people”
          lol. good art speaks to people. It’s not like people suddenly stopped going to see art museums, or something.

          Every free day at the art museum turns into a zoo of little kids and parents.Report

  7. Avatar aarondavid says:

    I am going to sign on with what @lwa is saying also. But I want add that what Alan Scott is saying is very important. Most people outside the art world see Modern Art as a joke being played at the viewers expense. As Alan rightly points out, most viewers are seeing the end point of a conversation that has been going on for a long period of time and unless you actually care about the conversation, either through study or from practicing art, it loses all relevance to modern life. Individual works might be critiques of our world, but again without a grounding in the conversation one has no way of truly discerning what the critique is.

    Mass media products such as comic books or erotica are not really meant to be works of art, though they sometimes become labeled that by art community. Sucide girls don’t have a “point” beyond being erotica in a certain vein, punk and goth girls. Comic books are simply stories with pictures. When people in those fields see the work they have produced, often for a pittance, taken by “artists” who then either make fun of the original work, or do well financially, this creates a backlash in the original community.

    While I enjoy parts of Modern Art, Soviet Avant Garde in particular, for the most part I don’t really care about the conversation, even thought I have a decent grounding in much of it. And I think that this what turns most people off from art in general.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I also like the Constructivism about modern art.

      What I was trying to say though is that I am much less of an expert on art that Alan Scott’s comments came to mind. I never took Art History 101. What I’ve learned about art is going to museums, reading some books and articles here and there, and then just random tid bits. If you gave me an art history exam now, I would probably fail.

      But I am just generally attracted to more modern stuff. If you told me I could go see a Pre-Raphelite show or a Serra show. I would see the Serra.

      There are lots of smart and educated people I know who would make the other choice. There are lots of smart and educated people whose aesthetic sense seems to stop at the pre-Raphaelites. Modern and Contemporary Art gets rejected for not being “pretty”. To me the big problem with the pre-Raphaelites is that they are so pretty they are false. I have no desire for ren faire and false romanticism of misremembered history.Report

      • Avatar aarondavid says:

        Well, @saul-degraw all history is misremembered. Period. And while I have no interest in Ren-faires either, there is just as much false romanticism regarding the labor movement and socialism. Or the aims of the confederacy for that matter.

        Whether or not you were formally trained in art appreciation, you enjoy the conversation. But in much the same way that you don’t care for sports and the conversations they engender, most others don’t care about this conversation. Tattoo’s and comic books are now the art of the masses. They are the conversation that the proles are having.

        In 1998, The Art of the Motorcyle was showing at the Guggenheim. I believe it is still the highest grossing show in its history. To quote one reviewer:”And in a society where the political climate discourages public funding of ‘elitist’ cultural institutions, museums are thinking more about box office. So now they’re selling tickets to bike lovers. Isn’t ‘diversity’ supposed to be a good thing in America?”Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          I think it is a big difference. There is a lot to criticize about the Labor movement including how Samuel Gompers vilified unskilled labor and refused to allow minorities to join the AFL because he did not want to alienate white middle-class sympathizers but there was a lot of long and hard fighting for a better world for the workers and this deserves credit and praise. Then again, my politics would dictate this view, wouldn’t they?

          The false romanticism for the Middle Ages and Renaissance seems to forget the poverty of the peasants, the zeal of the religious wars including persecutions that led to nasty deaths via torture, and that most of it was pretty disease ridden. There is just something too clean in the pre-Raphaelites like Tolkien’s shire. Perhaps you would say the same of romanticizing the Labor movement.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Memento Mori is a fine tradition. Torchwood’s references to the Black Plague and the spectre of death weren’t romanticized in the slightest (go historians!)Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          FWIW I really like Industrial design and don’t have a problem with the fact that MOMA has an Ipod on display.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        “If you told me I could go see a Pre-Raphelite show or a Serra show. I would see the Serra.”

        How about if the choice were between Serra and actual Raphael?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Also Lee and Aaron get it right. Once you get into this level of art purchasing and collecting, there is also an investment and resale angle.

      Art World economics are odd and hard to talk about. There are a lot of people in the professional upper-middle class who will spend a few thousand or maybe even 5 figures on a piece of art but it is questionable how much this art will appreciate in value. I went to an Open Studios weekend a few months ago. The old Navy Pier in SF was turned into artist studios. The artists there exist with varying degrees of marketing skill. A few lucky ones made their living through art but most did not. Most of the works being sold were still given asking prices of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. You need to be pretty well off to spend 4000 dollars on a piece of art.

      Most of this art will probably not increase in value.

      But once you get to art going for 5 or 6 figures or more, there is an investment angle. You either want to donate it to a museum for the “Such and Such Collection of Art” or you want to resell it later for a profit.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        This was for @richard-hershbergerReport

      • Avatar Kim says:

        once the artist dies, you have an investment angle.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          A little bit but most collectable artists were collectable when alive as well. The Van Gogh died broke and penniless thing is more mythical than real. There were a lot of artists and collectors who knew what Van Gogh was doing when alive and found it worthwhile. You need people defending you and praising you in the press when alive.Report

    • Avatar veronica d says:

      Mass media products such as comic books or erotica are not really meant to be works of art, though they sometimes become labeled that by art community. Sucide girls don’t have a “point” beyond being erotica in a certain vein, punk and goth girls. Comic books are simply stories with pictures. When people in those fields see the work they have produced, often for a pittance, taken by “artists” who then either make fun of the original work, or do well financially, this creates a backlash in the original community.

      I really, really, really, really don’t want to get into a dumb, reductive argument over the meaning of the word “art,” cuz let’s not do that. However, this seems wrong to me.

      I’ve produced erotica, and yes I intended it to be both HAWT AS FUCK and to be art. And “simple stories with pictures” cannot be “art”? That seems wrong to me. A “simple story” can be quite graceful and artistic, and a character motivated by sex can be deeply compelling, and why is a plot revolving around (for example) commerce or property or a family squabble somehow eligible for the label “art,” but one revolving around sex somehow not? Lust is a fine motivator and sex can be conflict and drama can be HAWT, and if you do not think so, then you’re missing out.

      And you can “read” the “text” of suicide girls on many levels, and I would expect many people on that site are quite aware of the fact. Whether they want what they do called “art” is their decision. I know plenty who consider burlesque art, and suicide girls seems to come from that same cultural zeitgeist.

      Anyway, pretentious “art” debates are pretentious. Blah blah blah.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Damn but I’m tempted to post something Doumei drew about pedophilia.
        He may be a troll, but the man does damn fine art.Report

      • Avatar aarondavid says:

        I pretty much agree with everything you say here, but want to clarify my position. Yes, those things can be and indeed are art. But they are not ART. In other words, they weren’t created to be put on a pedestal. Now, a lot of that pedestal placing is not done by the artists themselves, rather it is done by the art scene. Nevertheless, it is done. And at some point we may turn around and find that somethings that were considered fine art are now kitsch, and pop art becomes fine art.

        This is why I feel art is completely subjective. And yes art debates are quite pretentious.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Some things deserve to go on a pedestal for vision or technique. I find they come from most parts of life (though don’t ask me to tell you about fabric arts, I don’t consider myself a fashion genius).Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      “Mass media products such as comic books or erotica are not really meant to be works of art, though they sometimes become labeled that by art community.”

      Fuck you. Seriously. From the leastest little artifact in the smallest game, to the grandest work of forgery in the world, it’s all intended to be art.

      You may not like it, you may think it’s pants with a crap taken in them.

      But, damn it all, I know artists. Works in the museum count just as much as Hatoful Boyfriend. Except that more people will play Hatoful Boyfriend (and trust you me, it took longer to finish).

      You’d never dream of saying Danny Elfman ain’t a fucking musician, would you? The sound effect guys are musicians too, dammit. The most talented do substantially harder work than the Beatles. (Who, after all, said they were merely adequate musicians. A good description, people like adequate music).

      I am quite frankly horrified by the snobbery that might go and say Cinema isn’t art — because it’s got too wide distribution.

      Is architecture no longer art, because too many people experience it?

      MOMA has an exhibit of VIDEO GAMES. Who are you to say you know better than they do?Report

  8. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Honest question: What does the person who pays $100,000 for the Richard Prince piece get that the person who spends $90 for the Suicide Girls version doesn’t? In particular, how does this relate to finding either or both of them aesthetically pleasing?Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      What does the person who pays $1,000,000 for a Gothenburg bible get that he or she wouldn’t get from reading it online for free?

      For that matter, what does one person get from reading King Lear that one wouldn’t get from reading Jane Smiley’s 1,000 Acres?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        When did Johannes become Swedish?!

        Anyway, I sort of get what Richard is saying, if it’s an exact replication with no real historical value (unlike, say, Johannes’ Bible). Besides, stealing photos from Instagram and adding some text just means he’s a likely a porn spammer.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          Oh, I get what Richard is saying too.

          It’s just that I think that a lot of these conversations occur in what I might refer to as the spaces in between our own personal tastes. We tend to find things like the Prince works jarring because we are largely ignorant that most art steals both amorally and unapologetically from other artists, from other mediums, from other thinkers, and — especially the visual arts — from subject matter that the artist did nothing to create, so much as saw it from a very slightly different point of view than we did.

          I think in general this goes against the myth we enjoy having about art and artists; that True Art is this collection of “Eureka!” moments where people are touched by God and make something new and beautiful out of a creative vacuum. But most art isn’t very far away from Prince or Lichtenstein in terms of theft, if there’s any distance there at all. It’s just that from our layperson’s POV we see it so very clearly with Prince and Lichtenstein in a way we don’t with others, and — as I said — it’s jarring.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            The anxiety of influence, sure. I suppose one aspect of my taste is that I simply hate the vast majority of art that’s trying to make a point.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Watch Private Parts (the one from Hong Kong). That’s got a fascinating point to make.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              I suppose one aspect of my taste is that I simply hate the vast majority of art that’s trying to make a point.

              I share that same taste. A big part of it is that it often feels like they are trying to drop an anvil on your head about the point they are making. They sound nagging when you already agree about the point, and insulting to your reasoning faculties when you don’t*.

              *This latter part is because when you don’t already believe the point they are making, it sounds like a bare assertion with little argument behind it.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              @chris @murali

              How do you determine which art is trying to make a point or not? In my mind almost everything is trying to make a point even if that point is “This stuff should be entertaining or pretty. Stop with this meaning shit.”

              Also, I don’t necessarily think this is completely true. I find that a lot of people can appreciate serious art or out there stuff in one medium while disliking it in the rest. So someone can like really non-mainstream music while only liking movies where things go boom. Or a person can like artsy movies and have more mainstream tastes in music. And so on.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Meaning and denotation, and having a point, are different things. Usually having a point is apparent, but perhaps a better way of putting it is that the art is difficult or impossible to appreciate without getting the point.

                I can’t imagine anyone appreciates the instagram photos with comments as pieces of art without getting what he’s saying about appropriation or whatever. (The women may be beautiful, the photography skilled, but the piece is more than that, right?)Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                I actually took art history and aced it. It was a fun class.
                My favourite painter is William Turner, especially his middle period. Those paintings work at a sub-linguistic level: They evoke awe. For just a moment, your heart pounds, your spirit soars. You don’t have to think too much about it. And if you try to pay too much attention to exactly what he has done on the canvas, the effect goes away. But in principle, he uses particular artistic effects and arrangements to evoke just that response based on a first impression of his painting. (Turner was a proto-impressionist)

                Incidentally I like classical rock because that genre contains a much higher ratio of songs that have the same effect on me. I dislike Rap, R&B and Jazz because those genres have smallest fraction of songs which have that effect on me.

                Incidentally, lots of novels in the fantasy genre are like that too, as are superhero movies. Hell, the lord of the rings soundtrack achieved that effect all on its own.* The movie itself was brilliant too.

                *It is genuinely worth forking out the money to watch a screening of the movie where the score is played live.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            In grad school, my professors unironically said that 90 percent of directing is borrowing/stealing/paying attention.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        “What does the person who pays $1,000,000 for a Gothenburg bible get that he or she wouldn’t get from reading it online for free?”

        I honestly don’t know. Or rather, there is a tactile difference between the two experiences. But if we change to a Gutenberg Bible versus a really good facsimile edition of the Gutenberg Bible, then I honestly don’t get it.

        To mix things up a bit, consider book collectors who distinguish between the first printing of the first edition, which has that typo on page 47, and the second printing where the typo is corrected. The second printing is, of course, worth a mere fraction of the first printing.

        This is the making of an otherwise pointless distinction for the sake of what? Declaring one more valuable than the other, with an owner of the first printing having bragging rights over someone who merely has the second printing? I have a hard time working this out as anything less shallow.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          @richard-hershberger Part of it has to do with sensibilities, obviously, but part of it also has to do with passions. I can’t imagine paying $100K for any piece of art, regardless of how much money I had — but then again I am not really a visual arts guy. On the other hand, I can imagine valuing, say, Gershwin’s hand written Rhapsody In Blue score in a way I would never value a score of the same I ordered from Barnes & Noble.

          If you had an original Buck Ewing baseball card (assuming they had cards back then), would you not value it far more than you would a picture of the same you had bookmarked on your internet browser?Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

            According to wikipedia they had something close enough that used to come from cigarette packs.Report

            • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

              “According to wikipedia they had something close enough that used to come from cigarette packs.”

              Go to Google Images and search on Old Judge baseball and you will find all you could possibly desire.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            “If you had an original Buck Ewing baseball card (assuming they had cards back then), would you not value it far more than you would a picture of the same you had bookmarked on your internet browser?”

            I lack the collecting gene. I understand wanting to own nice stuff, but not the urge to collect for the sake of collecting. What would I do if a valuable baseball card turned up in my attic? Frankly, I would sell it to the highest bidder. I would use part of the proceeds to buy something nice: something that I could use in a more interesting way than having it sit in a dim space under UV resistant glass.Report

        • Avatar aarondavid says:

          With books (as this is and was my world) it comes down to how close on is to the authors actual work. From an era when the author might not have complete control of what gets printed (think church or state censorship) those little bits of errors speak to how close the work is to what the author was really trying to say. And as @tod-kelly points out with Gershwin, you can actually start to see the thought process. This does get distorted over time with people collecting just to collect (bragging rights as you say.) But as many people who have actually stood in from of, say, a Monet, prints just don’t do justice.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            This is a different matter. While I lack the collecting gene, I totally have the information-gathering gene. If that Gershwin autograph score has information on it absent from the modern printed edition, then the two are objectively different.

            Hence my example of the first printing with the type on page 47. Apart from typographical outliers such as e. e. cummings, the only information to be gleaned from that first printing typo is that the copy editor missed it, but someone later caught it and went back and fixed it. We might be able to infer some marginal information about the quality of the publication and the level of care implied by the willingness to fix the typo. But this is stretching things for added value.Report

            • Avatar aarondavid says:

              Well, @richard-hershberger value is in the eye of the beholder. A lot of what you are saying is true but much of it starts with proving that something is original. With modern publishing techniques, there is no difference in quality. In fact the only difference in on the colophon page, the number line. But with the original pressings, think Gutenberg’s press not his bible, where a comma is can change entire meanings of sentences. Or if a passage has been excised from a text, an early edition with that passage can make all of the difference. Also, as the physical tools to print something break down, legibility degrades. The metallurgy of original moving type was very poor compared to today. So that first pressing is the clearest, most crisp copy from that period. Think how music degrades as one copies a copy with different compression rates.

              As I said, it doesn’t really matter at this point (with the exception of art books and limited pressings) but collectors gonna collect. And I will make money off of them.Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

                Sure, I get it when the different editions have objectively different content changing the meaning. Though frankly, a good modern critical edition with the variant readings would be a much better way to assimilate these differences.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Good forgeries are artwork too.Report

    • Avatar aarondavid says:

      The cheap answer @richard-hershberger is he can sell it in a few years for a Mil.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      An investment. A lot of art collecting is more about money than actual love of art.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        Of course. The question is how much falls into which category. Because there is some point where if enough people are buying to invest rather than to enjoy, we got ourselves a classic bubble. Are we there? Heck if I know.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      The variant question for you would be if someone asked “What is the difference between listening to Leonard Bernstein or Herbert von Karajan conduct The New York Philharmonic play Bach over listening to the Des Moines Junior High Orchestra play Bach?”

      I am not into Price myself but for people who are they get to have something to put on their wall and say “I own an authentic Richard Prince” art work. The person who purchases the 90 dollar Suicide Girl variant gets to imagine that they are sticking it to those rich New York City art collectors. What the dissenters don’t understand is that they inadvertantly fed the troll. The existence of prints and posters or coffeetable books does not lower the value of art but raises it because the reproductions show that a lot of people want to own art by X but can’t afford it or the supply is too limited so they settle for the next best thing.

      I will settle for a Wayne Thieubaud artbook for now but would love to own a real work by him one day. That day will probably never happen.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The variant question for you would be if someone asked “What is the difference between listening to Leonard Bernstein or Herbert von Karajan conduct The New York Philharmonic play Bach over listening to the Des Moines Junior High Orchestra play Bach?”

        If that’s a variant of Richard’s question, I completely misunderstood Richard’s question.

        I think a better variant would be, “Why listen to The New York Philharmonic play Bach over going to the symphony hall and sitting through someone playing a recording of The New York Philharmonic playing Bach?”Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “What is the difference between listening to Leonard Bernstein or Herbert von Karajan conduct The New York Philharmonic play Bach over listening to the Des Moines Junior High Orchestra play Bach?”

        There are obvious differences in ability and execution, but it’s not as though either group is playing an original composition. If they aren’t paying licensing fees to Bach’s successors, it’s because the work was created before the modern copyright regime was in place; not because they don’t owe the original composer anything.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          I was going for ability and execution.Report

          • Avatar j r says:

            What exactly does Richard Prince’s ability and execution bring to a blow up print of a screen capture of content that was done by someone else in the first place?Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            So what is the difference in the ability and execution of the Price and the Suicide Girls’ respective products? I am not (merely) being snarky here. Perhaps there is some difference I don’t understand.

            How does this compare with one of those Warhols that came out of The Factory but which The Andy Warhol Foundation has cast into the void, versus one that the foundation has signed off on?

            For that matter, how about a purported Van Gogh (or whomever) that experts disagree about, whether it is real or a very good forgery?Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              Once a foundation has cast something to the void, the value decreases immediately and perhaps to zero.

              There was a case about a Dan Flavin piece. A collector purchased a piece that he believed to be an authentic Dan Flavin. Dan Flavin’s foundation and the leading scholar ruled that it wasn’t a Dan Flavin and cast it out. The collector sued. The judge ruled in the collector’s favor but this is a moot victory. The scholar and the foundation still rule in the art market and no holding of a court can change that.

              I read this case in Art Law but can’t remember the name and google fu is failing.Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

                I used Warhol because there have been similar cases. The NY Review of Books has published on the topic. Going from memory, there doesn’t seem even to be any real dispute but that the piece(s) in question came out of The Factory.

                Hence my skepticism that ability and execution are all that there is to the purchase.Report

  9. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    One of the things that’s interesting to note here, both in the questions surrounding the OP and in the threads that follow, is the degree to which we conflate/associate/rationalize/something? our personal aesthetic preferences with morality.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      No one has ever associated beauty and morality!

      Seriously, though, is that what Price’s critics, including Richard (and me when I agree with him), are doing? Or are they asking a.) whether this is really art (a question of judgment, to be sure, but not an entirely aesthetic one, which is why it’s possible to have conceptual art in the first place), b.) regardless of its aesthetic value, whether it violates certain ethical values related to “intellectual property,” for lack of a better phrase, and c.) why Price’s association with them makes them so valuable (since it would be quite easy to replicate them; in fact, I think I’ll do so and submit them as an art exhibit)? These are questions that are not simply reducible to people conflating ethics and aesthetics. Again, if they were, someone like Price wouldn’t even be possible.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        It is for these reasons that it always better to pull these issues apart and try to deal with them separately rather than jumbling them altogether and tying them up with a bow of “it seems that…”

        To me, it is a big fat waste of time to have a discussion about whether what Richard Price is doing is art. Duchamp was absolutely right when he said that art is whatever the artist says it is. The much more interesting question is whether Price’s art is any good.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Sure, I agree.

          (Also, Duchamp is wrong: art is whatever the consumer says it is.)Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

          ” Duchamp was absolutely right when he said that art is whatever the artist says it is.”

          This, of course, merely pushes the question back one tier, to who is an artist, and therefore gets to declare something “art”?

          Or we can declare everyone to be an artist. If so, then in my capacity as an artist, I hereby declare everything to be art. Thank you for your time. I accept Paypal.

          Yes, I am being snarky, but this isn’t really any different from sitting and doing nothing for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, declaring whatever incidental sounds that might occur to be “music.” Yet people swoon over this. This in turn leads to such silliness as the performance of As Slow as Possible that began in 2001 and is scheduled to end in 2640.

          This isn’t to say that there aren’t interesting questions about the limits of art. But it is very easy to overshoot.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Sound effects are hard, yo. I appreciate the effort folks go to in order to make good ones.

            And that fucking door noise is deliberately designed to get on artists’ nerves. They’re using it fucking deliberately, and fuck ’em. (Listen to your TV, and you’ll figure out who I’m talking about).Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @chris I think it’s more than that, though. And I think this is actually pretty common. There is an art form someone doesn’t care for, and for whatever reasons it isn’t enough to not like it, or even to call it bad art. Rather, there’s a need to make the art itself a moral failing. Thus is hip hop not just something you didn’t grow up with and haven’t heard much of, but rather a Mark of Immorality; jazz isn’t a thing you simply don’t know much about, but a bunch of noise that people pretend to fraudulently achieve intellectual cred; classical music is a thing you use to go see live music with 1%-ers, etc.

        Go back to the OP. It isn’t enough that an artist produces something we don’t care for. We have to declare them as “not creating something that can stand on its merits,” or “trying to put one over on us,” or being a “thief.”Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I was with you until your final paragraph, at which point the answer could be, “Yeah, the artist kinda is trying to put one over on us.” And perhaps he or she is being a thief (in this case, it seems unabashedly so). And perhaps his or her work does only make sense in an historical moment, and therefore wouldn’t “stand on its own.” These are actually valid questions about art, and not simply questions that indicate a conflation of taste and morality.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          If theories that assume some kind of moral realism are true, then it allows for some art to embiggen us (as a society) and, if you’re willing to swallow that particular camel, the gnat of “therefore it is possible for some art to make us (as a society) worse off”.

          If you’re willing to go that far, I don’t see why “immoral” is an inappropriate term for the art we’re talking about in the gnat.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

            I don’t think it is possible for art to make a society worse off.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              What about Nazi propaganda?Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                I would say we would need to ask and determine how many people were truly and sincerely influenced by Nazi Propaganda or predisposed to the ideology anyway for other reasons.

                I’m skeptical on the powers of propaganda personally.

                Politics is relative. Look at @aarondavid’s comments on romanticizing the Labor movement. My economics makes me sympathetic to the Labor movement in ways that Aaron’s do not.

                Interestingly, the Nazis held very strong opinions on the power and importance of art. They hated modern art. They preferred an art that was more traditional, more conservative, more representational. The Nazis held a special exhibit on “Degenerate Art” that was more popular than the Nazi Art exhibit across the Street:


                What is interesting to me is how many otherwise progressive and liberal people seem to still hold the view that abstract art is disgusting for not being pretty enough.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’m skeptical on the powers of propaganda personally.

                What makes you skeptical?Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                No idea how solid it is (I didn’t read the study, just the article, so the study could be bad, or the summary by the reporter), but here’s a recent item specifically about Nazi propaganda, and how effective it was (possibly, IS):


              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                I read that as being about educational policy and school lessons (not posters) and children. I want to know about the guy who turned 20 when the Nazis came to power. The Communists also had their propaganda posters and art.

                What pushes one 20 year old to the Nazis and another 20 year old the Communists?

                Say both men were unemployed and had an average level of education for the time period. Both liked sports over art.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I don’t think anyone’s claiming that by themselves Nazi posters will make you a Nazi.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Fair enough. But posters (and film, and other arts) can certainly be deployed in service of propaganda; and if propaganda doesn’t work, a lot of people and governments throughout history have wasted a lot of time making so much of it.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Truth. But the worst art in the world has been employed to kill millions, and we don’t spare it a second thought.
                That’s a lot more straightforward to understand than propaganda makes the world a worse place.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Privatize propaganda!Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                I will see if I can articulate. I am obviously a bad example as a Jewish person because there was nothing the Nazis could sell me.

                People in 1920s and 1930s Germany were being bombarded with Communist propaganda and Nazi propaganda. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that you could come up with two people who were largely identical in terms of characteristics and background and have one go far to the left and one go far to the right. There has to be something the pushes a person one way or another besides the propaganda.

                To a lesser extent, this is partially why I get annoyed about all the stuff on social media which is stuff like “So and So has a Perfect Response to X about Y” or “This one comic/video/whatever explains privilege, racism, why climate change is wrong, why Iraq II was justified, whatever.” All it does is preaching to a choir. I have never met anyone who says that they were influenced by this stuff and changed a viewpoint.

                This all reads as “Someone I like is saying something that I agree with and responding to someone I dislike it”.

                Basically I think propaganda works the same way. A person was already predisposed to the message. Now Glyph points out that children can be different but I was thinking more in terms of teenagers and adults.

                So Propaganda can be a push and shove but it does not a changer of minds in my view.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I have never met anyone who says that they were influenced by this stuff and changed a viewpoint.

                How would you know? Do you ask everyone? Do you ask anyone?

                What do you think of dehumanizing representations of a country’s enemies? Say, the way the Japanese were represented in American propaganda during WWII, or the way Germans were represented in French and British propaganda in WWII? Do you think they have an influence on how soldiers see their enemies?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              But art can make a society better off?Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                I think it can. Art makes society better off by making the world a more interesting and beautiful place to live at least and making things aesthetically pleasing. Though we disagree about what is and what is not aesthetically pleasing.

                Art also allows us to express all our emotions and thoughts in a relatively safe way. We can use art as therapy to purge our darker emotions and fantasies. Sometimes to sadly realize them.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But art can’t use those same powers to make things discordant or ugly? It can’t create darker emotions or fantasies in people who, otherwise, wouldn’t have had them?

                Art has all of these powers… but I don’t understand how it can use them only for good.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Of course it is. The worst piece of artwork ever led directly to millions of lives lost.
              But that’s not why it’s the worst piece of artwork ever…Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          I am pretty familiar with having my aesthetic choices (mainly in books and film) getting labeled as “No one really likes that stuff. You only pretend to like so you seem intelligent. Just grab a big tub of popcorn like this rest of us and sit down with Terminator. Things go boom.”

          FWIW I just don’t feel very authentic listening to hip-hop. I am a bookish kid from the burbs. Listening to hip-hop just seems to be trying to be something I am not. Listening to Indie Rock feels less discordant psychologically. I feel like hip-hop is a no-win thing for me. I am either appropriating or square for liking or not liking it.

          But you are basically getting what I am trying to achieve with this essay. Why do we have to blast what we merely don’t like?Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Because stuff I don’t like makes my head hurt?
            It’s okay to dislike bad art, even if it’s still art.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            “Why do we have to blast what we merely don’t like?”

            Really? REALLY??? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!!!Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                Saul has a well documented tendency of blasting things he doesn’t like. To his credit, he seems to have gotten better about this, but it still persists in much of his writing so to see him bemoaning that tendency in others is… Frustrating.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                He also does this weird thing where if someone says they don’t like it, he assumes they’re making a moral judgment.

                Part of what I don’t like about interpreting criticism of any art as the conflation of aesthetic preference with morality is that it pretty much rules out any criticism. We’re just left saying, “Oh, art.”Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                I agree. And there is a further problem, with conflating all of these different issues. It leads to treating identity as a bundle. I am A, therefore, I like X and Y. And that leads to a whole lot of confusion when someone who does treat identity like a bundle has to interact with someone who does not.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                @kazzy @chris

                Thanks for the pile on.

                A friend of mine once described me as being “an art and culture snob but not a people snob.” OT’s Dave agreed with this assessment.

                You guys seems hung up on the art and culture snobbery stuff.Report

              • Avatar Notme says:

                Not a people snob? Does that largesse extend to suburban frat boy lacrosse player types?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I didn’t call you a snob. I didn’t even imply you were one. I was saying something quite different.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                The issue isn’t whether or not you are a snob. The issue is your inability to appropriately receive or levy criticism of just about any form.

                Case in point: This exchange.Report

          • Avatar j r says:

            “No one really likes that stuff. You only pretend to like so you seem intelligent. Just grab a big tub of popcorn like this rest of us and sit down with Terminator. Things go boom.”

            I am going to go out on a limb, Saul, and say that no one has ever actually said that to you.

            And no, @kazzy, you are not taking crazy pills.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              I’m not Saul but in recent memory I got told something similar when I said I preferred to read rather than watch reality tv shows rather than the Bachelorette. The person seemed genuinely perplexed that doing something that requires you to think would be relaxing after a long day at work.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                Someone was legitimately perplexed that you’re not into The Bachelorette?

                For any number of reasons, I find that hard to believe. Most people with whom I talk who watch reality TV tend to be quite the opposite; that is, they caveat their own interest in these shows with an admission that it is a guilty pleasure.

                Superhero movies are quite popular right now. Personally, I don’t dig them so much. I have, however, never felt that the popularity of these movies, or that the geek ecosystem that exists around these movies, is any way exerting pressure on me to join in with the crowd or passing judgment on me for not.

                There is a bit of projecting going on here.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                And even confusion does not amount to demanding conformity.Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott says:

          Tod Kelly:
          Rather, there’s a need to make the art itself a moral failing. Thus is hip hop not just something you didn’t grow up with and haven’t heard much of, but rather a Mark of Immorality; jazz isn’t a thing you simply don’t know much about, but a bunch of noise that people pretend to fraudulently achieve intellectual cred; classical music is a thing you use to go see live music with 1%-ers, etc.

          Or that someone who enjoys superhero comic books is a “cultural ten year old”.

          I guess the reason I’m often so frustrated by Saul’s critiques of geek culture is that they seem to be attacking straw-men rather than engaging with the actual culture that I and other geeks here at OT enjoy. He talks about geeks being defensive and resentful that their work isn’t considered art, but I reject the very idea that we live in that world anymore. Kavalier & Clay won the pulitzer in 2001. LotR swept the Oscars in 2004. Hell, a musical by the guys who make South Park won nine Tonies. Their may be places where geek culture isn’t recognized yet, but those places aren’t the rarified hights–they’re the forgotten crannies. A film critic who doesn’t engage with genre movies is like that grumpy junior college business professor who still insists you put an objective and “references available” on your resume.

          I say “seem”, though, because I’m sure Saul actually has dealt with those strawman-like declarations and defensiveness–after all, isn’t that basically what GamerGate grew out of?Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            @alan-scott I actually agree with you here, or at least up to a point.

            It’s interesting that you choose Kavalier & Clay as an example, because I think that, at least in the literary world, Chabon might be person most responsible for getting literary critics to look at content rather than genre first.

            In Saul’s defense, though, I will say that I think he’s generally pretty good at saying “I don’t see what other people get out of comic books/television/sports/etc” — which me shows up as different than “people who like those things are ignoramuses.” Or to put it another way, I choose to read the way Saul puts those observations about himself as noting shortcomings of his own other than the shortcomings of others.

            It’s a subtle difference, I grant you, but it changes the way I react to it.Report

            • Avatar Alan Scott says:

              I, by contrast, don’t think he’s done such a great job.

              But then again, I’m pretty sure I’ve not done a very good job of articulating my own views either, so I can hardly complain. Reading over my quote in the OP my “MFA” reference kinda seems like a dig against Saul, instead of the shorthand for “educated in high culture to a degree that surpasses me and most of the other OT readers” that it was intended to be.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Re: your penultimate sentence:

              FWIW, (and I’ll come clean, it won’t be worth very much) I fall in with Alan on this issue. I mean, just quoting from the OP (re)confirms Alan’s main point here:

              Saul quotes Alan: “… it’s just because I’m not, and was never intended to be a part of the conversation they’re having.”

              To which Saul responds: “I find this quote interesting because of what it reveals how various cultural groups … view each other with suspicion, incomprehension, and varying degrees of hostility.”

              But nothing Alan said expresses, implies, or remotely hints that Alan is is any of those things. All Alan said was that he (Alan) is not a part of that conversation and that he is not intended to be part of it. Just a statement of fact, seems to me. For some reason, tho, Saul interprets that as an expression of suspiciously incomprehensible hostility.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            I concede that “cultural ten-year old” was a sneer and a swipe and probably an unfair one. I get it because I see so much of geek culture does talk about “never growing up” and “squee” and “inner child stuff”. Isn’t there anyone in geek culture who just wants to be an adult?

            I once had a co-worker who was discussing an art house movie from the mid-20th century. Said co-worker mentioned just not wanting meaning or philosophy from movies, co-worker just wanted to be entertained.

            So I have a feeling that I am looking for different things than geek culture in movies. I don’t understand why badass and kickass are the ultimate compliments a movie can get. I don’t understand why every comic book movie needs to one up each other in terms of CGI. I’ve seen a bunch of comic book movies. They can be entertaining. I generally like Marvel ones more. I used to be a comics geek as a kid. They still exist in parent’s attic.

            The previews for all these movies are getting so portentous though especially the DC ones. I also am amazed at how it is a kind of religion to go see the comic book movies even if it is only to express rage and disappointment for getting it wrong. The constant reboots are also troubling to me. Are we just going to be rebooting until the end of time? Why is a franchise so good? Why can’t something just exist on its own and that is that? I get some reboots more than others. Ghostbusters I get. Rebooting Spider-man a few years after the Toby Maguire one and then again, not so much.

            A lot of people really like Calvin and Hobbes. I read the comic as a kid and thought it was good but the level of nostalgia that exists for this comic perplexes me. Why do fans feel the need to write ultra-sentimental stuff about Calvin talking to Hobbes on his death bed as an old man and then it spreads around the net? Or comics like this?


            I don’t even know what pants are overrated is supposed to mean or why it is supposed to be witty.

            This is what I mean by trying to sell each other lifestyles, products, and cultures we don’t want or need. I don’t want or need my culture consumption to be constant continuations of my childhood. I liked the stuff when I was a kid and will dip in now and again but it doesn’t have to be all the time. I don’t consider it a form of liberation to be wearing a Star Wars or Spider-man t-shirt shorts, and sneakers as my constant uniform at 34. I don’t need to have my inner 10-year old say squee.

            What I do want and need (and there is probably a whole lot of armchair psychology that goes on here) is to be seen as urban, urbane, sophisticated, literary, and adult. I like being an adult. There are parts of my life where I am still wondering how adult I am considering my frustrations with the near glacial and possibly melting state of my career and perhaps I over compensate in other ways. Maybe I am too enthrall of other parts of the culture industry.

            So perhaps I am just another side of the same coin to geek culture and you always react against about what reminds you too much of yourself. Or parts of yourself that you dislike.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I will take a stab at the questions:

        a. This is probably an unanswerable question. I agree that Prince takes appropriation to its natural limit but there are still plenty of people who reject artworks by people like Richter and Serra as not art and Richter does not appropriate. Neither does Richard Serra.

        b. I will gladly research this for anyone willing to pay me. From the articles I’ve read, the answer seems to be that this is a legal gray area and leaning towards no.

        3. The answer here might just be very unsatisfying and it is all about luck. Richard Prince was in the right place and the right time and some very important (and wealthy) people thought that Prince was doing interesting things as a young artist and his luck has continued via connections and branding. The reproduction backfires in the same way that feeding a troll backfires.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I agree that Prince takes appropriation to its natural limit but there are still plenty of people who reject artworks by people like Richter and Serra as not art and Richter does not appropriate. Neither does Richard Serra

          Does this mean the question is unanswerable, or simply that appropriation is not a necessary condition for people to think that someone is not art?

          I will gladly research this for anyone willing to pay me. From the articles I’ve read, the answer seems to be that this is a legal gray area and leaning towards no.

          If someone has copyrighted their work, how is this possible? Or does copyright not apply to art (in which case, I’d like to show you the Pollock I just painted).Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

            It has more to do with the social media terms of service than anything else.

            Have you ever seen anyone do this?


          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            @chris “If someone has copyrighted their work, how is this possible? Or does copyright not apply to art (in which case, I’d like to show you the Pollock I just painted).”

            I think this is the issue. It does, and it doesn’t.

            I know from some issues we had on this site that made us research copyrighted images, for example, that adding comments to copyrighted works — similar to what Prince does, at least least in that larger context — makes that image something unique in terms of risking copyright infringements. It is one of the reasons, I gather, that you can basically make an internet meme out of any copyrighted material pretty safely.

            But even past that, this is an older question that Prince using Instagrams. To what degree did MC Hammer infringe on Rick James? From a casual listener’s perspective, you can say Hammer not only stole from James, his entire fortune (whatever that is) comes directly from the James’s work. But it was decided that he didn’t actually infringe on his copyright, because he added things.

            Simliar to a whole of of Led Zeppelin stuff that appears to have been pretty blatantly stolen; and yet not so much with George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, which it can be argued was less egregious than what Zeppelin did.

            I know less about visual art than any other kind, but even so it’s obvious that it’s an old and difficult issue. Is Prince’s Instagram work a bigger copyright infringement than, say, Warhol’s tomatoes soup painting? Was it a bigger invasion of privacy than Eisenstaedt’s VJ Day?

            It’s a fairly thorny issue, and as I’ve been saying elsewhere here much less black and white than we like to pretend. Art is always pilfering, and because of this we are always arguing about where to best draw the lines that allow the maximum ability to create new works with the maximum ability to profit off of them.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              At some point, Sting was making more than a grand a day off a Diddy song that used “Every Breath I Take.” Just sayin’.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                As you guys know, when it comes to music I’d argue the legal climate has set the lines too far, to the point where genuinely innovative densely-sample-based works like Paul’s Boutique and It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back simply could not be (legally) made today.

                If they tried to pay for the samples, it would bankrupt them, because the “going rates” have now been set so high; if they just went ahead and used the samples without permission, they risk being sued into oblivion.

                So you have creative people like Pogo, who simply operate largely outside the law and hope for the best.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:


                It boggles the mind that both 1) the heavy sampling era in music happened and lasted close to two decades, and 2) the “Blurred Lines” copyright lawsuit won a jury award.Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott says:

          Saul Degraw:
          This is probably an unanswerable question. I agree that Prince takes appropriation to its natural limit but there are still plenty of people who reject artworks by people like Richter and Serra as not art and Richter does not appropriate. Neither does Richard Serra

          Only for the most narrow definition of appropriate, though. I mean, tilted arc took a place that was designed by an architect, and overwrote that’s architect’s design. It took a place that was used by people and interfered with their use. That’s why it was so controversial, right?Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            On the other hand, the owners of Federal Plaza (aka The Feds) commissioned Serra to create Titled Arc for the space. It isn’t like this was a piece he just put up there in the dead of the night.

            Now whether they were being smart or not in doing so is another question.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    What makes Prince an artist? I look at certain works of art and they seem identical to what my 4-year-olds make. So why is one set worth money and the other not? Because, as the comment rescue points out, one js being exhalted and/or ridiculed (both of which can add value) by folks inside the game. It’s a circle jerk.

    During a Slam Dunk contest about 10 years ago, Josh Smith, then off the Hawks, put on an old fashioned jersey with the #21 on it and dunked the ball after spinning hlis arms around in a cIrcle. Was this impressive or no?

    If you know anything about the history of the dunk contest, you’d know how badass it was and agree with the lofty score it rceived. If you don’t know the history, it seemed rather mundane.

    Context matters. The current context makers decided Price mattered. That doesn’t make them right. It just means they’re in charge.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I remembered asking my kids’ second-grade teacher: ‘Why are all your students geniuses? Look at the first grade – blotches of green and black. The third grade – camouflage. But your grade, the second grade, Matisses, every one. You’ve made my child a Matisse. Let me study with you. Let me into the second grade. What is your secret?’ ‘I don’t have any secret. I just know when to take their drawings away from them.’Report

  11. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I have studied art but only independently. I have never taken an official art history course.

    You can do that?Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Just walk around a bloody city, if you want to learn Architecture.
      Pittsburgh’s got enough that it’ll keep you learning for months, if not longer.Report

  12. Avatar Jaybird says:

    To what extent did Prince violate copyright? (I assume that the pictures he used were not in the creative commons.)

    Say what you will about Duchamp, but the urinal was paid for.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Damien Hirst is another artist who makes me think that the death of civilization (or, at least, one hell of a dark age) must be right around the corner.

      It’s not art that makes you a better person, it’s art that you can use to talk about how you’re familiar with modern artists.

      To the extent that art like this coarsens the culture, it’s bad art and ought to be condemned.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I don’t understand why art necessarily has to make a person feel better as a person and I am not that fond of Hirst either.

        I don’t like the phrase “feel better as a person” because it seems to require that all art be morally uplifting in a way or positive/optimistic. Does Beckett make people feel better as people? Does Guernica? Do the darker paintings of Goya? What about the Death of Marat by David?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I didn’t say “feel better as a person”. I said “makes you a better person”.

          Hell, art may make you feel miserable but also make you a better person.

          Assuming some kind of moral realism, of course.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      As far as I can tell, what Richard Prince did exists in a weird gray area because of the terms of service of Instagram. That is what the articles all imply.Report

  13. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    For reference here’s an image from Prince’s Instagram/Suicide Girls series, apparently taken by the subject, “doedeere,” who has disavowed any copyright interest.

    Circles within circles or maybe zeroes within zeroes zeroing in on zero. Art in the age of constant reproduction and recycling, about itself as such, in other words about nothing or close to it, in other words about “us” (unless art isn’t about “us” – but that’s a difficult argument to examine).Report

    • Avatar veronica d says:

      My problem with Prince is simple, taking someone else’s creative expression without their consent is kinda shitty. Taking their image without their consent is — well, a tricky issue.

      Which, I’m not sure we can draw bright lines here. Obviously journalists can take pictures in public spaces, and we agree there is a public interest in free expression. Likewise if I snap a picture of a cop, or a man who abuses me on the subway, and show that picture publicly, hoping to get attention, that is fine.

      (I have done this to men who abuse me on the subway.)

      But I think most people see why revenge porn is awful. Likewise, many trans folks dislike when TERFy types trawl trans forums and gather up our pictures to show in anti-trans hate sites. It’s taking our images away from the space we posted them for the purpose of humiliation.

      And even if this is legal, is there a boundary?

      Many people think that Adria Richards stepped out of line in publishing the pictures of two average men at a tech convention. I happen to agree, although I am broadly supportive of Richards’ viewpoints. Publishing that picture was kinda shitty. She could have made her point using only words. Talk about the issue, don’t attack the people.

      If I catch you on a bad day, say when you’ve had too much to drink, and a get a “candid” shot of you, should I show it around? Just for kicks? Just cuz I hate men? (I don’t hate men.) Would that be okay?

      A couple years back someone went around a Magic the Gathering convention and took shots of dudes with their ass-cracks showing. They published them and people laughed. That was a crappy thing to do.

      I wish these men had more class, but public shaming kinda sucks. These men do not operate from malice.

      The women who post on Suicide Girls — they are people posting their work in a specific context, to a particular audience. Prince took it out of that context, and in fact raised the exposure level past what these women might have expected. The same goes for Instagram.

      Prince can argue that such an explosion of attention is possible in any online medium. But because something is possible does not mean you should force it to happen. It is one thing to say, “this might go viral,” and another to make it go viral when the person does not expect it.

      After all, someday each of us will die. That’s the price of living. I still shouldn’t kill you.

      Prince is a fuckhead. I’d like to spit in his face.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Many of the Suicide Girls seemed tickled pink that Richard Price used them as art. They are deciding to decline suing him. Richard Price does tend to lose copyright lawsuits frequently, so it’s not a hopeless fight.

        If I had to pick a difference between what Richard Price did and Adria Richards did is that Richard Price used images that were already published by the Suicide Girls. In a pre-internet era, the equivalent would be taking a Playboy spread and turning it into art. Adria Richards and the other examples you gave actively violated other people’s privacy.Report

        • Avatar veronica d says:

          @leeesq — But I’m saying it is a spectrum without bright lines. If your image was included in a “Cute local lawyers” photo spread, I imagine you might be quite pleased. If someone took that image and posted it to a anti-semitic hate site, you would be upset. (At least, I suspect you would. I would be very sympathetic if you were.)

          But hey! It was posted online! So it’s “fair game”, yes?

          Well no. It is not fair game. Just because it was posted in context X does not automatically mean it will be welcome to repost it into context Y.

          This is complicated, of course. We cannot draw bright lines. Certainly people will repost stuff for a variety of legitimate reasons. I would despair at legislating this stuff. But we can certainly say, “That shit was scummy.”

          Prince is scummy.

          The men who photograph me on the subway are not breaking the law. But they suck and I hate them. They are sleaze. If you knew a guy who did shit like that, I hope you would conclude he was human shit and find better friends.

          So it goes for Prince.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      My honest reaction to that is “She’s gorgeous” followed by “I love that hair color” followed by “Good lord, look at her eyes. Brilliant” lastly followed by “What’s that crap below the photo?”

      I’d buy the SG print of that photo, because I rather like the photo.

      Maybe I’m unique in my reaction to the piece, but if the primary focus of your work is…someone else’s work…you’ve stolen it. I mean, I literally find his portion of it a weird bolted-on piece that detracts from the actual photo.

      Then again, my case against him boils down to “you don’t incorporate someone else’s work into yours without permission.” If he was doing the visual equivalent of sampling, that SG photo would be part of a collage of his pieces and SG pieces and thus be only a fraction of the work. I’d be far more okay with that.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Maybe that photo is part of a “collage”, the collage being the collection of “his” pieces against the gallery wall, and the gallery and the art world and the controversy are all part of the backdrop or “medium” in which his “collage” exists.


        • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

          Glyph: Maybe that photo is part of a “collage”, the collage being the collection of “his” pieces against the gallery wall, and the gallery and the art world and the controversy are all part of the backdrop or “medium” in which his “collage” exists.

          Yes, among other things. One objective of or justification for Concept Art is to put in question or undermine presumptions about what the art object really is, or where its borders are, and whether the rectangle on the wall deserves to be privileged or whether in a sense it’s the same rectangle now as it might have been five hundred years ago, and whether to whatever extent it is that’s a good thing, and so on.

          Much of the discussion at a thread like this one consists of offering perspectives – including especially on the ridiculousness, emptiness, pointlessness, and corruption of the whole affair – that are already taken as a given by the “conceptual artist,” because, it’s thought and presumed, it’s all been said many, many times, in many different ways, in many times and places – which perception is what also gives the approach part of its aura of decadence. The notion that something occupying the position of “high art” should or could also be subservient to copyright law designed to protect potential trade in disposable photographs is among the notions that Prince implicitly addresses. He’s making relatively cheap and easy reproductions of “low art” in social media and selling it to the kind of people who can afford to spend thousands of dollars disposing of a piece of disposable art whose main subject is its own disposability, often taken as a reflection or critique of the vast emptiness or absurdity or for others the wrongness of the way of the world that made the conceptual statement – an argument in quasi-painterly hieroglyphics – possible and necessary.

          One presumes that most of Prince’s sales are to major collectors with budgets set aside for new work that have to be spent on “something.” The actual purchasing agents will be people who went to the same schools and read the same journals and attend the same openings as everyone else in the Art World (which only seems worse than, say, the Pro Sports World, because people have certain expectations about the former that they don’t mostly have about the latter). Prince and whatever other designated very-successful-artists, people capable of playing the game adequately amusingly, will make a great living, the purchasers and gallery workers and reviewers will make less great livings, and every once in a while, in work necessarily representing an infinitesimal part of the vast overproduction, something may emerge that in one way or another will be taken to transcend the general disposability.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

            (Should probably also add that, once you stop expecting art to be ART, and stop caring about the fact that Prince is so much more professionally successful than probably any of us are, the appearance of an Instagram image in a gallery setting is a “natural”: The high art system for recording the movement of history has now registered the Instagram aesthetic, this peculiar virtual location and apparatus for aesthetic-representational attention and self-reflection typical of the Selfie Era or whatever this decade ends up being called assuming someone someday feels a need to give it a name).Report

          • Avatar j r says:

            He’s making relatively cheap and easy reproductions of “low art” in social media and selling it to the kind of people who can afford to spend thousands of dollars disposing of a piece of disposable art whose main subject is its own disposability…

            This strikes me very much as what Nietzsche had in mind when spoke of decadence. And like Nietzsche, I feel that decadence is not something to be fought, but rather heeded.

            I am largely in agreement with @ck-macleod here (I think). As far as I can tell, Richard Prince has been very successful making lazy, crappy art, which will rankle a lot of people. Crappy art, however, is part of the price we pay for a a process that is capable of creating sublime art. No system that seeks to completely insulate itself from the former will ever be capable of producing the latter. With that in mind, the crappy art becomes much more bearable.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Crappy art, however, is part of the price we pay for a a process that is capable of creating sublime art.

              An important part of that is the proles standing up and saying “this is crappy art” when faced with crappy art.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Well that makes me think of it differently, and it makes it seem much more depressing (and makes me think that Ross Wolfe is right in the links above). It suggests in a way that the very idea of “high art,” of the sort that collectors “collect,” has been devalued to the point that it no longer makes any sense to talk of it existing in the present, and this art not only by its presentation but by its role in the consumption of art, demonstrates that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Yeah. I can’t see the instagram print being worth anything in 100 years.

                The Monet, by comparison, will appreciate.

                I’m sure that people said that about “fountain”, though.

                Or Warhol’s soup cans.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Maybe in a century art in that sense will be possible again, and this dude’s Instagram posters will not make any sense as art, merely as historical objects that tell a sad tale about the culture of our time.Report

              • Avatar morat20 says:

                I wonder — I’ve been reading that, due to low growth, low interest rates and general lack of good investments, money is flocking to art as a hedge.

                Of course, that could also be a sign of increasing inequality — when you’ve got more money than you know what to do with, why not buy some art?

                Or probably both. You’re loaded, you’ve got squat to do with 99% of your investment returns (other than reinvest them for the same rate you’re not thrilled with, now that you can’t believe real estate will go up forever), so why not speculate on art.

                It’s art! It’s unique! Everyone knows art prices go up forever….(of course, there’s a very limited quantity of established great art up for sale, so you’re often forced to speculate on new faces…which you know are hot because other people are buying it, so you bid up the price, so everyone knows it’s hot up and coming art….wait, this seems like a bubble…)Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                In a sense, then, the answer to Tod’s question (which he offered as an invalid one, but which I think is valid), “Is he trying to put one over on us?” is yes, he is, and in doing so he’s showing that we’ve been mistaken about what we were doing all along.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:


                Perhaps as a sign of home [ed: hope, damn it. I typed hope. Stupid Swype.], music has flourished in many ways in the wake of punk. Maybe art will flourish in the wake of Instagram art.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Chris: It suggests in a way that the very idea of “high art,” of the sort that collectors “collect,” has been devalued to the point that it no longer makes any sense to talk of it existing in the present, and this art not only by its presentation but by its role in the consumption of art, demonstrates that.

                Welcome to the year 1915 (aka, “the future”).Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’m just going to go stare and my Kandinsky and sulk, then.Report

  14. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    There is this thing that happens, which I think you’re describing here, in which someone who is from your general background and has roughly the same life experiences and has the same basic philosophies of life comes to a very different conclusion about some work of art and it drives you nuts because you either have to disagree in a ridiculously strong way or question your own basic premises about art and wonder if you somehow made a wrong decision. Not that I’ve ever done this, mind you, but it happens. Haha!Report

  15. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    As people are pointing out, maybe the conversation that needs to happen here is not “is what Prince created art”, or even “is it OK to substantially reproduce another person’s creative work as an artistic statement”, but rather “this is what might happen with that picture you put on Instagram, so make sure you check the user agreement so that you know where your stuff might go”.

    We’re having this discussion in the context of art. What about the person who hasn’t come out to their parents, but know that their folks don’t use Instagram, so they post a picture saying “my first day out of the closet 🙂 ” And Instagram sells that to Getty Images, and Getty sells it to ABC, and ABC does a news feature about “coming out on social media” with that image heavily featured, and their parents see it?Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      This is a really excellent comment, DD.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      This actually sort of happened to a cousin of mine. He had come out as gay to his friends and immediate family and talked about it in his university news letter. I only found out because I decided to google his name and came upon the newsletter which had since gone online.Report

    • Avatar veronica d says:

      This is true of course, in the same sense that buying a nice car if you live in a rough neighborhood means you’ll pay more insurance and might have to deal with people fucking with your car. All true. It’s stuff you need to think about.

      It doesn’t excuse the asshole who fucks with your car.

      If you are man who asks out a woman who is “out of your league” (whatever that means), she may take offense and totally humiliate you in front of your friends. And like, yeah, that can happen. You need to be prepared for shit like that. Life is tough.

      Women who do that shit still kinda suck. If the man was polite, then she can brush him off gently. (Usually.)

      I can go on. There are all kinds of things that will happen from time to time. For me, just riding the subway means that people will harass me. Given my appearance and the social realities of the Boston T, yeah, I’m gonna get fucked with. I deal.

      The people who fuck with me still suck.

      I can go on and on, give more examples — and I don’t even need to mention short skirts, since I assume you all can fill in the details on that.

      Yeah, bad shit will happen.

      But the people who do the bad shit remain terrible people. When we find out who they are, we should make it clear they are shitbirds. We should not admire them. We should make it clear they are scum.

      If you have email, you will get spam. Spammers suck. On and on, the public sphere is made more crass and less inviting and we become more suspicious, and it’s perhaps unavoidable — but do you want to be the asshole?Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        I don’t see anything to disagree with there, but it’s entirely orthogonal to DD’s point, which is that, given that there are bad people in the world, our takeaway lesson from this story should be that if you’re worried about this kind of thing, you should take the simple steps he described to protect yourself. No, in an ideal world you wouldn’t have to. In the world we actually live in, it’s a smart thing to do.Report

        • Avatar veronica d says:

          Right, but I don’t understand the point of these things. Like, I’m not going to stop going outside, despite the fact people mess with me. Nor will I stop posting photos to Tumblr (for example), despite the fact I know they can get reblogged. I’m okay with that.

          But up to a point. I don’t want TERFs grabbing my photos to post them to some hate site, nor pervy chasers putting them on some trans oriented “creepshots” thing. I cannot legally stop them. I know it might happen. I’m not happy about that. But I won’t let it stop me from enjoying my life.

          “Know this can happen” often comes with an implicit “and if it does it’s on you, cuz you knew it could happen.”

          Which, fuck that. Let’s keep the lens of the people who are fucking things up for us.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            ““Know this can happen” often comes with an implicit “and if it does it’s on you, cuz you knew it could happen.” ”

            Actually it’s more than that, it’s “we told you that we might do this”. It is not as though Instagram snuck around and sold your photos without telling you.

            See, that’s the thing here. This was not an illegal use of the images. This was entirely according to the contract that the users signed on to when they posted the photos. This is what Instagram said would happen.Report

        • Avatar morat20 says:

          Maybe I can take steps to make it harder for X to be a jerk. Doesn’t mean X isn’t a jerk, and whatever he’s doing isn’t a jerk move.

          I think that’s a pretty critical point when it comes to stuff like this. Whether it’s poor or unethical (but legal) behavior or criminal behavior, the fact that — say — a good alarm system may have prevented a break-in, the thief is nonetheless a thief.

          And, you know, he’s the one that broke in. Or committed a giant dick move by slapping his name on other people’s work and selling it. Or whatever.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Actually, my point isn’t that there are bad people in the world. It isn’t about bad people at all.

          It’s about control, and how important it is to establish where those spaces we control are and are not, so that we know what we’re putting where.

          And how important it is to fight to keep control of the spaces we do control. Because if you put something in a space you don’t control then you’ve lost it forever. It’s not yours anymore. You’re depending on the kindness of strangers not to do something with it that you don’t like.

          That’s why things like copyright and IP protection are so important–because they allow people to feel comfortable that they can share their creativity with others in an expansive way without needing to get everyone to sign NDA forms first.Report

  16. Avatar LWA says:

    The more I think on this, the more the art world reminds me of the medieval Church, and the Reformation.
    The argument by the Reformation was that the wonder and joy and transcendence of the divine had been gradually swallowed up by the priestly class, who inserted themselves between man and God.

    It wasn’t possible, they said, for someone to directly experience the divine- one had to go through the phalanx of priests and dogmas who would interpret and explain the divine, which had the effect of turning worship into a series of hurdles to clear and tasks to complete.
    And they were right- a typical religious experience for a peasant then was to stand in a pew watching a priest with his back turned, mumbling in a foreign language but it didn’t matter since he was a hundred feet away behind a screen anyway.

    It isn’t possible for ordinary people to directly experience High Art. If you do go to any gallery today and when you see a work of art, inevitably you will see a little card next to it that explains it and tells you What It Means.

    If you are able to experience a work of modern art that’s great- but for almost everyone outside the art world, the wonder and beauty and transcendence of art has since the Modern era become hidden from view behind a chapel screen and guarded by a line of critics and experts.

    As an architect, I always get asked about some new building, where people will ask me about it then wait expectantly for me to deliver The Verdict or at least the Party Line.
    I have gotten to the point of refusal- I just shrug and say “You have eyes- what do you think of it?” They are usually disappointed. They want to hear the secret knowledge, the insider scoop on its true meaning which is hidden from the view of the ordinary rabble.

    I remember being in college in the 80’s and listening to the faculty have these epic arguments about why the work of Michael Graves was complete and utter crap, while Richard Meir was sublime. or the other way round. And it did seem a lot like Twain’s remark that Wagner’s work was better than it sounds- that is, one couldn’t trust one’s eyes about Graves or Meir, but one needed the expert to show him which was crap and which was not.

    I also am an amateur watercolorist- I post my work on Facebook and have gotten people asking me to explain it to them- and so far I have resisted the temptation to explain it- I prefer they just experience it. Because honestly I can’t fully explain it myself. When I do, it sounds silly in my own head and even if I could somehow fully capture all of it in words, well, then there wouldn’t really be any point in the damn painting itself.

    I see it as a lot like religion actually- the secret knowledge isn’t the words that are written in a book, its the experience that we can’t even communicate in words. I may have mentioned this once, that when I first heard Canon in D Major, I was so moved, I had a lump in my throat, it was so beautiful. I have no words to explain why, really, I just did.
    Then later I heard that there are some Serious Musicians who turn their nose up at it, because it is so cliché and sappy, a staple at backyard weddings. But lacking that secret knowledge I was free to experience the divine directly without an intermediary.

    I can’t really claim to be able to say that Koons is bad, or that Sargent is good; all I can say is that one allows me to directly touch the divine and the other doesn’t.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Two Words: Pillow FortReport

      • Avatar LWA says:

        I need an intermediary to explain this to me.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Some “High art” (as the aforementioned Pillow Fort) is done just to be fun.
          One can directly experience it… and one can then experience the quite obviously tacked on later “artistic explanation” which babbles on and on about the militarization of childhood.

          If one needs a highfalutin’ explanation simply to enjoy the piece (and, importantly, it’s not contained within the piece), I’m willing to say that it’s fairly poor art. And I like a lot of art that was made in the 1970’s, even if it tends towards garish.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I see what you are saying but I am not sure why I never felt this about art. I never felt like I needed a learned intermediary to understand modern and contemporary art. This was before I got my MFA so this is all rather interesting to me.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        You did have parents that took you to art museums since you were young and who talked to you about this sort of stuff. Most people don’t even have this.Report

        • Avatar David says:

          I think this is the main issue I have with modern art – it may not need a “priest” to interpolate the meaning but it has lost the sense of saying something I can recognize without knowing the references. In this way it is similar to a lot of what is criticized about the haute-geek culture with easter eggs in comic book films, actually – in both cases, the references are limited to an in-group.

          I think this is my frustration with modern art – I can imagine how provocative the Rites of Spring or Duchamp’s work were, and even today, I can see some of those pieces and see how they challenge the idea of what is art. They are fascinating and interesting, and don’t really require any priors. But as we’ve lost consensus around what our high culture is, it increasingly feels like modern artists are focused on being in conversation with a vanishing sphere – seeking to transgress or to challenge the viewer’s boundaries, absent something else to say, in ways where it requires an intermediary not to explain what it means, precisely, but to explain what it is expecting of you in order for you to make meaning out of it. It’s as if Duchamp’s urinal was being displayed to people in a community that has always existed without running water – it fails to make its point because it’s not really pushing against a worldview I hold, and I need someone to tell me what it is before I can understand how it is being repurposed.

          Plus, eventually, we have to get over the fascination with anything potentially being art (hello American Beauty floating plastic bag) and move on to say “OK, I concede the point, so then which art is worth paying attention to?” – requires the art to have a meaning independent of its discourse with the viewer…Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            Isn’t there a whole thing about denying the idea of high brow now?Report

          • Avatar LWA says:

            It really does sadden me that the highest praise one can have for a work of art has become “its interesting, and intellectually stimulating” or some such words.

            Not “beautiful”, “transcendent”, or “sublime” just….”interesting”.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Well, I like double entendres. Watching two different meanings woven together is a pleasure.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              Same here. Everything post-impressionist onwards… Scratch that: It was downhill from The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood onwards.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                Yeah, no.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                IMO, it’s not legitimate art unless it’s scribbled on a cave wall in charcoal. If the artist’s name wasn’t a series of grunts unintelligible to modern ears, I just can’t be bothered.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Perspective is just a passing fad.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                It was. It is a mistake to think that the ancients did not know how to do perspective. Their artistic conventions just did not include them because they were not aiming for their drawings to look like photographic representations of a given scene. They were deliberately being abstract.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                @murali I’m wondering on what basis you are making that assertion.

                There is a difference between some notion of requirements for greater realism or achievement of a better illusion in art, which appears among the ancients, but not commonly, as far as I know, and grasp of the potential uses of perspective (or geometric perspective) in visual art.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                The ancients knew that distant objects should be smaller than nearby objects. Certainly, Plato has some discussions about this and IIRC, Pythagoras is said to have had some systematic account of how to go about creating the illusion. It is just that other considerations (e.g. the narrative importance of the various figures) overrode considerations of “realism”. It is only during the renaissance when a particular painting movement concerned itself with presenting the illusion of verisimilitude that they started to rediscover and refine those techniques.

                But, as you can tell, once we reach the post-impressionists, artists again stopped caring about producing depth because that is not what they were aiming for. In fact, if you compare early and late Picasso, you can see the change. Early Picasso (e.g. during his blue and red periods) was still very much an impressionist and employed depth least partly because it had already become conventional to do so. But, by the end of his career, he had left that convention behind. He deliberately went for the flat look.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                I fully accept that attitudes and even entire worldviews are conveyed by choice of representational technique, as eventually by the rejection on the part of some artists of any representational intention at all, but the fact that Plato or Pythagoras may have had some thoughts or even possessed a developed system is not the same as general access to the required techniques. I think you’re vastly underrating the accomplishments of Brunelleschi et al, and neglecting the difference between “perspective” and the possibility of representing relative distance with size of images.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:


            Just wanted to give a shout for that comment. Absolutely awesome. And I wanna repost what I thought was the best part since it captures my views and feelings regarding contemporary Art:

            But as we’ve lost consensus around what our high culture is, it increasingly feels like modern artists are focused on being in conversation with a vanishing sphere – seeking to transgress or to challenge the viewer’s boundaries, absent something else to say, in ways where it requires an intermediary not to explain what it means, precisely, but to explain what it is expecting of you in order for you to make meaning out of it.

            This is exactly right, in my view, and it’s what I dislike so intensely about this type of art (or conceptualization of art, in particular Conceptual Art) and the community of people who engage it.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            A lot of contemporary art is unmoored from anything most people can talk about or recognize. Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, the Futurists, and even Pollack are still graspable. Much of the art created after 1970 or so is not.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              I’ve been to modern art exhibitions, and I haven’t gotten much of this sense.

              I mean, mario clouds drifting across the screen may make the assumption that you have actually played mario, but it’s pretty relatable.Report

            • Avatar LWA says:

              There is quite a bit of contemporary art that is graspable. It just isn’t found in the usual places.

              Daniel Merriam, Daniel Martin Diaz, and Gail Potocki are a few of my favorites.

              What I like about their work is that while it could be deeply explicated by an intellectual, it isn’t necessary. Their works are beautiful even to a novice or outsider, and provoke the senses in a nonverbal nonlinear way.

              There are also plenty of artists who don’t hold themselves out as “high” artists, but whose work is stunningly beautiful- Sunga Park is one I recently discovered.

              ETA- Removed the links to the artists to avoid moderation.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Unfortunately, you were already in mod so you should have just left them 🙂

                Feel free to add them in or post a new comment, someone will pull you out of mod in a few.Report

              • Avatar aarondavid says:

                Those are quite nice, I like the style and flow of the artists. Have you looked at Audrey Kawasaki or Mark Harm Neimeyer?Report

              • Avatar LWA says:

                I enjoy Audrey Kawasaki very much, but hadn’t known about Neimeyer until you mentioned. I like it.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            I wrote here about the Carnegie Internationale. I don’t think most of the pieces there were unapproachable. Modern art (currently) is in a pretty cool state.


            Is this unapproachable? Because this was one of the prizewinners…Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              Now she is fun. I liked those pieces and the idea of an art lending library is fascinating and brilliant.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Yeah, I really like Eisenman’s work.

                I suppose a few of the pieces (not Eisenman’s) were weird, or a little dumbfounding (The Bond piece, in particular, left me feeling austere, and not in a good way). But they weren’t “self-referential closeminded” crap.

                And that is the state of the current modern art world. Maybe 20 years ago, things were a bit more self-referential? I dunno.

                The Carnegie has a historical retrospective on the Internationale, and even there, the highlights don’t seem too hard to relate to. I don’t have an art degree, and I don’t even have much patience to learn about what the heck Warhol “meant” with his pieces. It’s art, it’s there to be enjoyed — and then, maybe, you want to learn what the artist meant. It’s optional, in my opinion.

                I feel a lot different about most cinema, or really anything with narrative. If you don’t grok the narrative, at least a little, you’re missing out on scads of meaning.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          Fair point.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Music is art one can experience without an intermediary. Everything else (visual arts, dramatic performing arts, literature) needs some sort of intermediary, even if that intermediary is just previous education/cultural experience.

      (Aaron David’s book recommendation has me thinking this way – it requires some knowledge of the interaction and intersection of the Japanese and Western mid 20th century cultural traditions to understand what’s going on. In contrast, listening to any bit of traditional Japanese music may sound ‘weird’ because of the different scale mainly used, but it still accessible to anyone with standard adult human hearing)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        Music is art one can experience without an intermediary.Everything else (visual arts, dramatic performing arts, literature) needs some sort of intermediary, even if that intermediary is just previous education/cultural experience.

        (Aaron David’s book recommendation has me thinking this way – it requires some knowledge of the interaction and intersection of the Japanese and Western mid 20th century cultural traditions to understand what’s going on. In contrast, listening to any bit of traditional Japanese music may sound ‘weird’ because of the different scale mainly used, but it still accessible to anyone with standard adult human hearing)

        As someone whose own primary artistic interest has always been music, I’ve always wondered whether I should think exactly what you say here is true. That music is a uniquely direct art form in this – truly unique: singular in this way. But I’ve never been sure I should go there, or how to puzzle through whether it’s true.

        I wonder what your observations and logic are that lead you to be comfortable arriving at this conclusion that I’ve long mulled in spare moments.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Music is art one can experience without an intermediary. Everything else (visual arts, dramatic performing arts, literature) needs some sort of intermediary, even if that intermediary is just previous education/cultural experience.

        Eh? I don’t get it. Why does everything else need some sort of intermediary? Alternatively, if you mean that you need a certain level of education or cultural background to fully appreciate other art forms, why not music?Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          It does seem to be true. People who are more aware of the history of particular music forms (for instance how blues evolved into rock and roll or whatev) have an additional intellectual component available to them for music appreciation. For any given art form, there are always the purely hedonic vs more intellectualised modes of appreciation. Music is no different from painting or fiction in this regard.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          To understand Renaissance ninja turtle art, you have to have some understanding of Christian theology. To understand a 30K year old French cave painting, you have to have an idea of what a mastodon is and what a hunt is. Visual art is almost always culturally contingent. My actual theory above is ‘always contingent’ but am seeking counterexamples of truly universal visual art.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      +1 to this, LWA. I’m right there with ya.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I find neither Sargent or Koons divine. They both have pieces that I like and find beautiful or interesting or fun. I think Bunny is a great piece of contemporary art and fun to display and look at.

      Turner is someone I would define as divine.Report

  17. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    It turns out when I was in 6th grade, my friends and I frequently whacked a tennis ball off a Serra sculpture – it’s called “Clara-Clara”, and looks like two of the sculpture linked to in the OP, back to back. It was in the park near my school, but was apparently not very popular with people who used the park, so they moved it somewhere else and now there’s just a square of grass there.

    We played a lot of a sort of racquetball-ish game that year, with a tennis ball and our hands – that sculpture was perfect for the purpose.

    Also, his sculpture in the Toronto airport is really fun – the echo spaces it creates are great.Report

  18. Avatar zic says:

    I haven’t read the comments here yet, and I haven’t responded to the previous thread on the Boston MFA, mostly because questions of censorship always baffle me. Protesting a museum show is not censorship; it’s free speech. How the museum chooses to act might have a lot of roots, including sponsors offering up some big bucks who might agree with the sensitivities; there’s a lot of money flowing out of Asia now, a lot of Asians earning degrees in Boston. The museum has every right to reconsider how it wants to present itself here. Personally, I thought the Kimonos would have been fine and fun in the right context, probably a show on cultural appropriation and how it shapes art and culture.

    You’re penultimate paragraph is satire, your stereotype of a whole group of people who have their own norms, their own perceptions of art; and because this community is upset because someone took photographs, added captions, and called it art without permission. I’d be upset, too; I take photographs, consider them art, and expect to have my copyright honored. The question of law here would be how transformative his work is; and questions the level of transformation in any given derivative work as to make it original will always be individual. This whole conversation happens because Serra violated the norm — using other’s images without enough change to be considered original (and so still derivative,) in a way that probably really is transformative; he clearly used those images to tell a different story; or so some people think.

    Art transforms. That transformation happens in the eye (and mind) of the beholder, and when enough behold the transformation, it ferments and transforms culture; a curd of understanding forming in the whey.

    So I don’t think there’s a hairs-width of difference between the Asians who protested Kimonos or Christopher Carr, Serra’s critics and admirers or you — each is talking about culture, criticizing what they dislike and promoting what they like. Seems to me that there are gadzillions of these conversations going on, from two friends to entire cultures, and that’s the way it should be; and saying “I like this,” or “I don’t like this,” is part of the competition for our attention, and that is indeed a market, one where artists compete for attention and, hopefully, for income.

    But you ask why people are supposed to like certain things — say comics. In response to Alan Scott’s saying he didn’t like something; didn’t feel a need to be part of the conversation. In what you quoted, he didn’t seem to feel uncomfortable saying he was outside the conversation, didn’t know the language, and it didn’t really bother him — he’s proof of your question.

    It seems to me that you’re twisting the free speech of expressing “I like” and “I loathe” into a demand criticism of the right to publicly like or loathe; nobody in comics expects everyone to love comics (though they might hope!); and just because I don’t particularly like to listen to new country music doesn’t mean I’d suggest it be banned from the airwaves and pool halls and that nobody should like it. There are some damned fine musicians making a good living playing new country, and I’m glad they’ve found a niche and are succeeding. I just don’t want to listen to it much, it grates like nails on a chalkboard to me. But it makes lots of people really happy; and good for them.

    The problem with Serra isn’t that he’s a modern artist, the problem is that he pushed on the property rights of a whole lot of other artists, and he did so in a way that reeks of plunder.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Protesting a museum show is not censorship; it’s free speech.

      No more or less so than “God hates fags.”

      I don’t think it makes much sense to describe specific acts of speech as “free speech.” They’re acts of speech. Freedom of speech is the principle that acts of speech should not be forcibly restrained or punished with force of law. That doesn’t mean that all acts of speech are good or undeserving of censure.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “Protesting a museum show is not censorship”

      When lots and lots of people say that they don’t support the idea of same-sex marriage, would you consider it valid to say “oh well that doesn’t mean there’s any movement to suppress same-sex marriage, that’s just free speech”?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I have consistently said I think everyone has the right to say if they don’t support same-sex marriage; saying you don’t like it and suppressing it are apples and oranges. Laws that make it illegal suppress same-sex marriage; and are not the same thing as “I don’t like this.” You have the right to say you don’t like it. But my brother still has the right to marry even if you don’t like it; as the legal minds here have taught me, it’s the government that suppresses; not speakers.Report