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*and other things I learned about art from the internet.

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We've been making videos about art and sharing them on YouTube for coming on four years now, a veritable internet lifetime.  Here's what I've learned about art in the process.  Let's start with the bad news.  Art is pretentious.  I see this word again and again in comments, directed at artists, at art in general, and at those who talk about art and think it's cool.  It's most often stated in response to art that is conceptual or really abstract or doesn't seem to have taken a lot of work to create.  

On our Case for Yoko Ono video, one commenter says, "Pretentious stupidity".  On our Case for Minimalism, one writes, "Interesting video.  Minimalism is still pretentious trash, though," and on our I Could Do That video, someone else shares, "Modern art is pretentious and is created by lazy, unskilled, and un-artistic brats for elitists that will go out of their way to get these in an attempt to show how deep and artistic they are."  

Now let's consider these comments with the definition of pretentious in mind, one of which is "attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc than is actually possessed."  So, if it's
 artists being referred to as pretentious, then yeah, artists do regularly attempt to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, and culture than is actually possessed.  In fact, it's the leap you pretty much have to take to create anything.  It's your foolish hope that you might go from not knowing how to do something, to doing something, and then eventually doing it well enough that you might want to share it with other people.  

The creative processes I've witnessed is generally plagued by insecurity, frustration, and doubt, alternated by brief moments of pleasure in having made something you think is halfway decent, followed by having to summon ludicrous amounts of confidence in order to share that thing with other people and concluding with night sweats as you wonder immediately after and then forever after whether you are a fraud and your work is terrible, no matter how many people say they like it, or nobody seems to like it and you have to believe that they're wrong or that the next thing you make might be good and keep at it because you still have this tenacious desire to make the things that you're making.  

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I'm generalizing, of course, but every artist I know is genuinely brave.  You don't know whether something you made is any good until you put it out there, and even still, it's hard to know.  Of course you want to impress other people with it.  Fake it til you make it applies to almost every field and certainly art is one of them.  The successful artists I've met have this unstoppable need to keep making, no matter what their inner voices or actual voices tell them.

Now, if it's art that's being referred to as pretentious, then I kinda have to agree with that as well.  Art is made of a bunch of random stuff, objects and materials and substances and sounds and movements that often aren't expensive and don't have inherent  value outside of the cost of materials.  Through a kind of alchemical process, artists take these things and turn them into something else, endowing them with meaning and value that doesn't reside within the materials alone.  

Sometimes these processes are hugely labor intensive and sometimes they may not have taken a long time but are nonetheless moving, at least to you.  These mere clumps of materials are trying to impress you, regardless of the fact that they are only made of dirt, rocks, water, and their derivatives.

So yeah, art is pretentious.  More bad news.  The only difference between expensive and inexpensive art is name and reputation.  This is another recurring theme in the comments.  One person responded to 'I Could Do That' by saying: "Even if I did create these more simplistic art pieces, they wouldn't be worth millions of dollars."  And this is mostly true, because of the aforementioned situation where clumps of material are attempting to impress us, the market value of art is heavily, if not entirely, determined by perception.

Let's take this striped painting by Audrey Stone on sale for the equivalent of about $4,700 USD, and compare it to this striped painting by Bridget Riley that sold last year at auction for the equivalent of over $1 million USD.  The Riley painting is substantially larger than the Stone painting and size does factor considerably in the sale of art, but not to this degree.

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The reason why the Riley painting sold for so much more is that Riley has been creating abstract works in this vein since the 1960s when she was part of the influential Responsive Eye exhibition at MoMa in 1965.  She's been internationally recognized since.  Her name is synonymous with the op art movement, and for the past 50 years, Riley has used line, shape, and color to convey movement and create entrancing optical effects.

Audrey Stone is younger than Bridget Riley and while she has been included in a good number of shows, she hasn't attained the same level of renown, at least not yet.  Riley also has a track record of auction results that demonstrate to collectors that the pricing, however ridiculous, has a rationale.  That record also shows that it will probably retain its value, if not increase.  

You may think Stone's painting is better, but that has no bearing on the monetary value of the work.  There is more demand for Riley's work and thus it will fetch higher prices in galleries and auctions.  Riley's work also carries with it a history, like how gold sunglasses are gold sunglasses, unless they're the gold sunglasses that Elvis wore.  

There are arguments you could make for why the Riley painting is objectively better than the Stone painting, but determinations of quality for me don't rest on solid ground.  There's taste, trend, and hype that fiugre into an art work's worth, along with systemic sexism and racism and those factors are always shifting and on that topic, the art market is a scam perpetuated by the rich to launder money.

This is a recurring sentiment in our comments as well, and it's also sometimes true.  Adam Ruins Everything made an episode where he describes the art market as a "massive price fixing scheme that benefits wealthy collectors and excludes most artists."  He points out that even those who donate their works to public museums aren't necessarily doing so out of the kindness of their hearts but because it can be a massive tax write-off.  But the art market is not synonymous with art and in fact, there's a lot of excellent contemporary art that circumnavigates the market and critiques the way market forces affect the valuing of art.

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Think of the Guerilla Girls or William Powhida or Banksy.  There's much more to the experience of art today than the ugly aspects of the market.  The art market Adam describes can dominate or seem to dominate your experience of art in a few major cities, but in the rest of the world and even in less fancy areas of those same big cities, there's a lot of art happening completely separately from dark art market forces.  

No one's getting rich on that other side of the art world, but on the plus side, no one's getting rich.  In undeniably good news, people are open-minded about art.  You may be surprised to hear this one.  Haters gonna hate but the huge majority of the comments on our videos are positive.  Our 'Case For A..." videos present an argument for why you should care about or pay attention to an individual artist or a kind of art and much to my surprise, we do manage to convince a few people.

"Alright, I accept your case for Yoko Ono," said one commenter.  Another said, "Okay, fine, I won't hate on Yoko Ono."  Someone else said, "Man, every time I get persuaded that I was wrong on my assumptions about these artists when I watch these.  Thank you for opening my mind," and another said, "If you keep making these videos, I'll have no artists left to dislike."  

My favorite moments come when the video doesn't sway you, but you're still really cool about it, like the comment, "I appreciate the positivity of these videos.  I really dislike Yoko Ono's art, but I'm happy that there are people willing to defend it," or, "Still don't like minimalism just aesthetically, but these are great points and can get behind this 100%."  I mean, these are almost better than praise.  It means you considered what was said, approached it with openness, but also trusted your judgment to disagree while also being accepting, even embracing, of the contrasting views of others, but even or especially when people are nasty in their disagreement, I find solace in the fact that people care about art.

Sure, it may manifest in angry, unrepeatable comments, but when someone says 'I hate modern art with a passion', I find myself oddly reassured that the person cares at all.  

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In my museum work, I often feared that while the galleries may have had people in them, what's going on in their heads?  Are they there just walking from artwork to artwork at a pace they hope won't give away that they're just thinking about lunch?  Although that is me sometimes.  When I hear anger, I hear that people have firm ideas about what art is, or at least what they think it should be, and for me, that opens up a space for us to talk about art.  To consider where our views about it might overlap, and gives me hope that we might allow art the time and attention and consideration that I believe these pretentious clumps of material deserve.  

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