That’s Art?! And Why That’s a Stupid Thing to Say

I planned on giving you a tour of the museums we visited while in New York, but then I got distracted by this news story in the Daily Mail:

“A student who left a pineapple in the middle of an art exhibition as a prank was left shocked after curators put the fruit inside a glass case.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 8.18.13 PM

Funny, right?

About a year ago, Twitter lit up with an account of a teenage boy who left his dirty sneakers in an art museum and watched as patrons took pictures of them.

That was funny too.

But there are a few things I want to point out:

  1. The young man set the pineapple in an exhibit called Look Again, which asked visitors to “look at the places and spaces around us through fresh eyes”.
  2. If you set anything in an art museum, people will gather around it because, Hello? It’s an art museum. You expect to see art.
  3. Just because people were taking pictures of dirty sneakers and pineapples doesn’t mean they were impressed with dirty sneakers and pineapples. More likely they were tweeting it with the caption, “They call that Art?!”

Go into any art museum, especially in their Modern collection, and I guarantee you will hear some variation of, “That’s Art?!”

Perhaps you’ve said it yourself?


No offense, but it’s a stupid thing to say.

Here’s why: I think it’s safe to say most people have no trouble appreciating the art of Monet, van Gogh, and Seurat.

Yet back in the day, those three artists had one helluva time getting their work exhibited. What we accept as beautiful masterpieces was once ridiculed and rejected.

In other words, the Art we criticize today may one day be as revered as a Monet, van Gogh, or Seurat.

So the next time you see a piece of modern art, the moment words of derision threaten to pass your lips, please – and I intend this most kindly – please shut up.

Rush Hour by George Condo
Rush Hour by George Condo

The point of Art is not whether you like it or not. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s pretty or if you’d hang it over your sofa.

No one cares if you “get it”, and why are you so concerned whether or not you “get it”?

The point of Art is that someone had a burning desire to create something, and they did.

Andy Warhol's soup cans
Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol

There’s a t-shirt in the gift shop at the Phoenix Art Museum that reads:

Modern Art + I Could Do That = Yeah, But You Didn’t

Remember that the next time you see a Jackson Pollock.

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Which leaves us with the burning question: Can a pineapple be Art?

Absolutely! Especially if it’s at an exhibit asking you to look at something with “fresh eyes”.

But then, maybe it’s Art in and of itself, sitting on your kitchen counter. It’s all in how you look at it.

There’s an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art I can’t get out of my head, called Sarah Berman’s closet:

Sarah Berman's closet

It’s a lovely closet, don’t you think? So simple, precise, clean and useful. You can read more about it here.

Before we jump to thoughts on our own messy closets, or how you couldn’t possibly live with so few items, consider how neatly those three watches are laid out. Look at the row of shoes, nearly identical in hue, but not quite. Notice the cigar box set just so, the red pull switch for the light.

Sarah BermanThink about how each item was selected and tended to with extreme care. (I can almost see her ironing, can’t you?)

Is Sarah Berman’s closet Art? You bet your sweet keister it is.

Which brings me to my next point: Art can be a choice. You can choose to live with it, or you can choose to live without it (though I doubt it’d be much of a life).

You can take simple items, a stack of carefully folded shirts or a set of identical watches, and lay them just so.

You can put a pineapple on your table, next to a bowl of fruit, and post a picture on Instagram.

You are the curator of your life.

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Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life #30

You call that art?

I sure do.

Note: The paintings above are from the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I highly recommend you visit both. 🙂

24 thoughts on “That’s Art?! And Why That’s a Stupid Thing to Say

  1. I settled on this as a definition of art: Art is that which causes an emotional response in the viewer.
    “Yuck,” is an emotional response, therefore it’s art.
    I have spoken. 😉

    1. True enough. I still remember several years back when an artist set an American flag on the floor in front of his painting, so people had to step on it in order to see the painting. It was on talk-radio, newspapers, I seem to remember politicians being up in arms over it, and I thought, “Now THAT’S art!”

      1. I remember years ago there was a big to-do when the National Gallery of Canada here in Ottawa acquired the Voice of Fire. At first glance, it was a large painting of three stripes: 2 blue, with a reddish-orange one in the middle. It wasn’t until that university Art class that I learned how to actually look at it. And if you look at the lines right where the colours change, you can actually see flames leaping into the stripes. It was so neat.

  2. This reminds me of a saying; if you have to ask if something is art and what does it mean, the artist will be insulted or laugh at you or both, leaving you looking like a fool.

    1. Haha! Yeah, I can imagine. I read a quote by an artist, can’t remember the name, but he said he loved reading the reviews from one art critic because it always amused him to hear the meaning behind his work.

  3. Okay, getting slightly deep here: Back in the day, during my college years , when I still had the gumption to think my opinion mattered in any way, I was sitting in an Honors Class (an odd scholastic trajectory available at the time at the University of Tulsa) when we were assigned the task of developing an oral presentation on “What Modern Art Means”, or some such.

    On Presentation Day, when my turn arrived, I walked to the front of the classroom, eschewed the available podium, grabbed a prefab plastic chair randomly shoved in a corner, positioned said chair so it was facing the chalkboard instead of the other students, and plunked my ass down. I then raised one hand as if I were about to scratch said chalkboard and then read the essay clutched in my other hand, in a monotone voice with no inflection.

    I spoke of a recent “concert” I had attended at the university where an esteemed, avant-garde composer had given a performance. I spoke of not making a connection with any of his compositions in any way. I spoke of leaving said concert before it was over, unimpressed. Finally, I spoke of everyone in the room staring at the back of my head and the poised potentiality of my hand. Neither of these two things mattered, yet they did it anyway. So, do we appreciate art for what it is, or are we following patterns that have been established by others? Do you want me to scratch my fingernails on the chalkboard, or is the anticipation of the nail-scratching the true art?

    The professor gave me an “A” for my effort. Then again, he moonlighted in a punk rock band, one that performed on the weekends in various dives around Tulsa, with some of the venues void and empty. So, in essence, the variability of the validation was heightened, bringing us back around to what I think/hope is the thesis of your post. Art is subjective and personal, and there are no right answers…

    1. Well, you were a mighty deep & daring college dude! I like the image of you giving a speech with your back to the audience. There’s such a perfect performance art and Bob Dylan-esque angle to it.
      You read my thesis correctly, as you so often do. “A” for effort indeed.
      Now watch as I end this comment with an interpretative dance in front of a car engine and moose head, reflecting the pains of sporadic blogging and inadequate couture.
      And as the fuchsia feathers fall from the ceiling, I bid fare thee well.

  4. This post might have just changed my mind about modern art. I really struggle not to scoff at it or question why it’s in an art museum at all. I recently visited the Art of Institute of Chicago, and I was blown away by their Impressionist collection, Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Whistler’s Mother, Picasso, etc. I liked that these pieces felt so outside my reach, that I knew my hands could never make anything like that. To be totally honest with you, I had a hard time with the contemporary art section. It was hard for me to place those pieces in the same category as the collections just one staircase down. My point is your post really did get me thinking and helped me to appreciate art I don’t understand. I especially liked this line: “The point of Art is that someone had a burning desire to create something, and they did.”

    Also, if you want another really thought-provoking piece, look up Felix Gonzalez-Torres “Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA)”. It’s 175 lbs of candy meant to represent the artist’s partner who passed away from AIDS. People are invited to take a piece. The diminishing pile is meant to represent his partner wasting away. What’s interesting is that most people don’t read the blurb and just take the candy, not realizing that their ignorance is contributing to his slow demise….

    1. All I wanted was to give people something to chew on, so your comment makes me incredibly happy. Thank you for that.
      I’ve been to the Art Institute in Chicago but it was several years ago. I remember really enjoying it, and was so thrilled to see the Seurat piece in person.
      That Gonzalez-Torres piece was in Phoenix a few years ago. I think we visited the museum about three times that year because our library was offering “culture passes” (free admission to various museums). We almost always chose the art museum. It was interesting seeing the pile of candy diminish over time.

  5. Wonderful post! I love the quote on the t-shirt, that’s great. I smiled the whole time while reading this 🙂 I don’t want to admit it, but on more than one occasion, I’ve questioned modern art. I’ll remember your post next time I do! Also… I love the closet.

    1. The closet is great, isn’t it? It left quite an impression on me. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much do I really use or love of what I own, and are these spaces I see every day as beautiful or pleasing as they could be?
      Thanks for the kind comment!

  6. This is a lovely article. I have a whole series on my blog about what an artist is and what makes something “art”…so this is right up my alley. I actually wonder what your thoughts are on the pineapple modern art “prank” that was recently perpetrated. I just wrote about it on my blog today.

    Keep up to great post! I just started following! 🙂

  7. I agree with you completely. Art is art even if it’s bad! It just has reached a whole other level. I have a serious issue because I am such a fan the old school: painting and sculpting. I work in the contemporary art world and it’s tough because of that!
    Maybe you’ll enjoy my site, named after Brancusi, one of my ultimate favorites!

    1. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always like or understand some works of art, but even then I can admire the work the artist put into it. Sounds like you have an interesting job! I’ll be sure to check out your blog.
      Thanks for commenting!

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