March 3rd, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

I would've wanted to deface it, too, truth be told.

I assume you all saw this story: "Boy sticks gum on $1.5m painting." The headline pretty much says it all. During a school field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of the kids, a 12 year old boy, stuck his chewing gum onto one of the paintings. The painting in question, Helen Frankenthaler's "The Bay," is supposedly worth $1,500,000.00. (How would they know that if it's hung in that one museum for 41 years?) The Detroit Institute of Arts considers it to be the best, most valuable, most important painting in their collection, so even though the gum was removed right away and restorers are optimistic about fixing the small stain in one corner, an awful lot of people from all over the world are really, really cranky at the kid.

For your education, I include a thumbnail of the painting, on the right. And you know what? If I had been a 12 year old private school kid, and some moron had told me that this glorified finger painting was worth $1.5M and the most important painting in the museum, I might have been tempted to stick some chewing gum onto it or something, myself. Oh, I wouldn't have, I'm better brought up than that. But I would have been tempted. I'm aware that my degree is not in art history or art appreciation; I've only taken a couple of classes. It won't buy me any credit that my father was an artist who sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of work in his life, for all that you've never heard of him. And I'm well aware how trite it would sound if I were to make a big deal out of the fact that I have many friends who are artists, some of whom even work in the abstract expressionist oeuvre. But even so, with no more "right to an opinion" or qualifications than I have, I don't blame the kid if he thought it was a massively over-hyped ridiculous thing that J. Random Parent would quietly find an excuse to take down as soon as possible after their 3 year old smeared it on paper and gave it to mommy as a gift.

It expresses no idea or meaningful emotion. It exists free of any context by which it might make some kind of commentary. It demonstrates absolutely, mathematically zero talent or craftsmanship. It's wallpaper. And if there's something I'm missing, some context or subtle message or skill so fine as to only appear artless, then please, tell me what I'm missing here. Because as it is, this news story is only one more opportunity for me to roll my eyes at vast number of talentless hacks with MFAs who've made their living scamming easily-intimidated wealthy people and easily-impressed (and incestuous) grant committees into funding garbage like this. I mean, for the god's sake here, people, even Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian put some work into their work and demonstrated some rudimentary ability to compose a painting. But this thing? I've seen better paintings by elephants and cats.