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The $2M Urinal: Why Hard Work Doesn’t Cut It (2018) (behavioralscientist.org)
178 points by wallflower 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 180 comments



Whenever people discuss about contemporary art I get reminded of these incredibly poignant Soviet war paintings [1] which manage to partially describe what the atrocities on the Eastern Front meant for the people involved, but which are nevertheless a lot less well-known compared to contemporary art "darlings" like Jackson Pollock whose works don't tell me absolutely anything and who had his career propped up by the CIA at some point. [2]

Later edit: I mean, compare this Soviet painting called "The Last Letter" [3] to Pollock's "One, Number 31, 1950" (taken from the artist's wikipedia page). The first painting instantly made me feel the blood flowing through my veins, even though I had last seen it 7 or 8 years ago (when I also left a related comment here on HN), while Pollock's painting doesn't make me feel anything.

[1] http://www.allworldwars.com/Soviet%20War%20Paintings.html

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-...

[3] http://www.allworldwars.com/image/008/SovietPictures065.jpg

[4] http://www.moma.org/media/W1siZiIsIjIyMzgwNSJdLFsicCIsImNvbn...


So, I personally get an emotional response to Pollock, especially that particular one, I actually have a MoMA catalog on my bookshelf with that entry bookmarked with my admission ticket from 2010 when I went to see it ( https://imgur.com/a/hFBR7Nu ). The size is a factor as well, there is no way to look at it on a computer screen that is close to how you look at it in person ( https://www.moma.org/wp/inside_out/wp-content/uploads/2012/0... ). But we definitely have different tastes.

Regarding those soviet paintings, Goya depicted war and suffering, and is very well known and highly regarded: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_of_May_1808 . But your point is the core of what the article is trying to get at. The people who evaluate art are looking for something that isn't being satisfied by the same criteria as i.e. journalism, cuisine, even music to a certain extent.


I also get an emotional response to Pollack, similar to the emotional response I get to the painting of a colored square done on the TV show "House Refabbers" where they take a canvas, paint a background in one color and then a square on the background in another color.

It's not a deep emotion, of course, it's a fleeting sensation, really, like smelling a flower or listening to a "boop boop" sound effect on the tram. It's a trite emotion, which is the best way to describe the reaction I get to Pollock - trite.

I think that particular Pollock piece would make for a great panel or wallpaper in a basement. There's a certain movement and a not-unpleasant interplay with the colors - again, similar to the "boop, boop" on various public transportation system sound effects.

You can call it "art" sure, I think "craft" would be better, or perhaps "decorative arts" is probably the best way to describe Pollock. I recall a youtube video of the painting of a countertop in a kind of "hip, modern" kitchen that had a similar aesthetic.

Of course those Soviet paintings of WWI are far more meaningful than Pollack's visually not-unpleasant background color mix.


The soviets are just craftsmen, people skilled at doing the mechanical work of a camera. They are precursors to the modern soap opera or shock website or GoFundMe scam. It's easy to elicit a strong emotional response by playing on the well understood heartstrings.

This game is silly. Denigrating a work of art for being different from another work of art is not critique, it is bitterness. Life is short. Speak up for the beautiful things you understand, not against the things you don't understand.


I tried to understand contemporary art, up to a point, there was a time when I used to buy each issue of the FT - Weekend Edition so that I could read Georgina Adam’s articles on what was the hippest thing being transacted and the like, but in the end pretty much all of it meant nothing to me.

Reguarding the representation of war, I’m afraid 200-year old paintings don’t do it for me anymore, modern warfare is so much more different and more atrocious and industrialized compared to how things happened two or three centuries ago that we do need the power of art to make us, humans, help us understand at least some part of it all. I pretty much admire the new-Hollywood directors who had the guts to put on screen what the Vietnam war meant for all those involved, from the local Vietnamese population to the US soldiers to the relatives of the US soldiers at home. For comparison the Iraqi and the Afghan wars were pretty much invisible for today’s artists, with notable and very few exceptions (like Brian de Palma).


I like the Goya painting in particular because a firing squad still looks the same: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Du39t4jWsAIe6_b.jpg .

If any notable art came out of the Iraqi wars it is probably hanging in Baghdad, we might find out about it eventually.


ISIS has put out a great deal of notable art, in the form of propaganda videos.

In the same way that Mao era paintings are valuable in understanding the history of early communist China, I believe the ISIS videos will be valuable to future historians in understanding how the radicalization and subsequent wars in the Middle East happened.


Goya's black paintings do a pretty good job of depicting the horrors of war, and being timeless as well. At least to me.

I got to see these in the Prado last year. It was a piety emotionally stunning experience.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Paintings#/media/File:Fr...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Paintings#/media/File:La...


Contemporary anti Vietnam-War art was set up as Korean war or older. It's un-PC to directly criticize a current war, so artists apply a thin veil of barely plausible deniability to get past censorship.

FT?


Financial Times, their weekend supplement can be quite interesting at times.


I went to the Pollock's Wikipedia page and at first thought that the photo of his studio floor was one of his paintings.

Apparently, this is considered a very good result for abstract paintings: "Throughout the experiments, the students typically picked the professional pieces between 60% and 70% of the time."

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/03/1...


Thanks for the links! I have some commentary on some of the pieces that I found most interesting:

http://www.allworldwars.com/image/008/SovietPictures063.jpg

Dreamlike imagery, sleeping position, very vertical, contrasting colors, a strange bit of peace in war and imminent death, jagged fields that the man is hurdling towards.

http://www.allworldwars.com/image/008/SovietPictures041.jpg

The men seem to melt into the trenches and become part of the mud. The warm colors evoke a feeling of sunlight, yet feel horrific. The muted faces are reminiscent of Edvard Munch's Scream. little explosions, or are they grasses, pop off everywhere. Chaos

http://www.allworldwars.com/image/008/SovietPictures055.jpg

Good historical view of the hardships that women underwent in the absence of men. The little boy's face is almost plastic and is the only one seen in the painting. A lot of subtle commentary on the soviet system in here, as it ended up just like the old ways of the Czars

http://www.allworldwars.com/image/008/SovietPictures069.jpg

Just like a Degas, at least to me. Not seeing the face of the player leaves you guessing as to how this solider got to be where he is. Was he a pianist before the draft? How did he learn to play? The gun is on his back and prominently central to the painting. The scattered papers tell a story of a battle and fleeing in panic. The highlighter colors give a waviness to it all, a sense of uncertainty and serenity pervades the piece

http://www.allworldwars.com/image/008/SovietPictures057.jpg

Great use of sky, water and man. A private returns home, but to what? The war is over for him, but the peace is just as uncertain. Will the clouds of this spring day pour on him, or will it stay sunny?

http://www.allworldwars.com/image/008/SovietPictures019.jpg

The structure of the colors here is stark, obvious, yet wonderful. Black enemy, white allies, red sky of soviet victory. The use of triangular imagery. Very Picasso-y

http://www.allworldwars.com/image/008/SovietPictures065.jpg

The news arrives and it is bad. Just like the immigrant-farmer mother picture of the US depression. The woman shines in the dark room, her child tries to support her, her back is straight all the same despite the news. She faces off-stage and is nearly pushed off the bench by her child, who is in the center. The little window, her former existence, is full of things and life, she faces her new darker life with what appears to be a shroud and a rifle leaned up against the wall. The letter still hangs brightly in her right hand.


Not even a Pollock fan but the idea that a scan of a Pollock painting is at all similar to standing in front of one seems like a huge stretch. They absolutely huge and the paint is layered on very thick in a way that almost forces you to deconstruct the process of its production as you look at it.

This other painting on the other hand, I'd be very surprised if there's more to be gotten from seeing it in person that what's already on my screen. Going beyond that, a photo that captures the same emotions would be exponentially stronger for me personally too.


I don't travel much or look at much art, but I have happened to seen that Pollock. It is true. You can't ignore it, it's very palpable. I'm not sure I liked it, but I definitely felt something strongly.


> a photo that captures the same emotions...

Your comment hits on something many people miss. We have photos today. We didn’t in the very recent past. I showed my grandma (96) photos on an iPad and her response was “there’s no reason to paint anymore”. She’s painted her entire life. Artists used to struggle to invent techniques for representing reality, now photos have made that less compelling and artists are looking for other challenges.


I was wary of Pollock's works, but yes: they really are fantastic experiences in person.


I think the problem is that you're comparing art pieces that have different purposes, and even more, different value systems. Those Soviet pieces are meant to be poignant, they're meant to be instantly emotionally evocative, and they're immensely successful in creating great content. The artist there is valuing impact, and truthful representation of a thing, be it the horror of war or the heartbroken silence of world shattered by a letter. However, these works are derivative. They are not novel in how they show their content; they use the same techniques that were popularized and perfected years ago. This is fine, because these paintings are complete in and of themselves.

Pollock on the other hand wasn't focused so much on the content of what he was creating, but on the process. Pollock wasn't trying to make you feel a thing, Pollock was trying to make a statement about what it means to be art. Pollock and other modern artists aren't looking to provide a story in isolation - they're iterating and expanding on a corpus of techniques, and means of representation, and questions about what it means to be art. Do I need to draw a person to show human suffering? Do I need to represent reality to make something meaningful? Can I create something that is recognizable as art while working under these arbitrary limitations?

I think this is true of any art/skill/techne - once the art reaches a certain level of maturity and sophistication. For practitioners, the new frontiers are not in the content you create (because it's established that you can create anything) but the process by which you make it. Look at modern poetry, and literature. A lot of the time these are very tangled, frustrating pieces to read because they break with the forms we are used to and iterate on them. Many of these aren't written to tell a story, or to make you feel, but to explore how one tells a story, or how one paints a thought in words. You see this to an extent in programming - there's very little value to writing conway's tree of life in brainfuck or competing to see who can write the smallest program that can reproduce the mona lisa in ASCII, but we do it because these limitations are challenging and cool to us.

(I'd argue that a Rothko painting can show just as much poignancy as any of those Soviet paintings you showed above.)


These are really pretty great, and do what - in my opinion - art should do (in as much as art should do anything at all). And that is to tell a story.

The best paintings provide a connection with a subject - person, place or time - and maybe stir up some emotion about the scene. Some of my favorite are 16th and 17th century Dutch paintings of naval battles. The artists were the war correspondents of their time and their work is as moving as any photograph from a modern battlefront.

Pollock's paintings tell a story in their own way too. I worked in theater in high-school and college and also painting boats and for an industrial coatings company. In short, I spent a lot of time around paint. A Pollock painting reminds me of these workshops: of years, sometimes decades of overspray, splatter, drips, spills and all of the other marks of "work being done here".

The scarred and stained surface of the workbench from my grandfather's garage could hang in a museum. Sixty years of paint and oil; holes from when tools were bolted to it or when parts were drilled; cuts from countless handsaws; scorch marks from blowtorches and soldering irons.

The painting is like the artistic expression of the evidence of work accomplished.


These paintings are interesting as a sort of juxtaposition of the soviet "Socialist Realism" style with the harsh reality of war. They are also clearly technically adept.

Jackson Pollock's paintings are interesting because he was the first to apply his technique in a studied way. They don't translate well to the digital era, but there is a certain arresting physicality to them when you see one in real life. Many of them are huge, and are not displayed within a frame. You can get very close and see the layers of paint rising up and the aging exposed canvas beneath.

Pollock is more famous than these painters because his work is distinctive. These soviet painters are good at painting, and you obviously connect to their subject matter, but comparing their work from [1], its hard to distinguish any of them as individual artists as their styles are only subtly different, much like Pollock's early work was fairly derivative of the original abstract expressionists and much like someone today deliberately aping a Pollock would not be celebrated in the same way (if not derided as a hack).

That said, I don't think figurative art is objectively better or worse than abstract art. Its purpose is different.


Pollock is an odd target here in a way, because the man was actually skilled, he produced things which proved hard to copy. Unlike a lot of later very-abstract artists, who really were all about their timing / positioning / contacts etc.

I would have to google a lot but there was a nice mathematical investigation of this, in which the summary was something like that he produced a very consistent scaling of details from very small to quite large, in a way which matches natural scenes. Whereas fake Pollocks don't show this, and perhaps that is why they aren't as pleasing.


Also seems like if you're going to rate a painting purely on how much of a rush it gives you to see it, having a subject matter like war that kicks right at the base of your humanity and then comparing it to an abstraction is a bit of a rigged game... I mean even I could probably write a country song dealing with really simple subject matter that would make my mom cry, it's how people are built to react to stuff like that. But it doesn't mean I'm a great artist.


Whenever people discuss about contemporary art I am amazed that they see themselves somehow divorced from the larger entertainment industry. Once we acknowledge that artists are selling an experience, a pleasure, to art buyers then the 2m urinal makes perfect sense.

People are buying a pleasurable experience and each has a different taste. Some people want a light show and so go to a big rock concert. Some people want a pretty painting to look at while eating breakfast. So they buy a painting. Some people like the feeling of being better than other people. So they buy objects that, for them and their peers, are a badge. They demonstrate how much better their owners are than persons without such objects. Many people like this feeling and are willing to pay.

Some of these people buy flashy cars to show themselves off as they drive to work. Others buy paintings by the great masters and squirrel them away in a vault only to bring them out for dinner parties. In that context, a 2m$ urinal isn't all that different. It is an object that bestows barging rights on its owner. Compared to a great many cars and paintings, both of which come with substantial maintenance costs, 2m$ for a bit of porcelain is cheep.


I worked in a place with a big collection of modern art. Initially my impression was “what a bunch of nonsense”. But when you look at it in context, it isn’t without meaning, and is often beautiful in its own way. It is thought provoking.

While I sometimes question the talent required to create some of these pieces relative to other works, it’s difficult to really judge without context. Many of the things that I value in my profession no doubt seem silly or trivial to laymen as well.


The Soviet War paintings you link to are well executed but seem completely unoriginal to me. I can't see any reason why these paintings would be famous.


Obviously very subjective, but modern art seems like a case of emperor's new clothes to me, a humble engineer.

When I was in college I would see art around campus take the form of random metal shapes welded together, concrete blobs, or Pollock-esque splatters and shake my head.

How can you judge a category of art for which there are no rules?

I can look at Michelangelo's "The David" and be awed to the core at how he was able to replicate lifelike looking veins in marble. It's difficult for me to even fathom his skill level but I recognize that it is much, much higher than mine.

But a sideways urinal with some marker on it? Anyone with no skill can do random things with random items and call it art.

"Any sufficiently advanced art is indistinguishable from garbage"


One thing to consider is that being a case of the emperor's new clothes is intentional. Consider The Fountain again:

The artist had the audacity to put a urinal in a gallery. It's not so much that this was a particularly lovely piece of ceramic (though some may think so). The point is the meta-awareness that urinals don't belong here.

The rule-breaking is the art. The fact the emperor has no clothes is the exact reason people were talking about it. It's not that no one has ever seen a naked person before! But the emperor?! That's not supposed to happen!


Art is the production of veblen goods. Duchamp, in his genius, realized that though the ability to buy something painfully handcrafted does signal wealth, buying literal garbage is a much better display of wealth. Someone who can afford to buy a meticulously painted portrait, well, one may be will willing to make sacrifices for beauty. Someone able to spend millions on literal garbage - now that is a rich man.

Another aspect is photography allowed normal people access to create cheap reproductions of beautiful art. High-class people used to be able to distinguish themselves from the mob with beautiful things the mob couldn't afford.

But this does not work with cheap reproductions allowing one to signal the same taste.

In this way, there became an incentive for high-class people to acquire and inculcate a taste for art that is actively repulsive to distinguish themselves from those normal people who desire beautiful things.

Mostly this doesn't matter. They are only hurting themselves. But the effect of these incentives on public architecture has been pretty horrifying.


> Duchamp, in his genius, realized that though the ability to buy something painfully handcrafted does signal wealth, buying literal garbage is a much better display of wealth. Someone who can afford to buy a meticulously painted portrait, well, one may be will willing to make sacrifices for beauty. Someone able to spend millions on literal garbage - now that is a rich man.

> Mostly this doesn't matter. They are only hurting themselves. But the effect of these incentives on public architecture has been pretty horrifying.

This is a very good analysis summary.


Nowadays, rule-breaking is no longer provocative. It's derivative. We all got the memo: there's no set definition of art, it doesn't need to be skillfully made, it doesn't need to be beautiful, it can be offensive, blah blah blah. It's not clever any more.

I respect Duchamp. He made his point so eloquently that none of the imitators are adding anything to the conversation.


See Banksy's "Love is in the Bin". People are still excited when artists break convention, even if it gets harder and harder to do something unexpected.


"it gets harder and harder to do something unexpected."

I just found something!

https://designyoutrust.com/2016/07/guy-paints-over-shit-graf...


But at what point does daring rule-breaking degenerate into mere gimmickry. I guess I can understand why piece generated so much interest in it's time, but since then we've been subjected to a relentless parade of urinals, cow corpses, faeces, signed brillo boxes etc. At this point we've seen the emperor naked ad nauseum


Sure, if it's played out, you have to do something different. It's the logic of publicity: whatever gets people's attention works, until it doesn't.

I think this is an interesting way to approach art, actually: you can walk through a museum admiring artists for how they were able to get away with something different.

Although, in this age of memes, maybe it's more interesting to see what holds lasting attention?


The _second_ time it's done! The way I see it, the first person to hang an all white canvas in an art gallery is a genius. The second, third, and fourth, not so much.


Eventually it becomes interesting again, though. The guy who does nothing but white canvases gets a degree of notoriety after a while. And the three thousand, two hundredth guy who does nothing but white canvases blows up because now it's funny that people are still doing that.

'First!', 'Frist!!!', 'FIRST!!!1111lol!' and other web comment poop is born of the same impulse.


At that point it becomes a meme. Are memes art?


Memes are absolutely art. Why not?

That's actually the thesis behind my startup, Memes On Canvas: https://www.memesoncanvas.com


Amazing, good luck with your lawsuits. /s


I think it's easier to appreciate the skill involved in making a piece of art than it is to appreciate the art piece itself. Some people (myself included), may even prefer appreciating the skill in and of itself, independent of the art.

Further, I think it's easier to comprehend how difficult it must be to produce a realistic sculpture or painting or what have you, compared to an abstract piece. As the piece becomes more abstract, appreciating it requires, I think, a lot more contextual information that the viewer may simply not have.

Of course, some art may just be crap. Who's to say?


Modernism in the arts has a bit of a path-dependency problem that tends to intentionally obscure the "artistic value" of the bleeding edge from the uninitiated, but which can make the art more meaningful to those who are familiar with the context.

I'll use jazz as an example, since I'm most familiar with that history. You can start with something as approachable, if disorganized as "Jelly Roll Blues"[0], and polish the genre into "Take the A Train" [1] as it became more generally popular. After that, though, the bleeding edge of the genre self-protects itself away from the common ear by growing increasingly obscure, with bop [2], modal jazz [3], free jazz [4??] becoming progressively less approachable to the uninitiated ear, to the point that the the unfamiliar ear can hear the latter and find itself unable to recognize even as "music", while someone familiar with the genre can see the path and appreciate the work in context.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt203us6TME

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cb2w2m1JmCY

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2tvlp7RnlM

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwmRQ0PBtXU

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ll3CMgiUPuU


Oh man, some of the stuff my friends are listening to these days is amazing music, they've got the algorithms to prove it! Something about listening to the notes that aren't played or some such. Music that should be heard, but not listened to.

Check out some of the stuff Mike Gao is putting out with the use of his Polyplayground app.


> Anyone with no skill can do random things with random items and call it art.

Others have mentioned this, but I think the key here is that the "skill" you are referring to is what art theorists would call "craft." There is a degree of technical skill that goes into a work of art (e.g. sculpting realistic bodies in marble or being able to draw consistent shapes or human anatomy, etc), but theorists would say that the truth of the art is about what emotions and ideas it expresses in the viewer. In this way, since contemporary art often eschews craft, it can (in one sense of the term), be considered the most pure kind of art.

> How can you judge a category of art for which there are no rules?

Keeping the above in mind, art isn't about rules or judgement, but about the personal message it sends to the viewer. Because, after all, what are the "rules" you are ascribing to The David? Realism? If so, then what would you say about impressionist works by, say, Claude Monet?

I say this also as a humble engineer (even if I come off as standoffish, which I hope I'm not), who happened to take a few art theory courses at school, which by no means makes me an expert: so this is just my own experience and perspective.

The most powerful experience I've had with a work of art was with one of Mark Rothko's paintings. Sure, you can look at it as a plain wall of one or two colors in a plain square shape, but when I really got a good look at it for a prolonged period of time, I began to get lost in the colors and appreciated the nuances of the brushstrokes (it also helped that I had read John Logan's play "Red," which is a psychological profile about Rothko's method, which I recommend highly)

All of this to say that, yes, anyone with no skill can do random things with random items and call it art. Because the skill, the things, and the items are not the true characteristics of what art is. I don't think that "Fountain" should necessarily be marked as a masterpiece or objectively hailed as brilliant or anything, but I think to label it as "not art" misses the point (the point that it's trying to make a statement about art as a whole). Art is not about skill/craft, but about communication between the artist and viewer.

That's my perspective on it at least!


>How can you judge a category of art for which there are no rules?

Why are you assuming that modern art is arbitrary, random and has no rules?

For that matter, why do you seem to assume the purpose of art is to be "judged" according to some objective set of rules?

Have you tried to study any modern artistic movements, or artists, and what those movements or artists were actually trying to express? It seems like you're mistaking complexity and technical skill for meaning, or assuming that only realistic depictions of nature have any artistic credibility.

>But a sideways urinal with some marker on it? Anyone with no skill can do random things with random items and call it art.

Don't assume that because something appears simple or obvious, that there is no meaning behind it. Maybe sometimes there isn't. Maybe the art at your campus was literally just there to look cool. Maybe some modern artists are taking the piss, like Duchamp, who was trolling the art society he was a part of with that[0].

Yes, you could assume Jackson Pollock was just throwing paint against a canvas and that can't be art because anyone could throw paint against a canvas, but like Marcel Duchamp and a lot of other modern artists, he was trying to say something[1], and that's what makes it art, not its reproducibility or realism.

Artists like Picasso and Mondrian were capable of creating traditional artwork in the classical style, but they became famous for their abstract work. I think it would be a stretch to say these people lacked talent or understanding of what art was, rather, they were trying to express their ideas in as minimalist a style as possible.

>"Any sufficiently advanced art is indistinguishable from garbage"

And any sufficiently advanced criticism is indistinguishable from ignorance.

[0]https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573

[1]https://www.quora.com/What-do-Jackson-Pollocks-paintings-rea...


> Why are you assuming that modern art is arbitrary, random and has no rules?

More like inference than assumption, based on occurrences like Pierre Brassau's art.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Brassau


That seems more like a criticism of art critics and the subjectivity of art valuation than modern art as a category, given that most modern art isn't done by chimpanzees.

Although, ironically, the hoax itself makes it a valid form of performance art anyway.


>Although, ironically, the hoax itself makes it a valid form of performance art anyway.

This is the bullshit that makes people weary of modern art. If you disagree, you fail to realize that this post, and indeed hacker news itself, is postmodern performance/interactivity art. Your opinion is wrong and invalid if you disagree.


>If you disagree, you fail to realize that this post, and indeed hacker news itself, is postmodern performance/interactivity art. Your opinion is wrong and invalid if you disagree.

No one is actually saying that, though. The only people trying to invalidate anyone's arguments and opinions are the ones who disagree that modern art has any value. And no one mentioned anything about hacker news itself.

What I am trying to imply is that there is more than one valid interpretation of this particular event. That, even if paintings by chimpanzees weren't art,and the hoax wasn't intended as art, the effect of the hoax still serves the purpose of art.

Please stop being defensive and please appreciate that context is sometimes relevant to a discussion.


>No one is actually saying that, though. The only people trying to invalidate anyone's arguments and opinions are the ones who disagree that modern art has any value. And no one mentioned anything about hacker news itself.

I was intentionally being standoffish in a manner so as to imitate modern art fanatics. See, you just don't understand the _performance art_ that is contained within a HN discussion (this is facetious).

I would agree that "ones who disagree that modern art has any value." are misinformed. And on the flip side, I would argue that those who believe _all_ modern art _has value_ and is _worthwhile_ are incorrect. There is a lot of shitty modern art out there that can and should be dismissed (I realize beauty is in the eye of the beholder) and by not doing so, you only hurt the worthwhile modern art.

I once saw a coca-cola bottle filled to the brim with cigarettes, placed into a red circle, in the SF MOMA. That isn't art; that's every weekend outside my apartment in college.


This is the bullshit that makes modern art more interesting than painters trying to represent reality on canvas.

Yeah when the neighborhood kids teepee your house that's modern art too.

Nobody does that anymore.

That's literally untrue, but ok.

Anybody could do it, but they didn't and you didn't either. It's really easy to bag on any art with that line of reasoning, but the fact of the matter is that art lives in time and space, and at the time that piece was made nobody else did it, and readymade had a colossal influence on every other aspect of modern art (and even design) that came after that. It's easy to dismiss it as a urinal with marker when you ignore the context in which it was created and presented and the influence it had on other art, much of which is universally regarded as beautiful.


I'm generally pretty fond of taking a devil's advocate position when it comes to modern art. But regarding your specific example of "The David", let me ask you: which aspect of the sculpture is the art?

I would argue that replicating lifelike veins in marble is not the artistic part of David. That the craft - and surely many of Michaelangelo's contemporaries (and indeed many sculptors today) were also capable craftsmen when it came to sculpting. The art is the body language, expression, and overall "feel" of the piece.

This comes into sharp relief when you examine the work of someone like Robert Mapplethorpe[1] - who wanted to be a sculptor, but realized he could often achieve the same artistic goals with models and photography. He wanted to capture beauty and emotion through the human form - and the medium was just a means to an end.

All of this is to say that contemporary art is capable of communicating the same feelings as more classical artistic styles - and those feelings are really the point. The comparison between David and some college piece is also unfair. It has always been true 99% of everything is crap. What is the best contemporary art will only be apparent in retrospect. Stuff you see around a college campus is likely not even the best of contemporary art at the time it's created (that's why it's on a campus). Comparing that to art that has had 300+ years of societal filtering doesn't really make sense.

One of my favourite pieces of contemporary art is "Fuck Death" by Leon Golub[2]. I like its straightforward starkness and the way it seems hastily done - as if the painter was in a hurry because death is, indeed, coming. The technical aspects of this piece are, honestly, not very impressive. It's a very simple watercolour. But it speaks to me in a way that classical depictions of death, with all their craft and realism, really don't. That ability to communicate feeling is the art. The choice of medium or style is just aesthetic preference.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Mapplethorpe

[2] http://interrum.tumblr.com/post/59580566966/bidartanalysis-f...

Edit: I am also a humble engineer, so I'm probably just re-inventing art theory 101 here. But I don't think contemporary art is as worthless as many seem to think.


I too find myself in constant awe when in the presence of renaissance masters. I can't stop returning because italy is dripping with it every where you turn, constantly full of awe-inspiring surprises. In terms of workmanship, there is nothing since which compares to even the 10th-best basilica in rome.

But I don't appreciate those nearly as much as I do no-named postmodern pieces, even procedurally-generated ones. There are so many curious layers of questions that arise when staring into the abstract and being left to your own perception to pull out appreciable components. So much to wonder about the artist, his intentions, and his chaotic vision or process. It is far deeper than masterful material work.

Considering how absolutely we are able to control materials these days, particularly now that atomic-level artificial composition is within our power, I find the questions of what? why? why not? or even lol wtf? far more appetizing to modern curiosity.


With invention of photography artists realized that there is no reason to depict reality anymore. But they also realized that there is much more happening than watching image. It is whole experience of contexts, mood of place and the way how the art is shown and all kinds of subtle things.

It is not about what anyone can physically do nor if it's easy or hard. It is about the ideas and navigating culture and finding interesting connections. It is opposite of random.

It's like saying "But this textfile with some wierd file extension? Anyone with no skill can write random characters on keyboard and call it programming"

Don't get me wrong i hate contemporary art but there are many interesting and important ideas coming out of it.

It's just not made for general public anymore. And people in that bubble don't care. That type of art was replaced by tattoos, illustrators, photographers and even popular movies/games etc.


If you pursue art academically, you are expected to push the form. Much like a CS PhD is expected to do novel research, an MFA is trying to make something nobody has ever seen before. In both cases, there are many practitioners that fail at this. But in both situations, their work is inaccessible to laymen by its very nature, produced after ingesting massive quantities of the prior art in their respective fields.


Not criticising any art or artists; but don't believe in the camera argument. Paintings do not look like photographs at all; they are often images of things that do not and never have existed. Many of them could only be created using human imagination; and reflect some complex human culture and society at a point in time.


Art is a form of communication. The skill with which works are crafted is often part of how they are able to communicate so well, but it isn't strictly necessary. If you find yourself looking at highly regarded art and not understanding why, it is possible its just that you don't have the right context to understand what it is saying.

Of course it is also possible it s all just so much wankery and garbage, but you can't just assume that.


These where made by people- for people. There was not market, thus there was no need for the meta-scam that art is today. All it was, was a way to eternalize the life and missery of people, capture those moments before we all vannish. It was art, while we have nun, but the one in a thousand photos we make.

After getting into painting a few years ago, I dug into aesthetics a bit and quickly ran into the same fundamental problem: most abstract works are, prima fascie, giant heaps of crap. I mean, I sat down and tried to read different intros to art theory, etc, but it all was so much flim flam trying to paper over the obvious: it was fecal matter, sold for high prices (don't get me started on pomo performance stuff).

One text I ran into was by an Objectivist: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00P9RV9PE/ - which goes into the motives and rationales for why the modern art went the way it did - and compares with other societies. Fascinating book.

Fundamentally, the Objectivist text comes down to roughly this

> – Proletarian: relevant to the workers and understandable to them.

Which is a description of soviet realism (something Objectivists might find startling).

http://www.russianartdealer.com/socialist-realism/

I also want to stress that the notion that art is subjective, or that it should make you feel, is wholly a product of the Romantic era and its challenge of a previous understanding of art as being an _objective_ thing with a ladder of values.

So I strongly concur with you here.


What about an emotion-priming title, then a picture of clouds?

Pollack almost literally uses inkblots, like the Rorschach test.


Thank you so much for your post. I knew about the former but have never seen these paintings before thank you.


This is a lot of words to basically say the tired ‘my kid could paint that’ thing.

>No matter the field, discipline, or industry, if we want to succeed, we must master the networks…The harder it is to measure performance, the less performance matters.

although i absolutely agree with the analysis of the art world, or world in general, to actually read this makes me very disheartened. and it does not make me want to give up any time spent creating for the sake of networking.

but on modern artists, with my own favourites, there is generally a reason to their success other than being brilliant marketers...Jackson Pollock, for example, had lots of criticism of his work, only for forty years later to discover that his paintings could be judged to be real or fake, by whether or not there were fractals present [1]. i think that is a clear case of someone taking a modern approach to creation, and spending countless hours honing and perfecting their craft for the sake of pure natural aesthetics and discovery.

this article paints like the artists themselves are as fame hungry as the artists critics. lo to find that the 21st century van gogh avoided the art scene completely because of toxicity.

[1]https://aeon.co/ideas/feel-good-fractals-from-ocean-waves-to...


This article is not really about art.

My father was a “scrape yourself up from the bottom” guy. He was the hardest working person I’ve ever known, first as a physical laborer, then as an operating systems programmer. Microsoft used his Wang kernel for NT, but he never got on that train. He was deeply skeptical of all institutions of prestige and never attended college. His father was a professor, double math/physics PhD at Berkeley. The hard road for him was a conscious choice, something he had to prove to himself every day. Life eventually beat it out of him, but that’s a different story.

I don’t match up to him, but I have a habit of leaving the professional world to live among laborers and soldiers for the comforts of their ethos. It seems that everybody exists somewhere on the spectrum from ascetic to charlatan: monk, soldier, athlete, laborer, coder, doctor, manager, lawyer, salesman, founder, artist, celebrity, criminal. You may dispute the order, but that’s where I’ve seen the category _medians_ fall. The art example: buy a toilet and sell it for millions, is brazen chicanery; in fact that’s what gives it value, although you might also agree that the network made it possible. Similarly, many startups are technical garbage before they get money-bombed into a foregone conclusion. Network? Charisma? Luck? Outrageous claims that offend technical experts? It’s not that different from the art world.

But is it good advice to network? PG says no. AVC says no. Trust that there are plenty of failed artists trying to network their way into million dollar toilets too. On average, plumbers do better, but nobody’s impressed with a working toilet until they stop going to burning man and divorce the artist.


Note: I think I was probably unfair to artists in this characterization. It's a hard path to follow; there must have been some deeper and more socially generative yearning than to make a fortune by pissing off art critics and confusing or offending normal folk. Art has historically been the enduring edifice of civilizations, and I appreciate anybody that builds and creates and invents.

> The art world is a wonderful illustration of the First Law of Success: 'Performance drives success, but when performance can’t be measured, networks drive success.'

This is a thought-provoking reframing of "it's not what you know; it's who you know."


The difference is that it's admitting that in some areas the managers/consumers can discern between good and bad, just not in every area. It's a bit closer to, "it's not what you know but who you know, when nobody else knows anything."

When a non-technical manager hires his nephew to write PhP, he isn't thinking "I love my nephew so much that I am willing to sacrifice our company's technology plan to help his career," he's thinking, "I have no idea how to evaluate web developers, so I might as well hire my nephew." Cynically, most people serve themselves first - so if you find them serving an in-group of the fashionable or blood-related it's often because they don't know how to serve themselves.


I don't see how this is "cynical". If you have no way to discern the difference between good and bad employees, it makes sense to at least hire somebody you know.


The thing is, though, that performance can be measured, to a degree: if a 'forger' produces an original work that passes as the work of an acknowledged master, then, in purely performance terms, the two artists could be regarded as being at the same level, and if the art world were only interested in performance, it would not care about provenance.

Works of art are more than just the objects themselves, however. In particular, works that have expanded the boundaries of what is regarded as art have value as historical artifacts, and the artist who created them reached a higher level of performance, on that particular work (as originality is an important aspect of performance), than those producing works that follow the pattern (including that artist, when producing subsequent works in the same vein.)

This point of view would assign considerable value to Duchamp's original 'Fountain', but not much to a replica, which would compare unfavorably to other, original, examples of signed plumbing. If you want a replica of it, there's probably more intrinsic value in making one for yourself than in buying one.


The art world assigned zero value to the original Fountain and $17 million to one of a number of reproductions.


Indeed - when history is an aspect of value, values will change over time. I would be very interested if the replicas' value holds up, though not particularly surprised if it does, as my previous post was not intended to be a description of how things work, but more of a speculation of how things might work if performance was valued above all else.


When things like art are hard to qualify, it seems it’s rasy to fall back on reputation. It seems a similar thing happens with investment. Have they had success in the past, with that do they have what it takes to succeed in the future?

It’s imperfect, but without a crystal ball, what else can you use as proxy given the unknowns?


Actually I think network will drive success even if talent has some measure - but if talent evens out the one with the better network will likely triumph.


Seth Godin has a great line about how the first person to put a urinal in an art museum was an artist, but the second person to do it was a plumber.

It makes an interesting thought experiment about what makes art, what it means to be "creative", and how the world may (or may not) appreciate your work...


I strongly suspect art museums had sanitary plumbing long before it moved to the gallery area.

Grayson Perry has a far more insightful critique.

https://www.windsorflorida.com/app/uploads/2017/11/Grayson-P...

If you have £15,000 to spare you can buy a print and hang it on your wall.


Its the common conversation "I could have done that" "But you didn't do that"

Most things are easy to copy, coming up with the idea in the first place is the hard part.


I'm confused. Does this mean that the "real plumber" was an artist; or the art museum didn't have WC before putting a urinal art piece.


Yeah, I can see how that's confusing. My take is that the first person to display a urinal (as an art piece) was an artist - but the second person to _try_ to display a urinal (as an art piece) was just a plumber (meaning: not an artist).


Succinctly, it's the same as telling a joke a second time to the same audience.


"Displayed at an angle and out of its normal context, it was oddly beautiful"

I disagree, the toilet was not "oddly beautiful" and displaying it at an angle and out of its normal context didn't make it any more "oddly beautiful."

It was a sort-of clever "troll" mocking the pretentiousness of the "art crowd" and it's significant because 100 years later the "art crowd" is still, how to put it? "Butthurt" over Duchamp's mockery of them.

The "troll" stung so bad that 100 years later they are still embarrassed, even humiliated, by it. 100 years of terrible nonsense and thousand-word essays of bullshit and they still haven't gotten over it.

Which I guess means that Duchamp made a piece of very significant art.


That seems incorrect. The contemporary fine-art world, or certainly the public-gallery, taxpayer-funded side of it at least, has been dominated by conceptual art https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_art for decades now: in other words, by people chasing heavily diminished returns on Duchamp's old hack. It's hard to imagine that the people adulating and spending millions on Damien Hirst's bisected shark and other, even slighter stuff are still upset about Duchamp.


Maybe if we sent in a more beautiful urinal?


> it’s based on little more than mutual belief in one another

crypto-coins are an abstraction over art commodities. Devoid of any specific meaning, they are valued according to pure belief. One is justified at any time to purchase them and they are unique. They can be interpreted to have almost any meaning. maybe they should be considered works of art themselves.


One can find an appraiser to value one's fine art at 10x what one paid for it just prior to donating it to a museum. It then provides tax reduction in excess of the purchase price, and so there can be a logical expectation of positive ROI at time of purchase.

I'm not aware of any analog with cryptocoins. They suffer a fatal flaw of having a clear market value.


> But I do mean to say that there is no quality in art.

> The simple truth is we have no way of objectively determining the value of any work of art or the performance of its maker.

Ehh... Not having objective, quantitative metrics is not the same thing as having no quality what so ever.

It seems very strange (and utterly wrong) to claim there is not even a smidgen of underlying truth or insight about the world found in art.

The article is long, and I grew disheartened upon reading the above and stopped, so perhaps I missed a later redemption.


I read it differently, but I don't think the author was saying art has no quality in the way you're interpreting it at the end of your sentence, in the sense of value or anything to offer. I interpreted them to mean that there's no way to objectively determinine that value, so practically speaking there's no objective quality in art. I think there's even a sentence or two where they try to make clear that they're not questioning art's value, just our ability to determine that value in real terms.

I agree that the author's choice of words was probably kind of poor. But I interpreted the article to mean that as it becomes more difficult to determine inherent worth in an area, success becomes more and more dependent on social networking effects per se. If you need a hammer, it has a specific function, and you can quantify that function in various ways. But if you're talking about something where the value is unknown, either because no one knows the ultimate truth, or because it's based on subjective experience or something, you can't quantify it, so you go back to networks.

This author has been making the rounds a bit in the last few years, and I think they've done research on these topics. Their argument is that network effects are very strong, and account for a lot of variability in outcomes that are popularly attributed to individuals (broadly defined).


In studies, people - including untrained people - can fairly reliably tell the difference between messy abstract art made by trained artists and messy abstract messes made by kids messing around with paint.

So there seems to be a quality of visual intelligence present in at least some art which is not present in non-expert splashes.

I would be surprised if you couldn't train a neural network to recognise the difference.

This is different to having an explicit formal model of "the quality that is different."

It's also different to a financially successful artistic career. All kinds of things can kill or promote a career which have nothing to do with the art itself.

Likewise for market pricing, which is always based on what galleries and auction houses hope they can get away with - often in a hyper-inflated market where art is reliably used for money laundering and tax evasion and other pastimes which have absolutely nothing to do with what it looks like.


These are all great points, thanks for writing that out. I see what you are getting at -- I agree with your take the author probably needed to choose their words more carefully. I had a hard time getting past the sentence "But I do mean to say there is no quality in art." The brutal wrongness of it so fundamental and stark... it was like a car crash where I couldn't look away.


AFAIK there's no way of objectively determining the value of anything. Are prices of houses in SF "reflecting their inherent quality" compared to houses in other parts of US? Or is the value of t-shirt with some brand logo sticked on it "objectively determined"? No, they're not, it's all simply negotiated by market's supply and demand, and so is art. It's worth exactly as much as someone is willing to pay for it.


> AFAIK there's no way of objectively determining the value of anything.

You can objectively determine how people subjectively value something, but value is always subjective.


There is signal in the noise, even if it is difficult to see or parse.


This article is directly relevant to the tech community. It's axiomatic that technical performance is very difficult to measure. It's also axiomatic that it's not what you know, but who.


>Ehh... Not having objective, quantitative metrics is not the same thing as having no quality what so ever.

I am shocked that in 2019 there are adults walking around with this epistemology. Every quantitative metric is an exercise in narrative. The notion of objectivity is an appealing construct in a world constructed by second hand observations, but alas, it remains just another implement in the narrative toolkit.


And now you are swinging too hard in the other direction. We can and do draw distinctions between narratives as we best we can.

The unattainability of ultimate truth does not negate the partial truths we are able to grasp.


No, but it does negate their status as objective, and it gives us cause to be suspicious whenever people start trying to wear that particular crown. If anything this is the entire point of empiricism, that we're only able to produce approximate descriptions of reality that are valued for their utility rather than their approach to some gilded ur-state called "Truth". Keeping that in mind (what some people might call "skepticism") is what allows us to observe the distinctions between narratives in the first place.


HN is not famous for its deep philosophical thinking. People want to believe that the world simply quantitative and we are objective observers. Subvert the narrative and you get downvoted.


So in effect, you're saying all domains are like the art world.


Metaphysics are a problem created by the fact that your brain is smaller than the universe. It's hard to walk away from that.


E pur si muove.


If you are an empiricist worth your salt this (the fundamental lack of objectivity in human knowledge) is a vital piece of understanding. Being blind to the flaws of your instruments is a terrible way to do science. Also I find it ironic that this quote is probably apocryphal and yet is offered in defense of objectivity.


Meh, the whole art scene is just another racket / gambling parlour for the riches' money / investment opportunity. What's valuable or not is all decided by a few big galleries and collectors. Mystery solved.


A few years back, Maurizio Cattelan made a solid-gold working toilet and installed it in the Guggenheim. Regular museum goers could stand in line, go into the little bathroom, and use the toilet. It was a completely functioning toilet. As I recall, the solid-gold toilet seat was very very heavy - go figure.

Cattelan's artwork riffs off Duchamp's artwork: how much is a toilet worth? Well, a solid-gold toilet is work a lot!! He also named the work "America", so there's a whole bunch of extra meanings on top. The work is so solid, but it's got a hundred meanings on top. It's garish and obscene, but also completely democratic!

https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/maurizio-cattelan-amer...


That installation has acquired a certain noteriety - when the White House requested an art piece, the toilet was offered...

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/the-white-h...


Piers Manzoni canning his own feces is an even more pointed criticism of the scam modern art has become.



The daftest thing I've seen in an art museum

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/floyer-monochrome-till-...

(a receipt from a supermarket)

I've also seen some stuff in modern art museums (e.g. Anselm Kiefer's stuff in the Guggenheim in Bilbao) that has absolutely blown me away

AFAICS all art scenes are conversations. Individual things people say are not necessarily understandable if you're not familiar with the conversational context (and even if you were you might think that some of the things they say are stupid)


Science Mag Article: http://barabasi.com/f/972.pdf


The story in the opening is probably apocryphal, and there is evidence Fountain is not the work of Duchamp, but of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven : >On 11 April 1917 Duchamp wrote to his sister Suzanne and said that, "One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture; since there was nothing indecent about it, there was no reason to reject it."

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/feature...


Exactly this. Barabási says "networks drive success." The Baroness was a leaf node. She connected mostly through Duchamp. His network allowed him to succeed. Her packets got dropped by the Duchamp node.


Wow, this is a very rare article that crystalizes a very real aspect of success. It's worth reading.

We constantly read about people working night and day to create a successful project but failing to succeed at it.

Networking is a very real and needed aspect of success. We regularly start projects with other people in mind but if you can't get your constituents to agree with what you want to create then you're headed towards failure.

It is nice to think that we don't need and don't want to deal with other people but that's a fallacy that will get you nowhere in life. The sooner we realize that the faster we'll move forward.

Excellent article, thanks to the person that posted it.


This makes me really upset and that seems to be the intention. Is this art? No, this is the downfall of society and a mockery of real art, rationality, and order. Chaos isn't art it's just shit.


The Guardian's "The class pay gap: why it pays to be privileged" feature https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/07/the-class-pa... seems to me a more detailed and more nuanced treatment of much the same topic.

Very insightful! art definitely sure look like it is the prime example of how important networks are, in my opinion art is entirely subjective, no matter if we are talking if it's modern or not, we really can't measure it with objective standards.

I think this article kind of gave me an inspiration to go out and get involved more, I definitely worry too much about my performance in my field and not really on how I interact.


Contemporary art is a sophisticated form of money laundering for the very rich. As it almost completely exempt from taxation, it's an ideal vehicle, relatively fungible and open to crazy speculation.

The crazy financiarisation of our world made many collectible objects prices skyrocket (see old cars, art, etc). But Contemporary art is the best of all, because, contrary to ancient art or old ferraris, its supply is unlimited. A boon to hide in plain sight the billions happily printed at the Fed and BCE.


To those might be thinking that demand probably isn't unlimited, it's true. But art is a business where demand doesn't quite work as one would normally understand it.

(Anecdotal.) I once was sitting next to a professional art dealer on a Eurostar. He gave me a hilarious primer on how his business worked as we made our way to Paris. In short, art demand is to a very large extent driven only by what's on display at the art dealers' places during their exclusive parties. A good way to think about this is that art dealers are opinion leaders and create new art trends as they see fit à la Devil Wears Prada.


Can you provide documentation for these supposed tax benefits? (I'm genuinely curious) AFAIK there are no tax benefits at the point of buying the art, and cap gains benefits are no different than stocks, real estate, etc.


The end goal is that everything gets donated and written off. Here's the basic scheme:

* 10 rich guys buy 100 paint splotch canvases from a dude who wears black and smokes cigarettes

* they keep 90 canvases in their basement and sell 10 of them back and forth to each other for increasing sums of money, paying taxes along the way

* when the prices are at $20 million per painting, they donate all of them, including the 90 in the basement (which appreciated just by exchanging the 10) for $2 billion in combined tax writeoffs


It's an interesting theory, but I'm not sure the details work. If the goal is making lots of money, and one is able to pump up the price of an artists works by 1000%, wouldn't one come out farther ahead by selling (at least a few) of the paintings to outsiders, rather than donating all of them?

While it seems possible that flooding the market with all 100 paintings at once might crash the price down more than the tax writeoff is worth, it seems unlikely that this would happen on the first sale. The counterargument would have to be that there doesn't actually exist any outsider who would pay anything close to the claimed value for the work.

Another odd aspect of this is that once individuals own a substantial numbers of works by an artist, it's in their interest to keep the price high for that artist's works. So if a new painting comes up for auction, they would benefit by never allowing it to be sold for a low price --- even if that means "overpaying" for the new painting. So maybe the end game is that the minority owners start to sell, knowing that the majority owners have to buy, and only after all the works have single ownership (with a record of high sales prices) sales does the donation scheme happen.

Interesting. I presume others have analyzed these strategies in depth?


wouldn't one come out farther ahead by selling (at least a few) of the paintings to outsiders, rather than donating all of them?

GP's suggestion seems to be that non-conspirators would not actually be willing to pay that much -- a bit like a pump-and-dump scheme, but only the IRS gets duped.


I've simplified the strategy. Imagine instead of all 100 paintings being from Pierre, imagine one canvas each from Pierre's last 100 sexual partners. The entire art market can crash, sure, but because of the easy outlet of a museum + IRS, the price is insured by the value of the painting as a tax shield.


This implies that donated art basically has an arbitrary valuation (set by "experts" based on some not really free or transparent "market"). Is this true? How is this handled for other assets?


If Pierre's paintings are being exchanged regularly by a bunch of hedge fund guys for $20 million each, isn't $20 million the market price of a different, arbitrary, painting from Pierre?

It isn't really a problem for other assets because they don't have the museum donation market that's key to the scheme working. You can't find a charity who is looking for superyacht donations.


> isn't $20 million the market price

Not at all: to have a "market" you need buyers, sellers and goods to be fungible.

In your example buyers and sellers are only 0.000001% of humanity: other people cannot afford to play this game.

Also the goods are unique. Brand new paintings would not be sold by the author him/herself at that price 99% of the time. They skyrocket in value only when sold between billionaires.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_(economics)


See here [1]. It's based on qualified appraisal and/or valuation of similar works at known auctions.

[1] https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/issues/2010/jul/2009209...


Thank you, this is the first time I've seen anyone explain this including the last part, other things I've seen leave that out and without it there's no benefit.


I agree that makes 100% sense.



Sorta, though arguably that podcast says the exact opposite: That taxes are high for art transactions and that people have to develop additional schemes to avoid them: I can buy GOOG stock without sales tax, but apparently you DO have to pay sales tax in a Southeby's auction.

I'm guessing that asabjorn's comment is more accurate: People donate art at a fraudulently-inflated price to lower their tax liability.


> I can buy GOOG stock without sales tax

Right you pay brokerage fee at time of purchase and capital gains tax at time of sale though, which is often larger than sales tax.


Apparently that is avoiding sales taxes and in a way that seems completely legitimate. One of the examples was New York. New York has a destination based sales tax. So if you are not using the item in New York you don't pay sales tax on it.


not directly on topic. but he's an article on how holding art can help shield your finances:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/12/style/david-libbie-mugrab...


If I remember right, in France arts pieces are not taxed as other assets (like flats) are.

edit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solidarity_tax_on_wealth#Basis

The English version is lacking some exempted elements compared to the French version, where works of arts are explicitly cited.


The French list is basically the same as the English list, except for the second and second-to-last lines which look like overly abbreviated translations:

* objets d'antiquité, d'art ou tout simplement de collection, parts de sociétés civiles propriétaires de tels objets (antiques, art, collections, and shares in what I think are trusts of various kinds)

* biens ruraux loués à long terme et participation dans des groupements fonciers agricoles (which appears to have been translated as "anonymous bonds"--a better translation is long-term rural bonds and agricultural cooperatives).

The French Wikipedia also states that this was replaced in 2018 with a new tax that's on property. My grasp on the French legal terminology here is weak, but I think it refers to real estate property only and does not include personal property, which would include things like artwork.


The "collection objects" term from the English version just seemed a little more restrictive than the French equivalent.

Also I didn't think about the ISF deletion then.


"Crazy financiarisation" may have gone further than you think.

Multiple artists have engaged in trading securities in order to create chart patterns which are art.

http://www.sarahmeyohas.com/stock2016/

and

"On 31 March Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan...called on South Africans to mobilise and organise against corruption and State Capture. In Cape Town...hedge fund manager James Gubb heeded the call. As a form of protest, Gubb began trading Gupta-owned Oakbay shares in order to create, in the price chart, a work of art depicting a middle finger."


Exempt from taxation? Isn't it subject to capital gains?


A lot of art is "donated" by putting it in a museum. However this is basically a massive tax writeoff for someone watching and securing your art for you! And it still confers all the status on you because it will have a plaque saying "generously donated from the Richie Rich Foundation"


In most countries, it's less taxed than other forms of capital (in Europe, it benefits from reduce VAT, no tariffs, and many other advantages) .


You are not wrong. But people making / selling art are not doing it for that purpose. People buying it? Not all but probably many.


Don't forget that fine art "directly held" is exempt from FBAR reporting.


Art is a money laundering substrate intended to violate all sorts of FINCEN/FATF/CFTC Controls and to play tax gymnastics with.

Very interesting. I have added the [book](https://smile.amazon.com/Formula-Universal-Laws-Success-eboo...) this piece was adopted from to my backlog.


What percent of art fetches such high prices? Probably very small. He won the equivalent of the artist lottery, just as some authors win the literary lottery. just randomness.


Not really. The lottery (unless cheating) should provide real randomness. ie: A president has the same chance as the next guy.

If both a former president and the next guy do an art piece, I'm pretty certain the president will fetch a higher price for his art work. That's the network effect.


The data he is referring to shows that it isn't just randomness. That's the point of the article.


"Because as the First Law of Success reminds us, the harder it is to measure performance, the less performance matters."

Performance, nonetheless, exists as a variable.


"The simple truth is we have no way of objectively determining the value of any work of art or the performance of its maker."

It's not so different from software really.


> Performance drives success, but when performance can’t be measured, networks drive success.

That distills the essence of modern internet content economy for me.


Provocation in search of a reason ...


Hmmm.

For me, "art = networks" looks a lot like "art = bullshit".

That plus speculative bubbles.



I feel like modern art market is primarily a way for a subsegment of rich people to buy certain intangible goods: These are people that feel lonely, and have low self esteem... They really would like to socialize with cool and charismatic people, and the "modern art scene" is basically a very pricey matchmaking service for them to make friends and go to parties with people that fit this description (i.e. the artists)


100+ years ago a urinal would neither be considered art nor valuable as an artistic expression. Art used to require skill until avant-garde and deconstructionism mounted what has turned out to be a successful attack on artistic competence.

Why it was successful is an interesting question. The wealthy has always been important patrons of the arts, and people seem to use the cost of a piece to signify value of the art itself. Imagined or otherwise.

A few documentaries [1 - can't find the main one I was thinking about] [2 - a good video summary on it] and books have exposed that tax deductions on art donations is an incentive to game the system, because it easy to collude with art brokers you know to collect cheap crap art and then donate it. To find a way to collect art you truly adore and then part with it for a tax deduction is much harder.

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9878520/ [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZz2PhTQJCA


What a weird and condescending take.


Why? It’s not strange to think that an old man in leveraged buyouts would be willing to spend some money to be catered to by a group of young, talented, attractive people... and if he’s rich enough or lucky enough, maybe even fuck a few of them.


Young, sure. Talented, maybe. But attractive is probably not what you're optimizing for if you're hanging out in the art scene. Might have better luck in the fashion world


Not everyone is attracted to the same thing. Personally I don't know much about the "art scene" but many of the people I find attractive have turned out to be artists and musicians.


It's not an insane idea, but it's also totally unfounded to assume that people who buy art are primarily "lonely" with "low self-esteem".


Sure. Is there any data that shows that modern art is primarily bought by lonely people?


Sounds like owning a winery around these parts.


As well as naive. It's all about the 'market', not about the 'friends'.


Modern art (or just art), it's more a money laundry, tax evasion, asset management scheme than anything else.


I think those play a smaller role, for the following reason: If modern art was primarily about the social aspects, you'd expect most modern art to be stuff like a perfectly blank canvas or a urinal, because those are direct signals of the "coolness" of the artist (who else but a charismatic person can sell a blank canvas?)

If art was more about tax evasion, etc, then modern art would probably be more photorealistic or otherwise difficult to create (since this would make it easier for outsiders to assess the scarcity of an asset)

But I agree that the modern art market is multifactorial in nature and that there are elements of both involved.


The tax evasion argument doesn't seem to follow. It's not the scarcity that you want hard to measure it's the value. Scarcity in modern art is always assured by one of a kind or limited runs. If it's photorealistic it's much easier to judge the value than an abstract composition. How much should a shark in formaldehyde be worth? If it's in a natural history museum, then the price of the shark, the tank and the formaldehyde and any labor to prepare it. If it's in an art museum, who knows? Whatever someone paid for it.


But most modern art is not much better than blank canvas, etc.


That's exactly what I'm saying: The more ludicrous the art, the more likely it is that the product is not the art itself, but the artist.


It's also a way for rich people to involve themselves comfortably in some non-profit sector (go look at a board for a major art museum), and to become 'tastemakers.'

The desire to be an influencer is very natural, and this is the easiest path for you if you've got a lot of cash to burn.


I'd say being an "influencer" and socializing with interesting people are very similar and hard to tease apart as separate concepts.


you are framing it as a one way street. The “lonely people with low self esteem” want to socialize with the “cool and charismatic people”...maybe the other side of the coin is the “cool and charismatic people” are nothing more than well designed marketing of idealized principles who actually are quick to sell out because they worship money over their own art.


I've been in and around the art scene in New York City and I would not describe the buyers as "people that feel lonely, and have low self esteem." Maybe a few, but certainly not most. Many of them have the opposite problem, an extreme self-confidence that comes across as arrogant. As with all things relating to the cutting edge of culture, one needs great confidence to survive, on both the buying and selling side of things.

I have a few art pieces that I'm proud to have at my apartment. Some people think they are ugly, but they are an expression of my tastes, and therefore they are a useful shorthand for communicating those tastes to others, when they visit my apartment. I suspect that a lot of art buyers have the same motivation as myself, they are looking for symbols that can work as a shorthand way of communicating a lot about oneself.


I guess the question is whether arrogance arises from high self esteem or as a compensation for low self esteem... My experience is usually it's the latter.


>>Many of them have the opposite problem, an extreme self-confidence that comes across as arrogant.

Too many people that seem very self-confident and arrogant are actually highly insecure people.


> These are people that feel lonely, and have low self esteem.

Slightly related:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6777961/Billionaire...


>How? Replace the corporate ladder with a social bridge. We never work in isolation—even when we think we do. Our collective definition of success requires us to think about the ways that our work impacts others.

Collectivists hate art. Capitalists love art.

If you look at socialist countries like Cuba, there are 0 artists. You must get approval from the government to make a "Creative Production" https://havanatimes.org/?p=141068

This is why capitalism is amazing. Capitalism works so well that we can have $2M urinals.

I want artists in my society. Enough of this communism from this author.


What an offensive comment. Socialist countries don't have art and artists? lol. Some of the greatest musicians, filmmakers, visual artists were from the Soviet Union


Not to mention the myriad anti-capitalist artists the produce great work within capitalist economies.

That comment is so absurdly wrong I wonder what kind of person has the ignorance and gall to make it.


In the USSR before Stalin's death. It was a crime to make any art. After Stalin's death they decriminalized art but it was still illegal to be an artist. That isn't even to get into the censorship.

The fundamental reasoning here, in communism where everyone gets the same pay regardless of performance. If artist is an option, everyone would become an artist; why work a hard when it doesnt matter.

That's why communism/socialism bans artists. You never addressed this. You simply asserted I was offensive.

You risked going to a gulag and near certainly probably death by creating art. Nobody did this, the few who did, did it in secret.




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