Art in the age of artifice

Originally published at:


This reads like something I would have written about art when I was young, before I went through a BFA and an MFA program, during which I had the opportunity to listen to countless artists speak about their process and their work, attended numerous student and professional art openings, had my perception blown open by performance pieces and installations, and really understood the effort that goes into it all. Of course there are some overrated artists–there are overrated creators in every medium. Of course some patrons to the gallery are going to be naive, or make snarky comments. Does that mean we should stop making art for other people who are “astonished” by conceptual works?

This sentence is embarrassing:

In a world gone bananas – cut loose on a sea of postmodern irony and indifference – is there a way to “reconnect” with the spirit of art, to satisfy our craving for aesthetic rapture?


As an art historian and philosopher of art… this ranks somewhere below Tolstoy’s ramblings. Poetic, lyrical? Yes.But I will still take Danto’s approach any day in the middle of the increasingly insane commodification of the art world these days.


Hollywood and La Brea don’t need to be gentrified right now

I’m sure they’d love this shit in Bakersfield though

1 Like

How about using information theory?

The Art Quotient is -log2 of the fraction of people who could do better. The AQ is not an absolute measure as it depends on a particular audience. The best audience is a random one that returns the best AQ figure. An expert audience may return a lower figure because they can do it better. An ignorant audience will return a lower figure from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Chess ratings work in a similar way. We can work out the probable result of a match from the ratings based on past games with respect to people they have played, and the process checks out on average. We can then estimate the chances of living people and historical people, and compensate for the differences in background. An 18th century chess player who lived in London where chess playing was not common would probably lose to someone who lived in Prague, where the cafes had chessboards on the tables and people carried chess sets and had pickup games in their lunch hour.

If we could get honest ratings with art, and that is part of selecting the ‘best audience’, I would imagine we could make a similar rating with art too.





Many people have a peevish, defensive posture toward art – they’ll retreat into irrelevant “common-sense” complaints about the price tag or the nuts and bolts of how something was produced, to ward off any meaningful conversation where their own reaction might be judged.

It’s partly cultivated by art-world snobs (I would put the linked article in this category), but mostly that fear of art is caused by itself. Anyone can go to even the fanciest gallery and just experience what’s there in silence. The idea that you must have a hot take, let alone a “correct” one, does not come from the practice of art. Art exists to be an alternative to that kind of rehearsed mental activity; it specifically explores domains that can’t be reached by everyday chit-chat, dominance games and other bullshit.

Really, the only response that is wrong is to ignore the work itself in favor of unrelated trivia. As long as you take art for what it is, all reactions are valid; most of the time you won’t have much to say. There’s a very slight knack to getting the most out of it, but you’re more than halfway there if you just go spend time around art without expecting anything in particular to happen.


There is not really such a thing as “better” or “worse” in the art world. It’s all about people’s reputations and the stories they write to sell their products.

TFA acknowledges this with “an incomprehensible and self-referential game, where vapid provocations and tired stunts trump authentic aesthetic creations” but then reverts to the same behavior a few paragraphs later with the “magickal radiating vibration” stuff and an artwork that’s just ad copy for itself.

If art auctions had to be double-blind tests, where nobody knew who made which piece or when, whether an old master, a trendy provocateur or a random high-school kid, and bids had to be based only on what everyone could see on the canvas, the art business would be a whole different thing.


You’re talking about the Art World of big galleries and wealthy buyers, essentially using art like a storehouse for their money. And there are certainly artists who see their work as a kind of capitalist game and a chase for high-profitable fame.

But that’s about 1% of artists. Far, far more artists are working because it’s their calling, they’re sincerely driven to make art, and while they’d like to earn a living from their art alone, they aren’t striving to sell their souls out to whatever current fad will get them the most fame.

One of the life-changing understandings that finally reached me during grad school (I was taking an Art & Anthropology course) was that there have been, and in a few lucky places still are, societies where art is woven into the basic values of the community. It’s assumed people will engage in art-making, and that an artist is as important as any plumber or carpenter. It’s a newer idea that art is just this unnecessary extra, this thing to be thrown overboard first.

So your comment is valid, when we’re talking about high-profile art “stars” who now float along on reputation and a cult of personality. But that’s not the whole art world, or the artist life.


I was just thinking about this not long ago. It occurred to me that it didn’t really matter which kind of magic you were talking about, the end result is to etch emotions onto the sunconscious of the audience.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about modern witches observing samhain with a dumb feast, Gandalf the Grey wrestling a Balrog, or a tuxedoed performer doing prestidigitation with his lovely and talented assistant. Ultimately they are all trying to change the way we see the world.

1 Like

I do not claim to have a practical measure. A single chess match has a definite outcome, but an art auction is too swayed by people gaming the system.

However if we can in theory define our AQ measure for (say) artists, and we may assume this is distributed with an approximately exponential fall-off for the high values (this is sort-of how IQ is estimated) then we can come up with an approximate AQ distribution from whether people rate artist A higher than B. This will not come up with a sensible result for the extremely high AQ ratings (can Joe Public truly say whether da Vinci is ‘better’ than Michelangelo?) or the fairly average values, where the AQ difference between A and B will depend strongly on the audience. But for the region between we might manage something useful.

IQ is highly biased notion. I remember reading of an IQ test designed for Australian natives, where you had to put a tray of rocks in order, or pick the odd twig out, and ordinary people could not even work out what the questions meant, let alone get the right answer. This is all about picking the ‘correct audience’.

1 Like

for something to be art it must have artifice.

it must be derivative.

But why do it at all? Life is enough of a rat race already without another ranking.


Then again sometimes you just have to admire what Hypebeasts the makers of Stonehenge were, or raise just the beaks of fancy chickens. It’s not the people; it’s a wrong ganglion outshining sensibility, assigning business logic to the right-ctrl key, or a wish to farm fugu.



Enough with raising the beaks of fancy chickens. Those bastards already think too highly of themselves.

Bring on the murder of crows!


I don’t get it. :thinking:

1 Like

I think its even more insidious than that. Art in our day to day life is what keeps us from being commodities. And when the art can’t be seperated from the thing- like French cheese, for example- then the market demands pasteurization in the case of cheese, or landlord’s white paint in the case of real estate.

1 Like

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

Let us consider Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s statement regarding porn… but deployed here as the even greater umbrella called “art”: “… I know it when I see it”.


Ehh, don’t think English is the guy’s native language…

Yes, in this day and age I am thinking that art is maybe any circumstance in which the individual finds a way to express agency in spite of the constant pacification which occurs when we are bludgeoned continuously by highly manipulative external forces attempting to extract money from us. But maybe that is a very ideological take on this.