Is modern art easy money or hard earned cash?

The other day I was looking through some ‘modern’ art in a magazine and I thought some of it was pretty basic. Now being an artist and taking lessons I do understand the concept that although the piece may be basic the actual work to come up with the design or idea might be hard. My one issue lies with personal experience. Recently two friends of mine held an exhibition of over 10 works and sold none of them. I however a short time ago sold a painting for 100$ (the gallery said it could have gone for 200+). Now this painting was a portrait. It took me some time but I had no real love for the thing hell I hated it and wanted to sell it (On the sketch I even gave the lady eyes the same as the creatures from ‘the cave’). My one query basically is. Is the money artists earn well earned or a con of the system?

It’s a hard earned con. A lot of the art is very simplistically done, but they put a lot of effort into marketing and self-image, but there is only so far a “statement” can take the art if it has no intrinsic merit of its own.

Interesting that you bring this up at the moment - this year marks the 20th anniversary of the National Gallery of Canada’s purchase of ‘Voice of Fire’. Here’s an article from Maclean’s magazine from January of this year.

Some of it is a con, some of it is hard work and it comes down to the eye of the beholder to sort which is which.

And Felix Holtmann (the PC MP who was such a vociferous opponent of the purchase) is right - three cans of paint, a couple of rollers would about do the trick (though if Felix can paint that neatly in 10 minutes, he’s wasting his time farming hogs!) but at the end of the day, Voice of Fire is still worth more than the 1.8 million the gallery paid for it in 1990, whereas Felix’s knock-off wouldn’t be worth more than a hundred bucks, unless he committed fraud/forgery by passing his copy off as the original.

It’s well earned. The question is similar to the one asked in General Questions about dentists, and the answer is essentially the same: you’re paying for their talent.

Lots of people say, “Oh, I could have done that” when they see a piece of modern art. But they* haven’t* done that. They never* thought* of doing that. It was the artist who decided to do it, and that’s what gives his work value. It takes a lot of creativity to see the obvious that no one else noticed before.

Ultimately, though, the value of art is what people think it’s worth. Some people definitely like modern art, and pay what they think its worth. People aren’t going to shell out money for art if it doesn’t have any value.

If you go into it thinking it’s a con, you’re not going to sell very much.


To be honest although I’m going to be training to be an digital designer soon I have no real intention of trying to make a living off of my works. The main thing that frustrates me is how liquid your value is in the art industry. A good car can simply be quantified by weather it runs or not (I know one can delve deeper but you get my drift). my main gripe with it is when I see good honest hard work in my community get shunned and see stuff from that massive anus Warhole thats soared.

I’m an art lover, but I too have looked at, say, Rothko paintings and thought, “I could do that.”
But a lot of it is in the conception and coming up with a statement. The technique may not be that difficult, but figuring out just what you want to do and say can be.

I’ll third RealityChuck’s answer.

It’s not the making of the art that’s the difficult part, it’s the selling. The two are not related to each other much.

One may think bad art sells just as much as good art, but really any art that sells is good art (to the person who bought it and to the artist who needs to pay his rent). Much of the modern art that people complain about is simply taking the art down to a minimum and the selling up to a maximum. I can respect that.

This wonderful quote applies:
“It is only an auctioneer who can equally and impartially admire all schools of art.” - Oscar Wilde

There’s modern art, and then there’s modern art.

My paintings involve a lot of precision work and take about 4-6 weeks to complete, occasionally more. Since they take so long to create, I’m basically working for less than minimum wage. I console myself with the (hopeful) thought that everyone who buys my work will be rich after I die.

There was a similar brouhaha in Australia in the early 1970s over the National Gallery’s purchase of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for $US 2 million. At the time it was seen by many Australians as an incredible extravagance, and as an example of the Labor Government’s profligacy with public money.

Given the fact that Blue Poles is considered one of Pollock’s most important works, and considering the price fetched by other Pollock paintings at auction over the last five years, it’s probably now worth $100 million or more.

Without exception, this question is entirely useless unless you’re willing to bring specific works under consideration. “Modern art” has no meaning as a subject of debate.

How about “any created work that brings forth an emotional response from others”?

Now, whether it’s good or bad art? That’s a harder thing to define.

What surprised me, even though I should have realised it if I’d thought about it, is that many kinds of sculptors have to be expert welders, masons, or mechanical engineers in order to get their installation built. That can be long hard difficult work, making the actual creativity part the easy bit.

I’ve never understood this complaint. I mean, more than ninety-five percent of the population of my country is literate, but their reaction to One Hundred Years of Solitude or Lolita is never “I could have done that”. Surely imagination is the wellspring of any creative pursuit?

I agree with Kurt. In my eyes, art is purchased for two main purposes.

  1. Because it contains a message or theme which is relevant to the buyer. Or they are significantly impressed by its visuals. Either way a genuine love of the artwork fuels the purchase. This is where unique works of art thrive. In Kurt’s example it was controversial literary classics, but Art has similar tendencies.

OR the more common reason. . .

  1. Image.

It is my opinion that MANY people purchase art in order to gain approval or acceptance from others, or to simply show off. Cafes will purchase art to establish an acceptable image. People in my family have art works up which bear a striking resemblance to what you find in many “Home and Garden” magazines. I could be wrong, but I feel that this reason is much more prominent than the previous reason.

However, for whichever reason, as long as it satisfies some need of the buyer (relating to an ideal or concept, or improving an image) it is hard earned cash.

I’m referring to art, not literature. The cliche “My third grader could do better” is really how a lot of people think of it.

I remember being in MOMA in New York with a cousin of mine and seeing Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel.*” Her reaction was “that’s just a bicycle wheel. Why is it art?”

I pointed out that by putting it in a museum, you look at it differently than you would if it were on a bicycle (it would not have raised so much scorn, for instance). Anyone could have taken a bicycle wheel and put it into a museum – but no one did until Duchamp thought of it.

There is a common reaction to a lot of modern art that “Oh, my third grader can do that.” Look at Pollock – he’s just dripping paint on a canvas. Before Pollock, no one would have thought to use that as a painting style.

*His recreation of it; the original has been lost.

One valid opposition is when government funds non-works of art similar to this. This takes away funding from more meritorious works of art.

As for myself, I’m beyond being outraged at non-art being placed in an art context. So, now that I don’t really care about them, to me, they’re now what they really are – bicycle wheels in a museum, not controversial works of non-art. Which is even worse than being thought about.

I am a huge art collector and going to a museum is like going to a church for me; it truly heals my troubled soul and lifts my spirit.

During a walk one day, I found this old rusty cog from some piece of equipment. Honestly, I don’t know exactly what it is, but aesthetically, it is intriguing and I have it on a small pedestal in my home, next to a sculpture that cost thousands of dollars.

The fact that I have taken a discarded and questionable hunk of machinery and placed it next to an obviously well-crafted and stylish piece, elevates to a level beyond its initial use – and creates a sensation of beauty by its existence but is something that would never be considered an art object as it was lying there in the dirt.

To me, they key is people think they could do that. But they can’t. If you can make a Rothko (or, say, Pollack or Kandinsky) shimmer with that intense spirituality (I have no better way of describing the effect of his paintinings), I’ll be gobsmacked.

Now, there are artists where the art is in the concept and not the skill of the piece. But Rothko (or Pollack or Kandinsky) ain’t one of 'em.

Interesting - you are trying to equate talent with impact and longevity. Talent can play a big role in achieving impact and longevity, but there are many other factors as well. Modern Art, and Warhol in particular, provocatively pushed buttons that, given your POV, are effective to this day. He may or may not have a mastery of an artist’s craft skills (I think he does), but he certainly had a talent for framing his art and the “pop/art” tension it evoked, just like Duchamp did with his urinal…