Modern art is crap – is Jackson Pollock better than The Aspen Beat?

Which of these large paintings is better? One is by renowned artist Jackson Pollock, and one is by yours truly, The Aspen Beat.

I’m not known as an artist – heck, I’m not even known as a writer – but I can still apply paint to canvas, to myself and to everything else in the vicinity. That’s where my similarities with Pollock end.

Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, got expelled from two high schools, liked Mexican murals, was an alcoholic, and died drunk when he rolled his convertible. The car interior wound up looking like one of his paintings.  

On an artistic level, Pollock is less admirable. His technique was to put the canvas on the floor and drip paint onto it. He called it his “drip technique.”

The leftists at Wikipedia – always verbosely enamored by all things predictably opposed to Western Civilization – proclaim that Pollock “was widely noticed for his technique of pouring or splashing liquid household paint onto a horizontal surface . . . enabling him to view and paint his canvases from all angles.”   

In other words, if you put something on the floor, you can walk around it to see it from different sides.

Huh. How ingeniously artistic. Michelangelo could have saved himself a lot of chiropractic treatment if he’d thought to put the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on the floor, paint it with drips, drops and drabs, and then put it back up on the ceiling.

An early art critic (is that really a paid job?) enthused (about Pollock, not Michelangelo), “I took one look at it and I thought, ‘Now that’s great art,’ and I knew Jackson was the greatest painter this country had produced.” Pollock’s first exhibition declared his work “Volcanic. It has fire. It is unpredictable. It is undisciplined. It spills out of itself in a mineral prodigality, not yet crystallized.”

OK, if they say so. But have you ever noticed how the quality of art is inversely proportional to the quantity of words used to describe it?

A Pollock painting is rumored to have sold a few years ago for $200 million. I suppose that’s about what the Sistine Chapel ceiling would sell for, and they’d probably throw in the chapel itself and maybe that building next door too.

My cynicism might be because the most I’ve been offered for my piece above is, um, lower than $200 million (but not as low as you might guess). Pollock was a very successful artist. I’m, um, not.

Other painters have imitated Pollock with more success than I’ve had, at least in the money department. In a notorious scandal, a prominent New York gallery sold Pollock fakes for years. The fakes were by a Chinese immigrant in Queens, and laundered through a complicated contrivance in Mexico to produce a false provenance. The same scam artists also produced and sold counterfeits of another famous modern painter, Mark Rothko.

The gallery itself contends that it, too, was tricked. Maybe so but, unlike the other victims, the gallery was greatly enriched until the fraud was discovered. (If you’re interested, this story is in a good Netflix show.)

Apart from all the criminal intrigue, the interesting thing about the Pollock and Rothko counterfeits is that nearly all the experts were fooled. The forgery was discovered only when forensic experts hired by a potential purchaser determined that some of the paint was not invented until years after the paintings were purportedly made.

Notably, no expert ever said, “This cannot be a Pollock, because it just isn’t good enough. It lacks that volcanic fire of Pollock. It fails to spill out of itself in a mineral prodigality, not yet crystallized.”

Question: How can an unknown painter in Queens produce something that, from an objective visual standpoint, is as “good” as something that sells for $200 million? What’s happened to our modern notion of art?

My last column, “Modern music is crap” decried the degeneration of music. It looks like the same has happened to art. The end of music and art suggests that that at least one of the Platonic triad – truth, justice and beauty – is dead. I submit that it wasn’t an accident. It was murder most foul.

Next column: Modern education is crap.

42 thoughts on “Modern art is crap – is Jackson Pollock better than The Aspen Beat?

  1. Your piece should be called “Rorschach on Spider.” As it lacks infinite entropy, it is obviously not a Pollock.

  2. Didn’t they also call Pollock’s drip art “piss” art? And I think I read that he learned his craft by taking advantage of an FDR public money program for people who want to learn to be, well, artists. It was during the depression. As far as your work, it’s certainly bold. I can see how someone would want to own one of your pieces.

    BTW, what’s the guy’s name in England who painted a picture of a balloon then had some kind of automatic shredder attached to it and sliced it up. I think it happened last year. No one knows his real identity.

  3. Pollock was inventive, perhaps, because he was the first to paint in that “style” and to popularize it. I’m not saying being first makes his art great, but it was distinctive in its time. (Full marks to Glenn for the, um, colorful imagery in describing Jackson’s car interior. That, too, is inventive.)

  4. I’ve quietly questioned the art world to myself. I even took a bunch of oil paints once, splashed them on a canvas, and gave it to my sister as a “gift”. It was titled appropriately “Squashed bug on a windshield”. Oddly, I never saw it hanging in her home. Trusting “art critics” today reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes. In fact I agree that most aspects of the arts, have degraded to a point beyond redemption. How sad.

  5. Did you look any deeper into your subject than Wikipedia? Declaring modern art is crap with a comparison to a single example of one abstract expressionists’s work seems a bit rash. Maybe you know what you think…but is that all you know?

    • Actually, the Wikipedia page on Pollock is pretty favorable as evidenced by the quotes I took from it. It’s his art that is crap.

      Notably, a number of readers are still unsure which of the above pieces is Pollock and which is me. When you have to explain why something is “art” then maybe it really isn’t.

  6. As someone with legal training, Glenn, you surely recognize that using a single individual or object to represent a broad class of people or objects is a kind of fallacious argumentative reasoning that doesn’t score many points in either a court of law or an academic treatise. Your doing this with Cardi-B kind of worked because most of us have seen enough of her kind of musical performance to know that while she differs in degree from her contemporaries (she’s even more pornographic), she doesn’t differ in kind.

    Another problem is that the term “modern” doesn’t seem to mean much more than “recent” or “contemporary” in this discussion. The terms “modernist” and “postmodernist” do have distinctive properties that could be rationally accused of committing “murder most foul” of Western thought and values, but I’m not sure Jackson Pollock had a philosophy of art that places him in these camps.

    The painter Edward Hopper, for example, practiced his art during the same years that Pollock practiced his gimmickry, so he is just as “modern” as Pollock. But Hopper really was an artist, and a brilliant one. I don’t see how his paintings are inferior to those of Winslow Homer, Van Gogh, or Rembrandt. They actually “say” something: I could easily write 10,000 words about “New York Movie,” for example, while I’d have a hard time writing 100 words about the Pollock piece that you displayed.

    So this doesn’t work for me, except to confirm that you’re just as good as Pollock. So go get yourself some of that money that foolish investors are willing to spend on such stuff.

    • Your argument is well put, Chad, but fallacious. Here’s why.

      You argue that I’ve chosen a bad example of modern art — Pollock — to compare to a good example. That would be a fine argument if it had the underpinnings.

      But Pollock is NOT considered a bad example of modern art. To the contrary, the art world considers him a great example of modern art, perhaps even a genius. In contrast, the art that I’ve compared Pollock to — myself — is regarded as, well, they don’t regard me at all.

      So the comparison I’ve made between Pollock and myself is unfair, but not to him and the modern art world. It’s unfair alright, but to me. An unknown, unrecognized hack like myself is better than the best (according to the art world) that the art world has to offer.

      In short, modern art is crap.

      • Chad accuses you of picking out a single example of the class you condemn, thus finding that your critique is erroneous as having been based on too limited a sample to be valid. He then picks a single example of a “good modern artist,” Hopper (with which I grudgingly agree) and uses it to buttress his argument that “modern art” is “not crap.” Pot, meet kettle. With limited exceptions, I agree with your assesment. For my Exhibit A, I submit for your consideration:
        https://www.npr.org/2019/05/16/723888420/jeff-koons-rabbit-fetches-91-million-auction-record-for-work-by-living-artist

      • Correction, Steve: I was saying that not ALL “modern art” is crap. “Modern art” is a pretty big net that catches everything that swims, and we don’t want to ensnare dolphins along with the tunas, do we now? I would agree that all abstract expressionist art is crap; I don’t like Picasso much better than Pollock.

  7. Pollack made mistakes all the time while he was creating. But neither he nor anybody else could tell. This is why calling this “art” is a form of mental illness.

  8. I remember the time my wife and I visited the MOMA in NYC. (Two hicks in the big city! Yoohooo!) While my wife was off by herself I went into one gallery, on the way out I noticed a painting by the door that I had missed. There was a young man there standing guard. The painting consisted of two hollow squares, one blue and the other black. They were superimposed, but off set. As I passed out the door, I said to the guard, “It’s upside down.” He snickered. Later, when I followed my wife into that same gallery, the guard was still there and still laughing.

    • Bravo. You allowed this young man to enjoy a plain truth that had been obscured by the price tag put on this “art.” Incidentally, I saw perhaps the same hollow squares on display at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. There were about 20 of them, and I remember thinking, “Am I really supposed to stand here and ponder which square I like the best?”

      • The Bilbao Guggenheim, a flashy but lousy look-at-me piece of “art” itself (and I actually like most modern architecture) also prominently displays its big collection of Pollocks. The English explanations accompanying each are embarrassingly grandiloquent. They’re something an 11th grader would write for his art history class.

        Basically, they tell the visitor why the art is great. Because otherwise the visitor might conclude otherwise by believing his own eyes.

        Interesting that the Spanish chose to import modern American trash art for one of their premier museums, given that they have artists of their own such as El Greco, Velazquez, De Goya, Picasso, Dali, etc etc etc.

      • That’s the place. And why do I suspect that the people who gave us this House of Fakery are the same people who get on their planes and fly to Davos to engineer The Great Reset of our society? Bilbao is where they reveal their souls.

  9. For me this article conjures up an image of Beaton as a referee, blowing a whistle and calling “B.S.” on Pollock. Deservedly. (Come to think of it, Pollock’s paintings might be literal representations of B.S.)

    I remember a comment somebody made about the “beat” writers: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” And Pollock isn’t painting, it’s dripping. It’s not art, it’s an accident.

  10. Your painting reminds me of one memorable to me but I forget its name and the name of its painter. Saw it decades ago at the Norton Simon in Pasadena. Very dark face with one red spot that brings the structure alive. I believe the artist was a contemporary of Kandinsky because we were at the Simon to view Kandiskys. Philosophy class in Aesthetics, taught by Director of U Redlands School of Music, Leslie Spellman.

    FWIW, IMO the quality of painting and music to which you refer is a predictable result of effort to remove the male principle — structure — from a society, civilization, family, company, etc. When that happens, the female principle — energy — has less and less to guide it and starts zipping about with increasing destruction, to include of the male principle, of virtually everything, including itself finally.

    Pollock, Warhol, Sondheim, Bernstein, Cage, Cunningham, you name them, they share the trait of eschewing structure even when they are forced by reality to use it (e.g., a painting has to have sides, a tune has to have notes). Not a few women think these de-maled men are the perfect male and say they feel safe with them. Such women are dangerous.

    Anyhow, that’s my observation: retreat structure and you advance energy, which turns right quickly to chaos. See current White House, Congress, courts, companies, families, churches, etc. Structure and energy belong together in functionally equal amounts.

    • Maybe the dark face with red spot was by Jawlensky, who painted faces, but among the works of his I see online I do not see the one I remember. He, Kandinsky, Klee, and Feininger formed Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four) in 1925 as successor to Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). I believe Kandinsky, the very embodiment of structure saturated with energy, was the organizing force in both groups.

    • Interesting comment, and pack full of keen observations. I’ll focus on one.

      I’m not sure women are attracted to men lacking structure. I think typical women are attracted to the opposite kind of man — those who bring structure in the form of protection and security. That often involves money and/or status.

      Accordingly, the women who were attracted to “artists” like Pollock are not really attracted to their lack of structure. They’re attracted to their status and money.

  11. Back in the 1970’s Francis Schaeffer and H. R. Rookmaaker were discussing modern art, modern music and modern films and their philosophical origins.

    H. R. Rookmaaker:
    Modern Art and the Death of a Culture
    Francis Schaeffer:
    How Should We Then Live?
    Chapter 10: Modern Art, Music, Literature, and Films

  12. Years ago in a PBS rebroadcast of the BBC’s “Brideshead Revisited”, as the family gathered one evening the teenage daughter injected, apropos of nothing that had gone before in that scene, “Modern art is bosh (nonsense), isn’t it?” The protagonist agreed. (As did I.)

  13. I remember visiting El Museo del Prado in Madrid in 1970, at the insistence of my wife. I gave in because it’s one of those places that ‘you have to visit’. Bragging rights in certain circles. I did like the Goya’s and the Bosch’s, but the one that turned my head upside down was Velázquez’ Las Meninas. At the time it was displayed in its own room. There was a sign next to it directing the viewer to look into a mirror across the room and adjust themselves so that only the picture (no frames) was visible in the mirror. This was easy to do because the painting is so large.

    I don’t know how to describe it, but I swear that when one looks in the mirror, the dog starts to pant and the little girls, if you can hold the view for a second more, will start to move. It’s like glancing in a window as you drive past and you see people there, but because your instant is so short, they appear not to move, but you know they are really alive.

    I had to go back to the entrance and start all over. My whole perception of art changed with that one experience.

    Except for modern art, Glenn is right, it is crap.

    Unfortunately Las Meninas has been moved to a different room and you can’t duplicate my experience.

  14. If they print your work on tea towels and sheets, Glen, you’ll know you’ve made it.
    I remember a time (at least a couple of decades ago) when an artist was given an art grant for her submitted project. She bought semiprecious gems and hid them all over the CBD. It was meant to be a sort of treasure hunt. What she hadn’t anticipated was that the people who found the gems would keep them. 😏

  15. Glenn
    Why anyone would care what your opinion of “modern art” is is beyond me. Your ignorance of the subject is absolutely astounding. It’s a good wind-up piece, but literature it’s not. I read you for the quality of your writing, not this, Tto paraphrase a once and not so good president “..this is not what you are”.

    • Nashville lovers have a bumper sticker that reads, “If it ain’t Country, it ain’t shit.”
      With this song, I’m not so sure. 😁

      But the more relevant question here is, If this truck had made it to California, would California be even more full of shit? Is that even possible?

  16. The comment about country music reminds me of a Tom Wolfe observation of the modern art world, and I may have it backwards, but it was the philosophy that if you can’t describe it, it doesn’t exist. Glenn, Tom beat you to your cogent observations, and I love your art. My favorite example of phony art was a piece I observed while resting in MOMA for 20 minutes watching Mark Rothko’s Black on Black. After that time I realized, “Eureka, there really are two shades of black!” Wow, what an achievement, and so creative. Time to review The Painted Word, by Tom Wolfe. He bolsters your sentiments, and would love your painting.

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