Modern Art a Scam? The debate and the absurdity

I’m not sure it’s right to answer a question about modern art being a scam by discussing whether or not it’s art. Scam artists are indeed artists, after all.

I’m going to go on a limb here and say modern art — the low-effort kind that became fashionable in the past century, that supposedly makes statements about the nature of art itself — is a scam. The only reason people can continue to pretend this kind of art isn’t a scam is because it protects itself by making itself as difficult to describe as possible. Here’s my attempt to describe it.

Similar scams have existed in many eras of art — just that it’s never become as alarming as it has now, given the prices that are involved in modern times.

I think modern art tends to retaliate against questions like this one by asking, “Well then, what is art?” which, to me, is simply a futile competition between my poorly-articulated intuitive definition of the term against your poorly-articulated intuitive definition. It only serves to distract from the more interesting question of, “Is this worth what it’s being sold for?” and, by extension, “Is this a scam?”

I do believe that everything is worth something to someone. Manure is worth several bucks per kilogram to a farmer. Scrap copper is worth its weight in gold to crackheads. And maybe a blank canvas is worth $150,000 to a billionaire who has unresolved childhood grudges against their overbearing parents and a need for an easy way to continue hoarding wealth tax-free.

That isn’t what makes it a scam. What makes it a scam is what it tacitly says about itself and about other art relative to it — the ones which people invest a lot of themselves into creating and appreciating.

It’s important to remember that art is traded in a free market, and so the price placed on a piece of artwork is a statement on the value of all other work in that field, especially when the appraisal process is so public.

In North America, it isn’t illegal to price something too high the way it’s illegal to price certain things too low — for good reason, of course. But I do think, legal or not, it is an act of fraud to use outrageous monetary transactions as a way to increase your own value, relying solely on the flimsy circular justification of “It’s valuable because it’s expensive.” It’s basically a pump-and-dump scheme. There’s simply no way the prices of these pieces could have become multiple orders of magnitude higher than other styles of art if the appraisers hadn’t been conspiring tacitly with sellers to spectacularly over-exaggerate its value. Auctioneers also do commission charge, after all.

I also think it’s damaging to art as a whole in that it robs artists of their authority and collective expertise on the value of art, and puts it in the hands of a small number of spoiled critics with motivations that are financial at worst and political at best.

Obviously, there’s nothing particularly fraudulent about a Nicki Minaj concert ticket being sold for $200 while a Bach concert by a highly-regarded pianist goes for $50. That’s because pop music and baroque music are different markets entirely, whereas modern art, in its stated purpose of challenging art as a whole, positions itself squarely against the entire history of art, and insidiously, does so by appealing to the primitive primate psychology of, “He’s rich, therefore he must know what he’s talking about.”

Rei Miyasaka, Translator and Editor

Anything whatsoever can be Art. The trick is understanding that doesn’t make it good Art. Just as anything edible isn’t good tasting or even nutritious, let alone good for you, there’s the same range within modern art.

The whole point of Art cuts directly to the inner most meaning of life. Which is to learn. To be wiser, better & more capable. Art is supposed to do that well at its best. Modern Art is the most challenging & requires the most out of us. We need to know something about ourselves to discern its beauty or lack. The reverse, to condemn it in a throwing-out-baby-with-the-bathwater sort of way. I’m not a fan of Damien Hirst’s showier works which create affects that are more assaultively titillating then enlightening for me, to name an example of one way of being evaluative. Its too easy to be reflexive in attacking for its own sake. Going from the particular to the universal is also a principle that can incredibly abused. Calling or even seriously asking if (all) modern art is a scam based on isolated examples is by any objective standard, a far worse example of the kind of irrationality being condemned here.

John Penturn

Yes, modern art is a complete scam.

I’ll prove it. Select a well known work of modern art and then read whatever favorable commentary you can find in connection with that work of art.

The favorable commentary, without exception, will be just as absurd and blatantly pretentious as the alleged work of art itself.

Modern art is such an obvious scam that a lot of people can’t quite believe that it’s a scam.

But it’s a scam, a complete scam.

Bill Berotti

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2 thoughts on “Modern Art a Scam? The debate and the absurdity

  1. This really is a valid point, in essence, anyone can become an artist and sell anything as art. What some people think of as a scam, other people might see as art, and vice versa. A hugely debatable topic indeed.

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