I Could Have Made This

I was sitting in a bar with a friend recently, where there was quite a bit of art on the wall. One of the pieces of art happened to be a red canvas with words painted in black saying, “I could have done this.” After a few minutes of pondering it and laughing, my friend said:

I think 3/4 of all art is made for the beginners who see it and say, ‘I could have done this.’

Maybe it’s an exaggeration or oversimplification or a comment on how much of “art” is crap, but I know most of us have looked at a piece of art and thought, “Huh? I could have done this.” A plain blue canvas? A bunch of splatters? A blank, unpainted canvas?! I’d have to say that context is what helps establish these things in some sort of appreciable light, and it can be fascinating finding out why that canvas with a gash in it was so important. Should you have to know a historical context to appreciate art, or is that an unfortunate by-product of ego-driven art critics in the mid-twentieth century? And if anyone could have made it, then why do we give it so much importance? To that, I would respond, 1. You didn’t make it, and 2. You couldn’t have made it. The “I could have done this,” painting isn’t hanging in the MOMA or the Whitney, it’s hanging in some bar in Seattle, being chuckled at. Maybe this context is ironically perfect, or maybe the artist is just 40 years too late. It also has a $1000 price tag, which might be the real statement. Maybe now I’ll start looking at it with a moment’s consideration and think, “I could have bought that.”

2 thoughts on “I Could Have Made This

  1. Shannon

    I’m going to stick with commentary about painting here and not delve into other forms of art, of which I have different opinions.
    I agree with your first point (“You didn’t make it”) but your second argument doesn’t hold water: Anyone can paint a canvas blue. I would have a difficult time reproducing a decent-looking copy of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, for instance, but can easily reproduce Klein’s Blue Monochrome. Not only is the Klein work already visually less stimulating, but it also commands no respect with regard to talent.
    One can argue it is intellectually stimulating because it makes the viewer decide what it (or the artist) is trying to convey… Is it the ocean meeting the sky? Is it saying something about the vastness of empty space? Loneliness? Is it just blue and ironically making a statement about people who seek intellectual meaning in art? This is all hogwash for hack painters that have good marketing and are excellent self-promoters. Unfortunately, in order to appreciate modern painting you have to know the context in which it is produced. That is because much of modern art has little to do with aesthetics and a lot to do with a commentary: political, social, pick your poison. Aesthetics are subjective, but famous classical works are still famous after hundreds of years for a reason: few people in any time could have made (or even reproduced) them.


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