The Idiots* Guide to Appreciating Modern Art


Source ,  License (Image Cropped)

Source, License(Image Cropped)

*This is a guide for Idiots (plural) but also an Idiot’s guide because a semi-idiot wrote it. A semi-art-idiot who enjoys and creates art, has little art history education and no real understanding of how microwaves work but who will preach about both. Kind of like the semi-blind leading the blind, probably causing both parties to fall into a ravine… let’s watch, shall we.

Hello and welcome. I assume you’re joining us today because your arty friends can’t stand your Facebook rants about how you “just don’t get” modern art and refuse to end one more boozy evening at a gallery opening with you punching a wall, picking fights with artists and running away yelling “This has been an installation piece, turd-emoji, turd-emoji!!” It’s fine, there’s no judgement here. We’ve all done it. Sometimes art is just stupid. But sometimes it’s you that is stupid and, anyway, you are an evolved mammal and you live in a society that enjoys enough social and political freedom for the arts to flourish so you might as well learn to enjoy it. We’re now going to go through 5 steps that aim to break down your defences and assumptions and allow you to draw some personal meaning from that “arty-farty bullshit”.

Step 1. “Wtf is this shit, I could’ve done this!” or The Slogan of the Bogan.

But you didn’t do it. You might loudly exclaim “I could recreate this shit easy, dude-broenheimer!” and maybe you could, but there’s a difference between composition and mimicry. It’s like when you learn a piano piece – the composer hasn’t written it to be inimitable but there’s more skill involved in composing music than in playing it.

You might be able to mimic the art, but in the same way a monkey in a lab-coat mimics a scientist. The monkey can try but he’ll never split the atom (because he’s a monkey) and you’ll never be lauded for your modernist art (because you’re a monkey). I can’t recall the point I was originally trying to make but the point I’ll end with is this: don’t dress a bunch of monkeys up as people and let them loose because they WILL spread faeces all over your home.

Step 2. Being an artist is no cake-walk in the cake-park, buddy (mmm cake-park).

You COULD have done it, but you didn’t. You could have developed your artistic style, gone to art school, suffered, organised an exhibition, but you didn’t. You probably did something else cool though, and you’re doing fine. Now moving along. Maybe you’re bummed because the life of an artist seems fun and easy, and you have to go to work 9-5 in an office all day and sink farts into a spongey, be-wheeled chair. But think about how unstable and uncertain the art world is. How competitive it is. Think about how often artists get ripped off, uncredited, copied, underpaid, strung along. How art grants are the first to go from federal budgets. How the world is full of dum-dums who shrug art/art school/artists off as illegitimate dandies. How difficult it is to make people question things and think about issues. How idioms about the “starving artist” and “suffering for your art” are still widely used today because they reflect a facet of truth. Then give the artist a little credit for getting through the quagmire of shit and actually producing some work anyway. 

Step 3. Art is not the absence of logic or reason.

"The greatest scientists are artists as well," said Albert Einstein (who played kooky Professor Mert in Back to the Future). Now that we’ve (hopefully) moved away from egotistic dismissal of art as easy and therefore worthless, we can move onto the importance of art and creativity to society and to YOU. Most of the great figures in the maths and science realms were undeniably creative people. Einstein played the violin, Benjamin Franklin wrote witty articles, Da Vinci doodled pictures of Jesus all over his schoolbooks. “But back then only people who were really good at art did it because everyone else was toiling in the turnip fields”. Excuse meee, please swallow your mouthful before you speak…God why did I agree to teach this seminar.

OK yes, every man and his cute dog’s OOTD has an arty Instagram but surely that just means we’re currently enjoying a contemporary renaissance on a grand scale. If Instagram had been around back then you KNOW peasants would’ve been doing artistic flat lays of their rotten vegetables and symmetrical dirt piles #bohochic #fieldlyf.

Einstein also said (in Back to the Future Part V: Velociraptor Wedding): "When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge".  Artistic people share traits of being inquisitive, imaginative, bold and harnessing that creativity to push the envelope.

Perhaps modern art is distasteful to you because of your perceived ideas about who the artist is. Now join hands with the person sitting next to you and dispel the stereotype that artists are all paint-soaked hippies who take drugs, dance with their feelings the moonlight and exist on a weirder plane of consciousness. Bountiful art, from digital to street, means that people are thinking and trying to make other people think too and that is a good thing.

 Step 4. What does it mean to the artist?

So now maybe you’re not hating on the art so much but you’re not getting it either. This isn’t where I direct you to Wikipedia for a comprehensive art history run-down. This is actually the easy part. Put yourself in the shoes of the artist and imagine making the piece (note: don’t touch the art with your sticky fingers during this flight of fancy). Read the artists statement (note: this will often be vague gibberish but try it anyway). If you can’t get a handle on the artists meaning, you may have to intuit. Be generous. Feeling anything? OK hang onto that sentiment and ready your loins for the final step….

Step 5. Look inside your <3.

Finally, and most importantly, just ask the question: “Do I like it?” Do the colours soothe your eyeballs; do you find the idea interesting? Do you not hate looking at the scale or the composition? Identify what you like about it. If you don’t like, identify specifically why, is it because you don’t like the colour green? Crazy, but fair enough! Is it because it’s too chaotic and makes you feel anxious? Nice observation friend! Is it because it’s shit and you could’ve done that? No! Naughty! That is not a valid criticism, we’ve been over this (now squirt yourself in the face with a squirty bottle).

In the end, the only way to connect with art is by asking “Do I like it, do I not? Why?” You can take pride in identifying what is and isn’t to your taste, and you don’t have to make a thing of it. The Sim version of you that God is playing with won’t suddenly change traits from “Loves cars” to “Artistic”. You can have a nice chat with other people about why they like it or don’t like it. You can support you artist friends by asking questions. On the other hand if you remain disinterested, please collect your XXXX promotional backpack and frayed hoodie from the coat check and wait outside while we finish up with in the gallery, thank you.