William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Modern Artists Are Evil Or Borderline Bedlamites


Are all artists evil? No, not all of them. But some are, and it’s a good bet that they are among those touted by prize committees such as the cultural Marxists at the Turner Prize.

Proof? How’s this:

Anthea Hamilton is nominated for work focusing on fetishism including an enormous sculpture of a man’s buttocks.

That sentence is true. The “sculpture” is of a man’s enormous bootocks (using my old colleague Seargeant Gatewood’s preferred pronunciation) prised apart by giant disembodied hands. Since this is a family blog, and since I cannot advocate the radial dieting the image provokes, I will not show it.

The Turner Prize is given to image-makers (let’s not call them artists) under 50 years old. The prize itself is handed out by celebrities, who are defined as people above us all. Wikipedia says Yoko Ono, who is famous for being famous, gave away the forty-thousand British smackers in 2006, and in 2016 the dishonor went to actor Jude Law, who has (Wiki says) been in films.

Other nominees for this year’s money is a person who stacked yard rubbish into a not-so-neat pile with the title “aesthetically-overlooked materials” (pictured above), a person who evidently went to a Hobby Lobby dumpster and glued the remains together to create “poetic, pictorial puzzles”, and a person who displayed a store-bought choo-choo train.

Now it is a cliché, but still a truth, to say Hamilton and the other image-makers are talentless immature tiresome frauds with no sense of propriety, proportion, or prudence. The real question is whether they are also lost souls bamboozled into thinking they have contributed something positive to society, instead of ushering it closer to its doom. Or are they brazen hacks looking to become minor celebrities and make a buck out of slimy speculators who buy their works hoping to resell them to dumber dupes down the line?

If the answer is that these intellectually challenged image makers have been duped, then we should have nothing but pity for them. Pity does not mean that these sad people should be encouraged, though. Obviously, they should be discouraged by all means short of physical restraint. Go ahead and hurt their feelings by telling them their work is sad crap that looks worse than an open, suppurating sore.

If it is the latter, if in fact these image-makers know what they are doing, and there is sufficient evidence to assume it is true of at least some of the image-makers, then since their toddler-like tinkerings do positive harm to any that see them, these image-makers are evil.

Evil too are those that do nothing more than purchase autographs hoping thereby to gain a profit. For the creations by these image-makers are little more than a form of pornography, a pornography of corruption, hate, and ugliness, and making a profit from pornography is evil.

There are, of course, grades of evil. Not everything is evil to equal degree. The oil paintings of sad clowns and fuzzy flowers put up for sale in gas stations and flea markets are the mildest form of artistic evil, akin to wearing t-shirts with goofy messages in public. Both inflict faint ugliness on unwary citizens.

The images described above, and those like them, are far worse. Why? Because they are touted as good and worthy by self-appointed elites. The money awash in the system commands respect, too. That is unfortunate, because money has the weakest correlation with the good. But in a culture which has such a strong grip on materialism, money has undue weight

One elite is Will Gompertz at the BBC. Knowing that the works peddled by the prize are being called out, Gompertz had to defend them in “What defines a good work of art?” Gompertz correctly—I say correctly—identifies the central flaw in modern art:

You can appreciate pretty much anything if you intellectualise it – even those really dire videos you try to sit through in galleries. But not every work touches your emotions and makes you feel something.

Gompertz had “fun” looking at the bootocks, which he could not (or did not) “intellectualise”. Yet I felt the desire to smack some sense into Hamilton. According to Gompertz’s theory, my emotional response turned the bootocks into art.

Though it pains me to type this conclusion, which ought to be clear to the meanest intellect, if emotions define art, then because everything causes some reaction, everything is art—and therefore nothing is art.


  1. Assemblages of garbage promoted as art are easy targets. I’m just wondering about two unstated premises in this post:
    1. Where is the border between Modern and pre-Modern art?
    2. Where is the border between Ugly and not-Ugly art?

    Take Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica for example. Is it too early to be Modern? It certainly could be appraised as Ugly. Yet it’s recognized as significant art because it fulfilled it’s purpose — condemning wartime atrocity.

  2. My perspective on what “good art” is, is art that succeeds in enlightening using the utmost of skill is good. With that in mind, “personal expression” is largely irrelevant. Raphael’s School of Athens is great in both respects because it is deep both in philosophical terms and technical quality. Dittos about The Last Supper.

    But that also doesn’t immediately remove modern artists from contention. Personally, I like Pollack’s paintings, but I like them even more for what they convey: art whose source is the artist, themselves. We also see the difference in the nature of how it looks. Mondrian is another one that I like because I like the push for simplicity. Mondrian’s earlier works were not as good, IMHO because they looked like regular paintings with some stuff missing. It was when his work became more philosophical that it became interesting.

    Why so much modern art fails, in my opinion, of course, is that it is an extension of Pollack, but without a soul. It is art that comes solely from the artist, with the intent of the artist being nothing beyond their own self.

    How dull is that?

  3. Modern Art stopped being art and turned into cultural criticism beginning with the Dada movement around 1917 which has continued to this day. The movement made a mockery of Art and the folks who bought it. They seemed to be saying that beauty was BS and people are stupid. The Modern Art “movement” is atheistic, nihilistic. It is form of cultural Marxism. My brother Robert, a Pop Artist, was in Walter Hopps ‘New Paintings of Common Objects’ at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1962. He told me the whole thing was something of a joke and meant to be subversive. My opinion is the whole thing is ridiculous.

  4. I still contend that much of what passes for “modern art” is in reality a clever money laundering scheme.

    No way a canvas with a single smear of paint is actually worth millions to anyone.

  5. Here, like a neurotic smart missile, we keep bypassing so many substantive matters and instead zero in on quirky goings on from the crazy tassels on the lunatic fringe.

    Brings to mind this dialogue, involving God, played by George Burns in the movie Oh God, regarding why such nonsense is actually necessary/unavoidable; in this quote he’s (God is portrayed as) talking about pain & suffering specifically, but the basic sentiment applies in general:

    God: [answering Tracy’s question about why there is so much suffering in the world] I know this sounds like a cop-out, Tracy, but there’s nothing I can do about pain and suffering. It’s built into the system.
    Tracy Richards: Which You invented.
    God: Right. But my problem was I could never figure out how to build anything with just one side to it.
    Tracy Richards: One side?
    God: You ever see a front without a back?
    Tracy Richards: No.
    God: A top without a bottom?
    Tracy Richards: No.
    God: An up without a down?
    Tracy Richards: No.
    God: OK. Then there can’t be good without bad, life without death, pleasure without pain. That’s the way it is. If I take sad away, happy has to go with it.

    There’s a certain amount of profound wisdom in that last bit, that or simply a flair for the obvious* — without contrasts there would be no reference point for concepts like good & bad. Thus, its a good thing there’s kooks & loons & so forth out there as these serve as a sort of lighthouse reference points (lighthouses, for those unfamiliar, are warnings to ships for dangerous places to avoid [metaphor warning]).

    * Or, as David St. Hubbins (played by Michael McKean in the movie Spinal Tap) put it: ‘It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever’

  6. Kevin’s mention of Jackson Pollack’s paintings — some time ago someone did an analysis of his work and found that his seemingly random patterns stayed within measurable proportions right in line with those in fractal geometry.

    Imitations that to the casual observer seemed indistinguishable were compared and found to be less visually appealing — and those imitations in every case lacked the proportions associated with fractal geometry.

    See: http://discovermagazine.com/2001/nov/featpollock

    Then see how all the above was debunked: http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2009/01/facts-on-pollocks-fractals.html

    Then see how the debunking was somewhat debunked: http://spie.org/newsroom/1643-learning-based-authentication-of-jackson-pollocks-paintings?ArticleID=x35260

    When one considers the immediately above with the stuff further above (e.g. statistician Briggs’ recurring analyses on fringe matters) the conclusion is inescapably obvious: That they’re engaging in such drivel proves that scientists and that ilk (which includes statisticians & physicists) have too much time on their hands.

  7. Once upon a time I went to Picasso exhibit. It was in Frankfurt, Germany. Actually Hoechst. I believe it was at the Hoechst AG. I walked down the line of images, not understanding any of them, but I looked.

    10 years later, I woke up in bed next to my wife, blurry and cross eyed, and saw one of the paintings live and in color.

    The wacky nature of Picassos work made more sense in that instant. It took me 10 years to figure it out though.

    Guernica looks different to me after that day than before. After that day I started looking at art of that type with a different frame of mind. How would I draw the image I see when something is 2 inches from my eyes…

    I have tried to find that Picasso image, but have never managed to find it since. I am not sure it even is real now except I have seen others that are similar. My memory says it was called “Lover Sleeping”, but the piece was in germany, so the title was probably more like “Beliebte schlafen” or “Schlafende Beliebte”….

    But then I also saw “Enemy Mine” that same year and it had a title of “Geliebte Feind!”

  8. Not exactly on point, but relevant at this point in time:

    By Ruth King

    Eleven years ago Donald Trump was taped using vulgarity and boasting, like many playboys and locker room machos, about his prowess with women. Disgusting? Sure…but spare me the high dudgeon elicited by strategic release of those tapes, just as Wikileaks revealed more chicanery by Clinton.

    Even some conservatives have joined the caterwauling declaring that this is proof positive that Trump is not “presidential.” Presidential??? That bar was lowered decades ago. Was it presidential when John Kennedy invited Mafia molls to the White House for a roll in the hay? Was it presidential when he and his brother Triborough Fitzgerald Kennedy shared the sexual favors of a pathetic movie star? Was it presidential when his successor, Lyndon Johnson- purveyor of the ruinous entitlement scam known as “The Great Society” showed his class in conducting press conferences from the toilet?

    Was it presidential when Bill Clinton used government employees to find him sex partners? Or how about his encouragement of a besotted intern to become his er….private server…in the oval office? Ted Kennedy had the gall to attempt a run for the White House, and did anyone question whether it was presidential to back off a bridge into water and permit his passenger to drown while he swam away and tried to convince his cousin to take the rap? And Kennedy’s friend Chris Dodd also tried to get into the race for the White House even after he and Kennedy squeezed a waitress between them and fondled her in a sordid incident that begat the name “the Dodd-Kennedy sandwich. Did anyone say that Dodd was not presidential?

    And finally, is it presidential for Obama to invite rappers to the White House who extol the murder of policemen and call women bitches and Blacks “niggas?” One was named “Common” and his poem includes : “They watching me, I’m watching them. Them dick boys got a lock of c*** in them.” The most recent presidential invite was in January 2016 when Kendrick Lamar met with President Obama in the Oval Office. Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” album shows a group of black men in front of the White House holding champagne bottles and hundred-dollar bills on top of the dead body of a white judge. Obama has said the rapper’s “How Much a Dollar Cost,” which is on that album, was his favorite song of 2015. That’s presidential?

    Dumping on Trump is stumping for Hillary and that is truly deplorable.

  9. @Ken — The big things are made up of little things. Attempting to illuminate big things is problematic when the audience hasn’t considered the little things.

    I went to a Referee clinic a couple of weeks ago. During the clinic, the referees teaching it kept deferring certain things till later… “We will cover that in the classroom”. or “We will get to that”.

    They sort of did and they sort of didn’t. A lot of what they were talking about they couldn’t truly talk about. “On the test, if you see this, the answer is that.” When you run into this in the real world, that answer isn’t quite that…

    One of the unofficial rules we have to enforce at the lower level is “goal tending”. There is no goalie in our U8 and below soccer. One of the ‘habits’ they had to control was sticking a person in the goal as a pseudo goalie… I haven’t ever called it. This last weekend I didn’t call it, I just ran over and pointed it out to the coach, who then helped get the kid to run around more…

    I could have just called the foul, but calling the foul involves an indirect free kick and raises the ire of everyone involved…

    What does this have to do with the wandering post? It is hard to point at the middle… The harder you point at it, the murkier it gets…

  10. Anyone interested can look up on-line the various studies examining the correlations between psychoticism & other mental illness with creativity (painters, writers, etc.). There’s a clear connection. But this is well outside my areas.

    Just pointing that out as Briggs fixation on focusing on moral values omits consideration that the “artists” getting attention in today’s blog might be getting graded against the wrong scale — the observed behaviors much more likely reflect manifestations of mental illness (and severe illness at that) … rather than the immoral behavior Briggs addresses based on an implicit assumption these are rational humans acting absurdly based on willful rational choices.

  11. “Since this is a family blog, and since I cannot advocate the radial dieting the image provokes, I will not show it.” Thank you, thank you! So many things I have banished in my life because people just didn’t have the self control to NOT SHOW IT!

  12. I have always thought that good art provided inspiration or enlightenment.

    Bad art, mostly modern art, makes me think there’s a lot of stupid people out there.

  13. J S Bach had a good definition of the nature and purpose of music (which could be equally applied to all arts).

    I will just mention that it didn’t imply that art is merely an attention-grabbing celebration of shock, horror, ugliness, vulgarity, perversity that facilitates the degradation of the soul and sensibilities of Man toward brutality or worse.

  14. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 12, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    Originally, an art was a “know how” rather than a science (“know what”). It was used interchangeably with “artisan” until the early 18th century (iirc), when they parted company. To show artistry was to show skill in applying some medium, such as arranging colored oil pastes on a canvas; cf. Archimbaldo or Rubens. In the Middle Ages, this meant arranging archetypes in ritual poses holding symbolic devices, sizing multiple figures to indicate their relarive importance. Hieronymous Bosch is an example of the Late Middle Age.

    During the Modern Ages, this meant representationalism, with figures arranged “as they truly are” using perspective and other techniques. This was compatible with the Age of Science, which also tried to deal with things objectivelye.” But this never meant photorealism. You will never photograph a scene like “The Apotheosis of Venice,” which from a particular spot on the floor of the Doge’s Palace appears three dimensional.

    Representational art reached its peak in the Late Renaissance and Early Modern periods and subsequent artists set themselves to “imitating the masters.” This was remunerative, since their bourgeois customers had money, if not always taste; but it eventually palled and artists set about for something new. This led them away from objectivism to subjectivism and artists began trying to present their subjective impressions rather than record objective observations. (The flight from science in the arts foreran the flight elsewhere in Western Civ.)

    This actually began in the 1880s, and culminated in the scandalous Armory Show of 1900, when philistines outside the venue protested vociferously against the likes of Cezanne and Renoir. But 50 years later, the anniversary exhibit was only same-o, same-o and the philistines were all inside the Armory admiring pale imitations of the old revolutionaries.

    However, the abstract art of Pollack and Mondrian and the rest proved to be pretty and decorative, and many a bourgeois hung them in their living rooms, where they did not clash with the rest of the decor. See John Lukacs, At the End of an Age for details.

    Afterward, catastrophe struck and artists tried to become recognized as intelligentsia, which meant not applying the latest artistic techniques but furthering the latest fashionable ideology. This shift occurred in the revolutionary 1950s. See Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect for details.

    As James Chastek put it:
    The death of the noble makes high art: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Ionesco, Beckett, Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Sartre, James Joyce, Picasso, and any number of other artists in the first six or seven decades of the twentieth century got to depict the meteoric death and collapse of a culture, and their art is wonderful. The sexual revolution was after all this, when things had already burnt out and gone black. Eliot had fragments he could shore against his ruin – these were the last intelligible fragments of a dying culture that fractured and blazed before it finally burnt out.

  15. “If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would mean nothing but a minor affliction and one would ignore it.

    But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values – and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust at the artist. There are also those who would feel something like approval for the artist and who would belong to the same moral category as the artist.”

    Ayn Rand

  16. The BBC did a documentary recently on the Tate bricks scandal. I think it’s well worth watching, especially as it doesn’t reach a conclusion. You can watch it on YouTube:


    I also find Roger Scruton’s observations interesting, probably because he was a grumpy old man too.


  17. I wonder what offends you more… the poor Art or the “cultural Marxist” Feminism?

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