Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Picture NOT Worth a Thousand Words?

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ said Napoleon Bonaparte.  Some famous pictures are also worth thousands of dollars.  Okay.  I understand that.  But can a mere scrawl be classified as a picture worth a thousand words and several thousand dollars?  Apparently it can.  A guy I don’t know said Abstract Art is a product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered!

A painting by Barnett Newman

How I agree with this quote, on visiting one of New York’s exalted museums on Modern Art.  This is not to disparage the Whitney Museum of Art or MoMA or anyother. But seriously, it did feel at the end of my visit, that all Modern art and so called abstract art is a huge con.  A racket meant to deceive people into calling absolutely silly stuff they call‘Art’.  Art critics or artists may feel offended by an absolute layperson like me talking on a subject which I have no authority on.  But, let me give you examples and you might just agree.
In the museum I visited, exhibits included honestly- a graph paper drawn by pencil, a square, a few rectangles, just a plain colored canvas with a line across it, scrawls that a two year old might draw, some random squiggles in multiple colors or in one color, a few threads hung on a hanger, shoes hung outside a boxing ring, some scraps of colored paper on a wall, some twisted ropes in no particular shape and several such.  I can understand art in nature, in a leafy or in a bare tree, in water, in the sky, in living beings, in buildings, in objects.  But seriously, just lines in a commonplace graph?  Come on! And people pay millions for this!  Why, I almost regret paying the few dollars that I did to enter the museum!

Moreover, all these paintings are described in so many words.  A single rectangle might be described to have perfect symmetry (well isn’t that expected of a rectangle?) or if it is a trapezium, describe it as a rectangle with imperfect symmetry and then go on to call it Bold, Charming, Evocative, Reflective, Callous, Mystic, Timeless, Lyrical, Strong, Touching, Expressive, Deep, Raw, Powerful, Amazing, Rebellious, Anarchic, Idiosyncratic, Nihilistic, Avant-Garde, Surreal, Symbolic, Blunt, Imaginative. 

I would probably describe it as insipid, inane, silly, absolutely unimaginative, hollow, fake, is that art?, a scrawl, a line, trash!
A painting by Rothko that recently sold for $18 Million

Take this one exalted artist for example, Rothko who has several famous paintings to his name. Do gaze at the painting and see for yourself, what wordplay transforms the painting into!  ‘Rothko happened upon the use of symmetrical rectangular blocks of two to three opposing or contrasting, yet complementary, colors, in which, for example, "the rectangles sometimes seem barely to coalesce out of the ground, concentrations of its substance.’

When criticized about the lack of substance in these large paintings, Rothko retaliated, “I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them, however . . . is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command!”

Well, okay, if he and the art world insists.  Maybe one could stand infront of a gaudily painted wall and experience that instead of paying a million bucks for the same experience.  I would rather go anyday with a painting that has some real art in it instead of something that I can or a five year old can draw. I hope the Renaissance days return with more landscape paintings or still life paintings or portrait paintings (Realism and Impressionalism), less esoteric symbolism, and more substance instead of deceptive squiggles and scrawls described in flowery language and given a fancy name.  Let the picture be worth a thousand words rather than a thousand words that make the picture sell!


  1. Haha!! I completely agree with you. Nice post. Abstract paintings are really a big con and propogated by the so-called evolved people who have no other work and lots of time to find meaning and emotions in a senseless piece of drawing (I cant even call it art).
    I think these people have all their basic needs already satisified and have now reached the (as yet undefined) seventh level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They are beyond the 'Self-actualization' level :) I'm still on the second a pretty long way to go

  2. @Sandeep: hahaha...Maslows hierarchy indeed!By the same logic, when you get to the top, you might just start finding meaning in these scrawls and artlessness! Please don't explain the pictures to me then!

  3. Hilarious post yet so true. I have no background in art and absolutely no idea about paintings that are sold in millions. I think the people who understand it look at some specific details like the brush strokes, how fine it is etc.. But oh well I'd really love if somebody could sit down with me and make me understand what it all meant. Well written!

  4. Dear Richa, I agree with you completely. Like you, I also cannot make any head or tail out of this so called modern art. Your description of such paintings as ' unimaginative, hollow, insipid, fake' etc. is very apt. But the real punch line is when you regret having paid a few dollers to even view such meaningless paintings.And the funiest part is that these paintings find a place of honour in famous galleries and so called Connoisseurs pore over such work endless hours trying to find some hidden meaning in them and also do not hesitate to spend millions of dollers to become the proud possessor of them. Besides being witty and humourous, you language and vocabulary is amazing. Aai

  5. @UB: Welcome to my blog. Thanks for your comment. I have tried pretty hard to understand the depth behind these paintings, but when I see scribbles and plain rectangles and circles, I think, it does put me off and take away any vestige of desire to understand such 'art'! You seem to be from New York city. Guess you could visit MoMA or Whitney Museum to see what I am talking about!

  6. @Aai: Thanks for your appreciation as usual! I could just imagine some silly art critique or rather word smith forge definitions of these random paintings and rich millionaires buying them purely because that artist was the latest fad and they had nothing more to waste their money on!

  7. so beautifully written! I am actually glad you 'wasted' your dollars to enter the museum...Atleast we could get a picture of it for free:D

    But seriously speaking, I too have never had a liking for these so called 'creative' stuffs and prefer simpler paintings over them anyday... the ones for which you don't have to scratch your head and think 'So, what exactly does this portray?' Instead you simply say WOW the moment you see it!

  8. You know what? I believe that the so called aficionados wax eloquent over the inane pics lest they are thought to be ignorant. you should have tried that out there -- heap adjectives over some stupid painting and seen the respect you got from the other visitors towards an art lover :D

    Btw, does your mom have a blog too? And I have missed you on mine. :(

  9. @zephyr: yeah, in any case I now know all the adjectives that can be used for any such painting! I ll make a great critique! :). Really sorry for being out of the loop for so long! It was just that 'phase' you know. Sadly, my mum writes well, but refuses to believe that, so no, she does not have her own blog :(

  10. @Arti- So totally agree with the WOW factor. What I saw was probably the BOO! factor!

  11. Agreed!!!
    I wonder what does abstract art paintings implies to.
    do they want to show how well they can blend colours.or how well they put up brush strokes.
    Once i went to see my frnds painting exhibition. she is a great sketch artist
    but her best painting as put up their was very much sense less
    with two black spoons and fence drawn over it.what does that mean?
    I guess artists should put up their imaginations in word below their paintings so that one can understand.

  12. I know what u r saying..all the tie papers keep reporting that these painting went for Million dollars and i go running for my class 2 copy to se if any of them can fetch the same price:)

  13. Gita Chapter II Verse 29 describing the soul :

    "Some see the soul as amazing and others describe the soul as amzing; similarly, others describe the soul as amazing and some after having heard, still have no knowledge of it".

    So, the so called modern paintings are like soul which no one knows or understands.

  14. yes, i know my 4 year old daughter does abstract art. im planning to sell her creations and make millions! Ad never send her to an art class

  15. I love looking at modern art (especially at MoMa) but I wouldn't buy a piece even if I were a billionaire.

  16. I went to Tate's Modern Gallery and was out in 15 minutes. But I do love Picasso's body of work.

  17. @Amruta: I agree, instead of having to explain the painting in so many words, I wish the pictures spoke for themselves too!

  18. @Perception: I guess, you should create copies, perhaps they will sell for a few thousand too! I read somewhere, that even some photographs of these paintings run in thousands of dollars!

    @Baba: Don't think one can really compare the soul to these paintings!, The soul is so much more powerful and divine than these so called arts!

  19. @Confused Yuppie: haha..the paintings by your 4 year old would be superior to what I saw for sure! Wait on, till they get really old, and who knows what they'll fetch!

    @Pundit Commentator: Well, I loved the Metropolitan museum of art with its mostly traditional paintings far more than all these modern art museums. MoMA was better than Whitney though.

    @Purba: I can understand your coming out in 15 minutes. I stayed on since I paid more than $15 and wanted to have some of the paisa vasool!

  20. Totally agree with u here Richa.. :) Nicely conveyed. I loved the way u conveyed an Entire Modern art community a Racket..

    My sister herself being a huge fan of Abstract paintings, I have, since a very young age tried my level best to understand them. But all efforts were in vain..

    After reading your post, am happy to realize, atleast I am not alone.. !! :)


  21. Heyyy the first one looks like a faulty monitor screen...The painter might have been frustated by his computer so he created that painting. :))

  22. @Ashwin- You certainly aren't alone going by the opinions I have received on this blog!

    @Nisheeth- Welcome to my blog. Liked your opinion on the computer screen. More frustrated than the painter must have been the ones who declared it to be a masterpiece!

  23. Hi Richa, thanks for dropping by.
    This is a fantastic post. I like your upfront style on taking down these pseudo neo artists who i-dont-understand how are pulling off this con. I liked a quote by Henri Cartier - he said he is a visual artist and paintings, sketches or photographs all have to appeal to visual senses. None of these do. He would be turning in his grave am sure.

    We need more of you! :) Happy to connect too. Am your new follower.