Let's say we have a person who likes to draw. He does it for some time and considers himself "doing art". But all people can draw, everyone has been drawing something in childhood or later in life. Anyone can take a pen and draw something at any time in any condition. And there's no criteria for "ability to draw". You can take as criteria some kind of exams at universities for example, but they don't really have anything to do with "doing art" in a sense of something fundamentally different from other areas of life, they just test the ability of the person to draw in the same way other people do, something mechanical almost the same as learning how to make shoes or a knife, anything really. So, the person who considers himself an "artist" is different from other people only by his decision to put himself above other people, to claim that he possesses something that other people don't but at the same time can't really explain what it is and why he thinks that.

And the ambiguity of the subject allows basically anyone to claim they are doing art with no difference if you do/can do anything or not. And you can't even differentiate between a guy who has been tirelessly drawing his whole life and a guy who took a pencil and drew something for the first time. Yes, their drawings will be different, but that's it, you can't say anything else about it. If there was an objective criteria that could define "what is art and what is not", then art wouldn't be any different from any other field, let's say engineering, where you either can do/solve something or you can't. It would become absolutely artificial and meaningless term.

And we have a situation where such people are considered "artists" and people who actually do something instead of playing these pretentious games are discriminated and considered just "weirdos". It becomes kind of the opposite of art in many ways where only mediocrity and copying of others is encouraged and taken as a "reference", and any truly creative endeavors are practically punished by alienation.

What are your thoughts on this? Am I mistaken?


7 Answers 7


And there's no criteria for "ability to draw".

Yes there is. It's, do people want to buy it?

Consider Outsider Art, and an artist like Jean-Michel Basquiat who was widely disparaged in his own lifetime as 'not a real artist', but whose work Untitled (Skull) became in 2017 the highest priced painting ever sold at auction for artwork by an American artist in a public sale. He impacted the art world, and the value of his art has increased after he died, because people are still talking about it, having it influence them.

Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting in his own lifetime. So his experience was being told that he wasn't an artist, his work wasn't art. But he had a vision, believed in what he was doing and why. His work went on to be very influential after his death, and now by insurance valuation he produced the most valuable body of work of any artist.

If you go back to the Rennaissance painting was considered craft and the real highest art was considered being an architect - which ironically has switched around now, with most large buildings being just assemblies of concrete and glass cubes, with a little flair to the silhouette if we're lucky. DaVinci brought a deep understanding of human mechanics to his work. Michaelangelo, who was also thought to have been observing then illegal human dissections, was deeply inspired by the art of antiquity which the Christian world had largely shunned, and was renowned in his lifetime for artworks that inspired awe in viewers. They did not just perfect their crafts, of working with bronze, paint and sculpture. They altered and extended the ideas of their peer group of artists, then and after, about what could be achieved in their media.

That is how I think we should understand what art is: high craft which shifts perceptions about what effects or ideas can be conveyed. Creativity, with what creativity is. Discussed more fully here: Video games as new art So note, art is not in the objects, or the determination who is an 'artist', but about interaction with cultural discourse, in somehow going beyond the "mediocrity and copying" as you put it. It's easy to dismiss modern art, and honestly most of it will be forgotten. But what is involved in telling the story of how we got where we are with art, that will remain. You know, what would have been a pivotal piece in that story, Duchamp's Fountain, was so controversial at the time it was literally considered trash and discarded. You could say that was the real beginning of Modern Art, the throwing down of a gauntlet with a radical challenge about what art is, and where the limits on it are.

Another interesting case, a comic book artist definitely considered a weirdo in his lifetime:

"Pinajian also painted portraits, landscapes and some abstract works. He has been cited for his work in the field of abstract expressionism. Pinajian had instructed that the works be thrown away when he died. His wishes were ignored, and $30 million worth of his art was found in the garage of the Bellport, Long Island home" -from Wikipedia

An updated valuation estimates the collection is now worth $90m. He dedicated decades to his painting, living on his sisters money, but never 'broke through' and made any kind of living from art in his lifetime, other than his illustrating.

You say

people who actually do something instead of playing this pretentious games are discriminated and considered just "weirdos". It becomes kind of the opposite of art in many ways where only mediocrity and copying of others is encouraged and taken as a "reference", and any truly creative endeavors are practically punished by alienation.

You seem to have an implicit fantasy that the art market could or should serve artists. It serves wealthy people, as exotic investment vehicles, and many if not most of the worlds most valuable artworks are in secure storage, not even being looked at. Investors make a gamble based on who's work made waves, and sometimes they support exhibitions and retrospectives to raise profiles of artists, to benefit their investment.

What can we do about that? Tax the art market and auction houses, and use a fair system to allocate public subsidy to promising artists. The same issues exist in music, where a few bands that can fill arenas make all the money and have leverage against the music industry. Creative industries and arts benefit us all, and that should be respected seperately to profit and livelihoods generated.

Go buy an artwork of a local artist, go to local gigs and buy the band's tshirt. That's the most direct way to support more art and music.

  • "the Rennaissance painting was considered craft and the real highest art was considered being an architect" - it is because mass subjective minds reacts on colors and 2d images, that mirror neurons are prevail on their brains, and society that consist from society oriented beings prefers images not difficult rotation objects, that is why sculpturing and architect natural lowering popular in mass based societies. So, when you talk about different art styles prefer by mass, don't forget about different times, different society, different minds that judge about the art. Apr 27, 2023 at 23:22
  • Golden calf is the modern God and measure for everything in West - and in fact you are trying to equal art value and money, and money with mass rumor. although, it ll be past soon cus cyfral future give you new measure point instead of elder. Apr 27, 2023 at 23:27
  • 2
    "Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting in his own lifetime" - not true.
    – J.G.
    Apr 28, 2023 at 16:46
  • I was completely with you (and upvoted) until you said there should be a public subsidy for promising artists. While that is a reasonable view, it is both somewhat off topic for this question and arguably would not help because it simply shifts the question to how do we decide who is a promising artist and that group is suddenly deciding what is art and what is an unworthy weirdo. Apr 28, 2023 at 16:47
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    @TimothyAWiseman: To be fair Patreon & other crowd funding is proving increasingly consequential, so sure there's other options.
    – CriglCragl
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:21

Art is artificial, it's something that nature wouldn't create by itself. Which is kinda oxymoronic as we are always also part of nature, so if enough people do it and if it becomes part of our environment, it ceases to be "art". So "art" is always just the "state of the art".

Which prompts some pretty interesting questions in terms of what a "successful artist" would be. Like if they make something truly ground-breaking that only people 200 years from now will have fully consumed and made part of their nature, then they are likely going to struggle in the meantime when no one sees any use in their art. While if they produce stuff that is pleasant and consumable now to an extent that it pays the bills, then is it really art? Is it really pushing the boundaries of "nature"? Also what if they actually manage to ride on the razor's edge of being art and being useful and then... people copy them and suddenly, through no fault of their own they cease to be artists?

Also should we create art for the sake of art? Like radioactive and chemical waste also used to be a form of or at least a by-product of art. Of something novel and boundary pushing.

But often enough we don't do art for it's own sake but to express things or to fulfill a desire for something that is currently not there (yet). Like an author might not just want to type on the keyboard and write something that has never been written before, that's surprisingly easy just hire a bunch of cats and wait, maybe occasionally try typing some words by yourself and then wait again while they walk the keyboard typing nonsense.

But that's the problem it's nonsense while the artist usually has a purpose first and creates the art in the process because the purpose forces them to go different ways.

And depending on what you want to do it might help to know what paths other people have already taken and whether they were successful or not, it provides you with a toolkit. It broadens your options but also narrows your possibilities because the more you learn how to use tools the more you rely on them and shape your perception around the usage of them. So whether that is the best way of doing things depends on what you want to achieve.

So obviously art is discriminating it tries to discriminate itself from everything else (nature), yet it can never truly succeed.

  • I suspect the point is to reach out while being thrown around in circles, chasing tails, in a swirling EF5 tornado. As ya can see there is no right move. Aaah, sic vita est?
    – Hudjefa
    May 23, 2023 at 12:21

Am I mistaken?


Isn't "modern art" kind of discriminating?

There is nothing wrong with discrimination, provided it is based on talent and training. If you needed surgery, who would you rather have? Would you want a talented surgeon who had trained at a prestigious medical school, or a high school drop out who "wanted" to cut people up?

For the avoidance of doubt, I consider discrimination based on colour, ethnicity, or religion to be wicked and stupid.

  • What does it mean to have "training in art" if you can be doing art without learning anything from anyone ever? And how would you determine talent if there's no objective criteria for what's art and what's not? With surgeons, there are certain criteria which a person either meets or not. He either can solve problems/operate on people and demonstrated that or not. It's no different from discrimination on color. If the notion of "art" becomes meaningless OR there are no means to determine what's art and what's not - an "artist" considers himself better/above other people on empty grounds.
    – Denis
    Apr 28, 2023 at 14:09
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    @Denis, old chum, it appears that we move in different social circles. I know quite a few artists, not of whom considers himself or herself to be better than other people. If you assert that the artists who you know to be better than others, well, who am I to judge your friends? I notice that you state that choosing surgeons for their experience is not different from discrimination on colour. Do you consider that both forms of discrimination are acceptable, or both unacceptable? BTW, your choice of pronouns suggests you assume that all surgeons, and all artists are male. Interesting... Apr 28, 2023 at 22:27
  • You are saying "I know quite a few artists". If they call themselves artists or get paid for "doing art" they already place themselves better than other people, they assert they are doing "something" other people can't, while at the same time won't be able to explain what exactly that is. That's the same as saying white people are better than black people because of some made up concept you can't even explain. I was talking about this kind of discrimination. The surgeon in the example above actually proves what he can and can't do before becoming a surgeon. The artist doesn't.
    – Denis
    May 23 at 11:24
  • @Denis, old chum, you have been stewing over this for a long time, haven't you? Life is unfair: some people are born with more ability than others; some people work hard and achieve things that others don't; do you really find it very satisfying to call people racists because they achieve things? I suggest that you get over it, and try to do something worthwhile instead: you might even enjoy it. May 23 at 19:49
  • Okay, disregarding all this ad hominem nonsense, please explain, how is considering you can do something other people don't while being unable to explain what it is exactly and why you think so is different from for example racism? You talk about "achievement", but it's just something a small group of people convince the "artist" to believe in based on the reinforcement/reaction from people benefitting from this whole situation. The "artist" would not be able to explain why he is "better" than someone else in a proper discourse. It's absolutely no different from racism.
    – Denis
    May 24 at 11:07

I can explain what makes an artist different, and I am not even one.

Being an artist is more about creativity and ideas than craftsmanship (though it may need craftsmanship to realize the ideas).

The egg of Columbus applies.

Everyone learns to write in school. Not everyone can tell a compelling story.

Everone can duct-tape a banana to a wall. It takes an artist to turn this into art - it could be a metaphor for the permanent flow of time, decay. Mocking the state of modern art. Whatever. It's the idea that makes this not simply a banana on a wall.

Everyone can paint a few shapes. An artist draws shapes to represent nothing, to deconstruct the conception of art representing something.

Anyone can learn to play an instrument and read sheet music. Not everyone writes good music.

Soon, anyone can create realistic images with AI tools. Artists will still not be out of a job, just as programmers won't be out of a job because the tools get better (and anyone can create programs, anyway).

  • So, as I said, "the artist" becomes an artist when he claims that "he can express ideas better" while not being able to explain why and how exactly? Or if you mean "good music/bad music" is determined by the majority of people, wouldn't the most successful artist be the most mediocre considering the majority of people is the definition of mediocrity? And wouldn't it imply that more creative artists are discriminated and ignored?
    – Denis
    Apr 27, 2023 at 15:33
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    @Denis No an artist becomes an artist when he DOES express ideas. He becomes a professional artist when others pay him for that.
    – kutschkem
    Apr 28, 2023 at 7:42
  • But how and who determines if he does express ideas or does not?
    – Denis
    Apr 28, 2023 at 8:20
  • 1
    @Denis Ok, just forget about that part, even my 5-year old expresses ideas in pictures, yet no one pays to buy them. A professional artist is someone who others pay for their art. That seems like a simple and objective definition.
    – kutschkem
    Apr 28, 2023 at 8:44

In a technical sense, this question is purely about definition, but the way "art" is usually used is fairly broad.

This question really comes down to definitions. And with that said, language evolves, changes, and carries nuance such that saying exactly the same thing in different contexts can have different meanings.

Art in particular is not a well defined term. With that said, I believe the general consensus is that something created with intentional effort to create a thing primarily for its aesthetic properties is art. By that definition, anyone drawing with effort and the intention of creating something for aesthetic reasons, including children drawing and hobbyists, is an artist. Someone drawing with the intention of purely pragmatic considerations is not, though they may be involved in serious intellectual endeavors nonetheless (engineers often make diagrams for instance).

I also note that you say that "the person who considers himself an "artist" is different from other people only by his decision to put himself above other people". I acknowledge that there are certainly arrogant or vain people who do that and there are others who do not view themselves as artists but lift artists up on pedestals. But I think that is a minority view. Anyone who uses effort to create something for aesthetic reasons on a regular basis is appropriately referred to as an artist. I have the pleasure of knowing people that consider themselves serious artists and can back that up with actual sales, but most of them are not arrogant about it. They don't see themselves as above others. Nor do I think most people place artists in general up on pedestals and see them as above most people. I do not claim to be an artist, but neither do I see artists in general as better than me in a meaningful way.

The term professional artist is more narrow and usually refers to someone who makes a meaningful amount of their income from art.

I should add that "professional artist" is a slightly better defined term and implies an obvious test to determine whether someone is a professional artist or not, though even that contains some ambiguity (most things outside of logical philosophy and mathematics contain some ambiguity, but that is a separate topic). The test for being a professional artist is obviously whether someone makes a meaningful portion of their income from the sale of art.

Whether the modern art community is discriminating is a different question, depends on which art community you are talking about, and may have a huge random factor.

Of course, whether the modern art community is discriminating and if so whether it does on a rational basis is a different question. While hardly the final word on it, Freakonomics addresses the current art market in a way that may help with this question.

In the broad sense of the word discriminating, namely making distinctions between what is considered acceptable or not, the modern art market is of course discriminating. All economic markets are necessarily discriminating in that any finite market inherently limits what is desirable or undesirable and often expresses those determinations in monetary terms.

[To be clear, this sense of the word "discrimination" is different from the sense of improper discrimination based on a person inherent characteristics such as race, gender, etc. However, one does not have to look too deeply into many markets to find evidence that improper discrimination occurs all too often.]

However, market discrimination of that kind is based primarily on what the market finds to be valuable or not. That may be very different from any inherent value or anything that would traditionally be called skill. Historical accidents often shape markets and pick winners and losers based on criteria that have little to do with merit. Betamax had technological advantages over VHS, but VHS absolutely dominated the market until it was supplanted by DVDs. This is broadly true, but it is particularly true in an area that arguably has a subjective component to it the way art does.

Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable, but it is the way markets work.


It becomes kind of the opposite of art in many ways where only mediocrity and copying of others is encouraged

You are assuming that the ink-splatters and "abstract artists" are not guilty themselves of copying and plaigarism. Hypothetically speaking, given the lower barrier of entry requiring no training or skill whatsoever, it should be more prevalent. It is an unfortunate development that the art world has accepted into its museums the cynical and ironic pranks of so-called "abstract art" on its walls.


You are mistaken. The pretentious games are the art.

Modern art is the experience of art, regardless of the underlying product.

You say, "the person who considers himself an "artist" is different from other people only by his decision to put himself above other people, to claim that he possesses something that other people don't". That is exactly correct.

You also say "you can't even differentiate between a guy who has been tirelessly drawing his whole life and a guy who took a pencil and drew something for the first time", which is incorrect: the guy who has been drawing forever is the artist. You can recognize it by his actions, regardless of the relative quality of his work.

It happens that many people who decide to be artists in a modern sense are people who love art, and so do develop a lot of technical skill. But it's hardly necessary.

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