Deep Thoughts #4: The Gallery Is Closed. Long Live the Paperback.

The Counterfeiter's Knife
A Nero Wolf Mystery by Rex Stout 1961
I am not alone in the opinion that the only real art left standing after the 1960s is commercial art such as paperback covers, album covers, comic books, movie posters, etc. Maybe it sounds uncultured, but there's some validity to this statement I think.

With the advent of film, photography and, now, computer graphics, the days of the traditional museum artist are largely over.  Watch Exit Through the Gift Shop and see exactly how embarrassingly laughable the art world has become (and after than, watch My Kid Could Paint That). It's so erudite, exclusive and removed from the world that contemporary gallery art has become insignificant at best. It seems, also, that the only way an arteest can get noticed these days is by resorting to cheap tactics like sensationalism (i.e. Virgin Mary in a bottle of urine) or gimmicks (i.e. Bansky style urban art). Warhol recognized it for what it was and milked it for everything it was worth.

IMHO, if you want to see true examples of art of the last handful of decades, you don't need to be looking in private art galleries.  As Robert Williams will tell you, those guys have no artistic skill, only an ability to turn-on art snobs.  If you want to find the art that will be kept alive through the generations, it wont be the feces smeared on canvas hanging in an exclusive Chelsea gallery, but rather on the covers of books, movie posters, comic books and record covers.

Need proof? Look no further than the screen in front of you.  What images are people sharing on Tumblr and Facebook? What types of art are people constructing thousands upon thousands of websites dedicated to?  Call it lowbrow. Curse the "dumbing down" of society all you want, but it is what it is.

I can guarantee you that in 100 years no one will give two shits about any contemporary gallery artists work, from "Mr. Brainwash" to Jeff Koons.  However, it is impossible that the Jaws movie poster will ever go out of our collective consciousness.

So, I'll leave you with this thought.  I'd be interested to read your take on the subject.


  1. Could not agree more on just everything you said. There's no possible way I could have phrased it any better.

  2. AnonymousJune 07, 2011

    And to help prove your point, you included an Earl Norem cover. I'm seriously thinking of starting a church of Earl Norem, complete with worship services and hymns.

  3. nanette rJune 08, 2011

    once again, gilligan, you have your finger on the pulse of it all. on maine street in my tiny mayberry-esque town, there is a little art gallery where she gives art lessons to children. she hangs their art in the window with a little notice telling the age of the child that painted each picture. i love to walk past and look at the beautiful pictures painted by very talented children. the last time i walked by there i thought if they make a living in art they are going to have to scrape and claw for it. there is barely even cover art anymore.

  4. On this you are 100% correct.
    The one thing I hated about the demise of the LP was the loss of cover art. My High School art teacher said it was the only original art America produced.

    I love the pulp covers. It is sorry to see so few of hem.

  5. Thanks to everyone for the positive words. No one out there disagrees? No art majors out there appalled by this post?

  6. Bravo TV did a reality competition show last year called Work of Art that illustrated just how ridiculous the art world is today. One of the finalists was clearly putting on a tortured artist act and the judges, who were art critics and gallery owners, bought the B.S. hook, line, and sinker. They've completely lost touch with the outside world. And there's so little commercial art anymore, it's really sad.

  7. Very well put, Gilligan--and I liked the Warhol reference. I live in Pittsburgh (home of the Andy Warhol Museum) and have gone there a few times (once on my own, others with curious friends or family that come to visit) & I always have to laugh at the art snobs in there, oohing & aahing over the collections of Campbell's Soup cans or Jackie Onasis in different dayglo colors. And there's one room devoted to his 'urine art' (peeing on a canvas, why are people taking it seriously).

    FYI, the ONE fascinating thing about the Warhol Museum is their collection of his stuff. From the age of 5 he was obsessed with keeping everything he ever owned, including the original boxes & bags the stuff came in--they have a MAMMOTH toy collection of his from the 40s and 50s, its like visiting a toy shop from 50 years ago. The galleries are all pretty lame though, I'd pay good money to see the original artworks for those books.

  8. All those so-called geniuses like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol were only geniuses at reaping large heaps of money from rich fuckers who thought they were being accepted by the artsy psychos who produced "paintings" and "sculptures" which were little more than random mistakes from their sick brains or clever ploys to fool the dumb into thinking it was art. And run-on sentences. :)

    Isn't it about time some TV network scum came up with America's Top Artist?

  9. Gilligan, I think you're just sore because you don't get invited to the really cool, swanky gallery openings.
    All kidding aside, though. "Art" is really the art of stroking one's own ego or the egos of others. An artist can :
    A) cater to the whims of the moneyed elite (all the greats have done this, talent or no talent)
    B) bow down to the whims of the market ( hey, ya gotta eat, right ?); but just because it's commercial work doesn't mean it's lousy, as you have clearly shown
    C) completely sell out ala Thomas Kinkade, The Painter of Dreck
    D) work silently and in the shadows for only a sense of self satisfaction - the wonderful recent dicovery of unknown street phorographer Vivian Maier is a fine example in modern times

  10. Whoa boy. Let me gather my thoughts.
    Even though some of my favorite kinds of art are the surrealist and Dada works (maybe only second to Renaissance and baroque art but yeah) but most of the nonrepresentational art like Mark Rothko's color field just PISSES me off. I know not everybody is but I'm naturally artistic and I kind of take pride in making something that looks good or at the very least, looks like something.
    I think one of the things Warhol changed (and you could argue the Dadaists like Duchamp) about art was take the skill out of it and elusiveness out of art-making, in Warhol's case to make a statement. He made the art-making process and simply turned it into a process like an assembly plant making cars, which is why it was called the Factory.
    Since I plan on becoming a cartoonist and making comics someday, I'm not really in-step with modern art. I DO love the vintage men's magazine scans you do, though. :)

  11. Interesting points, Amanda. So Warhol is to art what Nashville is to country music, or what is to modern pop music.

  12. On a side note, "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is in Netflix's instant queue. I thought it looked pretty interesting. Thanks for the tip, Gilligan.

  13. Some Young ParsonJune 09, 2011

    As a current art major, I can somewhat agree with what is being said (that in order to become a household name, one must sensationalize and brand oneself, rather than creating beautiful and meaningful art). However, those who aren't keeping their finger on the pulse of the art world are only bombarded with the likenesses of the Damien Hirsts and Jeff Koons of the world, thus giving the contemporary "arteeest" sterotype.
    In reality though, the art world has had many newcomers who are against this isolation, trying to make it more accessible without any snobbery(including myself and MANY of my classmates.)
    This sterotype is somewhat true, but not quite as common as you may think.

  14. Thank you, Armpit Studios. I may not have gotten his motivations completely pinned down but that is the impression I get from his fixation on American commercialism and stuff like that.
    While I can appreciate some of the more out there artists, it never made sense to me to do an intentionally crappy job making art, JUST making a splotch on the canvas or leaving it blank. Humans that we are, even if something is just an area of color or scribble, we try to find a face, a figure, something our brains can recognize as a shape. You can name a painting of a bunch of random scribblings "Crowded Room" and all the "arteests" will go "Ah, I see..."

    I better leave that there before I go on about about the IDEA of an object vs. how its shown or depicted and talk out of my behind some more, haha.

  15. If I could, I would hang the cover of Swan Song (one of the SF book covers pictured above) in my living room. It would bring me joy every time I looked at it, now THAT'S art.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. While I can't stand the ridiculous exclusivity and overt snobbery of the big name galleries that house those talentless abstract painters either, there are still plenty of artists producing high-quality works these days that you're not acknowledging. For instance, you referenced Robert Williams yet failed to mention his exceptional paintings or his monthly Juxtapoz magazine that’s filled with talented artists still adhering to that "crazy" line and form approach to the visual arts. Hi-Fructose magazine is another excellent source for quality surrealist and comic-inspired art work, as is the BeinArt collective (http://beinart.org/). Furthermore, the galleries that support these artists, such as Jesus De La Luz in LA, are anything but hoity toity.

    It's only natural for the mainstream art you're criticizing to be toxic. It's the inevitable outcome of companies and investors shoveling loads of money to egotistical attention whores that are more than happy to produce generic schlock for mass consumption.

  18. I'm an art major and I totally applaud your post. I like all kinds of art from Raphael to Paperbacks, difference being I don't call some of it bullsh*t. To each his own, buddy.