John Waters: The Point of Contemporary Art

If con­tem­po­rary art baf­fles you, if you’ve ever looked at con­tem­po­rary art and won­dered “what’s the point?,” then give some­times con­tro­ver­sial film­mak­er John Waters four min­utes of your time. He’ll break it down for you in sim­ple, if not crude, terms: “Con­tem­po­rary art’s job is to wreck what­ev­er came before it. And from the very begin­ning after the Old Mas­ters, from then on, each gen­er­a­tion wrecked that. That some­thing is pret­ty and beau­ti­ful is prob­a­bly the worst thing that you could say today in con­tem­po­rary art about some­thing, unless it’s so pret­ty it’s nau­se­at­ing.”

This seg­ment is part of a longer Big Think inter­view (23 min­utes) that you can watch in full here.

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Comments (6)
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  • MariaPopova says:

    Inter­est­ing. Reminds me of this Susan Son­tag quote from this 1994 inter­view in The Paris Review: “I was assum­ing that a prin­ci­pal task of art was to strength­en the adver­sar­i­al con­scious­ness.”

  • Evan Plaice says:

    Lol, con­tem­po­rary art is hilar­i­ous. I think it’s a bit­ter joke by the artists to express the irony of their world. If they cre­ate some­thing beau­ti­ful and sol­id it’s crit­i­cized as not being as good as the works that came before it. If they cre­ate some­thing cryp­tic (and pos­si­bly lack­ing in mean­ing alto­geth­er) it’ll be praised as a mas­ter­piece. The fact that it does­n’t make sense is what makes it intrigu­ing to the afflu­ent audi­ences, most­ly because it’s that same audi­ence that devote exor­bi­tant time and resources try­ing to con­vince the rest of the world (and their peers) that they know/understand more than they real­ly do. The point is, it’s not sup­posed to make sense. By not mak­ing sense, it makes the observ­er cre­ate their own mean­ing mak­ing it their own. It only goes to show us the self nature of our­selves and how we fight to pro­tect our own per­cep­tions of the world. If that isn’t a trag­ic joke from the mind of an artist, I don’t know what is.

  • Arasmus says:

    Is this still new? Has­n’t this been the sto­ry of “con­tem­po­rary art” now for what 40 years? Almost half-a-cen­tu­ry and this is still the big idea? Real­ly? There is noth­ing more con­tem­po­rary than this?

  • Green Key says:

    John, buy the mold paint­ing and hang it on the out­side of your house!

  • Arjun Sen says:

    A lot of con­tem­po­rary art seems to be about knock­ing things down : sen­ti­ments, love of beau­ty, social norms, ways of see­ing things, what­ev­er. So long as it is icon­o­clas­tic, strange, shock­ing, appar­ent­ly (or actu­al­ly) mean­ing­less, it might make it as a con­tem­po­rary art suc­cess. The more out­ra­geous or dis­gust­ing, the bet­ter. If I were a Marx­ist I’d call it bour­geois. It has one of ele­gance and appeal and sense of real mean­ing under the sur­face as pre-WW2 mod­ern art or even Pop Art.

    It’s time a sense of mean­ing and pur­pose was restored to art instead of this garbage get­ting the atten­tion and the purs­es of the cred­u­lous mid­dle class­es.

    The main ingre­di­ent for suc­cess in a lot of con­tem­po­rary artists seems to be not so much tal­ent as audac­i­ty : the audac­i­ty to pro­duce a pile of crap and then smooth­ly pro­nounce it as art. You first need to go to art school to pick up the jar­gon and the pose — not indis­pens­able but it helps — and then start brand­ing your work. And the fat-pursed idiots all line up ooh-ing and ah–ing.

    What a joke.

  • Tura Satana says:

    Fun­ny. I must be in the minor­i­ty as I enjoy con­tem­po­rary art, obvi­ous­ly not all, the same way as no-one pre­sum­able likes all action movies or all lit­er­ary fic­tion. A lot of con­tem­po­rary art is also humor­ous, besides shock­ing — hard to shock any­one these days, so kudos if you man­age — thought pro­vok­ing and enter­tain­ing.

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