Safer Art

We here at Peabody’s Lament don’t understand Morley Safer’s crotchety review of contemporary art. He seems so perplexed by it all, but as Tom Stoppard said, “It is not hard to understand modern art. If it hangs on a wall it’s a painting, and if you can walk around it it’s a sculpture.”

Despite all the free advertising Safer has given the art world, both in 1993 and last week, they seem unhappy at the attention. Perhaps they’re worried that “others” might start investing in art or that they’ll have to start using English to explain things or, at the very least, that they’ll have to make art that makes any kind of sense.

Despite these worries, this strong reaction to Safer’s views is surprising. You’d think that, as artists, they’d be used to criticism.

Still while the art world feels victimized by Safer, we think he’s a boon for contemporary art: all artists and dealers have to do to instantly recognize a cold fish or live prospect is mention Safer’s report and see what the prospective buyer says. This will help them separate the wheat from the chaff. Or rather the cash from the wallet.

The real rub is that Safer doesn’t understand what he’s seeing. He’s clearly of the uninitiated. He doesn’t understand life, or at least how “life” is presented in the obtuse angles of contemporary artwork. Admittedly it is difficult to separate the pedestrian from the inspired, especially when most of the art consists of blank canvases, bathroom fixtures, or remnants from a frat party. It’s all lost on Safer as he can’t tell art from not art. Thankfully he stayed away from trying to understand gradations of art. If he had tried his head probably would have exploded. Which would be fine as long as there was a canvas in proximity to capture the gory bits. That, by the way, would be art.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Looking over this post we realized that Calvin & Hobbes are clearly as critical of contemporary art as Safer is and yet we can’t remember any outrage from the art world. Perhaps someone should caricature them caricaturing contemporary art…

Dammit Watterson!


About T.H. Gray

T.H. Gray is the self-appointed court jester and Dr. Demento for the history museum field. A lifelong museum professional and reenactor, he is a graduate of the prestigious Peale-Barnum Public History Museum Studies Program. Until 2011, when the AHS hired him away, he was on staff at the Benjamin Dover Memorial Museum & Swimming Pool ("Our History is All Wet!"). He remembers when museums were still about history, science, and art. BTW, all of these posts say they are by T.H. Gray because he can't turn off the byline. Credit, when due, is given. View all posts by T.H. Gray

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