96 percent of passersby don’t appreciate “great” art when seen on the street

96 percent of passersby don’t appreciate “great” art when seen on the street

Some documentary filmmakers set out to see whether the vast unwashed masses could appreciate contemporary art that sells for millions in art galleries. They had the artist, Tuynmans, whose artwork sells for millions, painted it on a wall in the Belgian city of Antwerp and they found that 96% of passersby didn’t give it a second glance.

In the video, they start by getting museum curators and art experts to gush on the “importance” of Tuynmans and how, even when it is taken out of its “context” and “vocabulary”, the average Joe should be able to appreciate it.


Yet, in the end, when no one stops to watch the abstract image of monkeys copulating—Yes, really—the filmmakers don’t conclude that there might be something lacking in the art—and in contemporary abstract art in general—but that this should be a wake-up call for average folks to get with it and recognize the artwork that they don’t see as beautiful or “important.”

Incidentally, I wonder what would have happened had there been a Rembrandt or Vermeer or Caravaggio painted on the wall. I suspect the numbers would have been quite different.


I also remarked to Melanie that I suspect that the gradual shift of art appreciation from art created for the glory of God to art done for the glory of commerce (note the emphasis on the video on how much Tuynman’s art sells for). which began during the Renaissance, can be tracked alongside its decline from something that is true in itself and that every person can appreciate on its face to something that requires an art appreciation course to appreciate.

Update: Melanie (who’s writing her own blog post on this video) just made a very good point that she’ll expand on herself. When you watch the video, you may realize that you never get a good view of any of Tuynman’s art. It’s always in the distance or behind the artist or the people in the gallery or the art expert. If that’s not symbolic I don’t know what is: You aren’t allowed to view the art for yourself on your own terms; you’re only allowed to approach through someone else’s interpretation of it for you.

  • He says that art is supposed to make people think. I am no art student but what exactly is copulating monkeys supposed to make me think about? I’d be the one standing there wondering where the National Geographic article was.

  • There was a similar experiment a few years ago now, where Joshua Bell, violinist extraordinaire, dressed up as a street musician and hardly anyone stopped to listen to him…but that was more a story about how hurried our lives are, that we aren’t affected by beauty anymore…so I don’t know WHAT would happen if a Rembrandt were recreated like that in public.  But I know I’d sure rather look at pretty much ANYTHING else than copulating monkeys!


  • http://abcnews.go.com/2020/GiveMeABreak/story?id=563146&page=1

    One evening one of my toddlers turned on the TV set and this happened to be on – and so I watched with delight rather than switch it off. 

    A bunch of ‘art critics’ rated preschooler’s ‘art’ with great modern art.  The set up was really funny as the talking heads look at the childrens’ canvas and begin talking about the tension and angst of the piece, with scenes of two children joyfully tossing paint about with loud peals of laughter. 

    One artist looks at it and to quote the article:

    One artist, Victor Acevedo, described one of the children’s pieces as “a competent execution of abstract expressionism which was first made famous by de Kooning and Jackson Pollock and others. So it’s emulating that style and it’s a school of art.”

    What the article doesn’t say is that the artist says something arrogantly like “People will say, my three year old can make something like that” and John Stossel interrupts him,

    When I told him the work was done by a 4-year-old he said, “That’s amazing. Give that kid a show.”

    The stunned deer in the headlights look on Acevedo’s face was just hilarious! If you can find the video, its well worth the time to watch it.  You can see first hand how these nutty people think.

    I, too, was an art major and was fed a lot of bunk about what made ‘great art’.  If art needs an explanation to be appreciated, it is only value is in the hot air used to describe it.

  • I agree with what you have said about the remoteness of modern art.  I’d like to add to that same perspective by noting that the art and science of the modern world are far more complex than that of the Renaissance.  A “Renaissance Man” could appreciate everything the culture had to offer.  A “modern” cannot hope to encompass even a tiny fraction of the knowledge that is extant throughout the world.  It was a lot easier for someone to grasp the science of Galileo than the science of the “Standard Model” in physics, today, or to grasp the number theory of Pierre Fermat than to grasp the number theory developed in modern times to solve the problem posed by Fermat in his “Last Theorem.”  It was much easier to appreciate the work of Mendeleev than to appreciate the work of Watson and Crick, let alone the work on the Human Genome Project.

    Another major difference is that we are bombarded with complex images every day.  Seeing a complex image on the side of a building may not attract our attention simply because we don’t have the reserve of interest or the reserve of mental effort required to really take notice.  I suspect more than a few of the people who passed by without noticing actually had a significant background in art.