Art Dealer: It's called "Outsider Art". It could be by a hillbilly, a mental patient, or a chimpanzee!Sometimes, accidents happen. However, there are times where a coincidence is just enough to create some paint splatter or sculpture or other art form by accident. People see it, and even if it's not even meant to be art, they'll still think it's brilliant. Congratulations. Your new masterpiece is the result of Accidental Art. Often a Take That aimed at True Art Is Incomprehensible. See also Mistaken for Exhibit. When an accident creates a scientific invention it's Accidental Discovery.
Homer: Wow... in high school I was voted most likely to be a hillbilly, mental patient or chimpanzee!
Homer: Wow... in high school I was voted most likely to be a hillbilly, mental patient or chimpanzee!
— The Simpsons, "Mom and Pop Art"
open/close all folders
- One commercial shows someone getting caught in the rain while carrying a painting. The paint starts running, and so the painting is later mistaken for an abstract piece.
Anime And Manga
- A stock cliché in Disney Mouse and Duck Comics. Mickey is trying to paint a picture, it gets ruined, but wins an award as such. Goofy wins a poem contest with a grocery list that coincidentally rhymes. Donald has mutilated Gladstone's fashion designs, but he decides to trust his luck and have them displayed anyway, and an expert declares that they're brilliant. And so on.
- In The Powerpuff Girls story "Powerpuff Picasso" (issue #15), the picture Bubbles drew at school is noticed and hailed by an art critic and put on exhibit at the museum. At the end, after numerous attempts to do so, Bubbles explains to everyone that the picture was upside down. Upon turning it right way up, the picture is passed off as bland and uninteresting.
- In an one-page story in The Smurfs, Painter Smurf's canvas is taken away by the wind and it hits the ground several times, getting all kind of stains. Papa Smurf arrives and thinks his painting is brilliant, asking him how he did it. Painter Smurf replies it was "a little inspiration, a lot of perspiration".
- In "Speck of Trouble" in Mad House Comics Digest #5 the father of two of the teenage main characters accidentally gets ink splatters on a music sheet while trying to come up with a variation on a Beethoven piece. His children, thinking it's an original composition, try playing it on their instruments and eventually take it to their recording studio which declares that it's the "absolute funkiest."
Films — Animated
- In The Iron Giant, Dean's hobby is constructing art sculptures from junk in his own scrapyard. At one point, he yells at the eponymous giant who has been indiscriminately eating the junk and happened to swallow some of the art pieces. At this the giant pulls a half-eaten sculpture from his mouth, adjusts a few parts, and then sets it down. Even though the giant only understands art as "what Dean doesn't want to be eaten", Dean decides that the result is as impressive as the other artistic displays, and in a later scene he is directing the giant in the construction of larger sculptures.
- Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation has Dizzy Devil upset because he is shedding, which means his hair will come out if he spins. Shirley trolls him by convincing him to do it anyway, and he winds up "naked". He dons a box to cover himself, and some passing skaters mistake it for a fashion statement, get their own boxes, and declare "The Box Look is in!"
Films — Live-Action
- A Bucket of Blood: The main character accidentally kills his landlady's pet and covers it in plaster to hide the evidence. His 'sculpture' is hailed as a masterpiece.
- This is the subject of the satirical essay film The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal
- In Tapeheads, the main characters run an unsuccessful music video company. When a Death Metal band that they taped is crushed by a piece of falling satellite, they're asked for a copy of the unpremiered video. Being low on funds, they put it on a video that previously held a videotaped funeral, accidentally copying only the audio. Fortunately, the song just happened to fit the funeral visuals very well, and it is lauded as a masterful work of art, even winning an award.
- In a Disney Fairies book, Bess, an art talent fairy feels that her latest painting is missing something. Apparently that something was a whole mess of paint splattered on it by a passing frog.
- "The Year the Glop-Monster Won the Golden Lion at Cannes" by Ray Bradbury: A B-Movie is transformed into an acclaimed work of art when the projectionist gets drunk and shows the reels in the wrong order (and some of them upside-down and/or backwards).
- In Fudge-A-Mania by Judy Blume, baby Tootsie accidentally walks through spilled paint and makes little footprints across one of Jimmy's father's canvases. He decides to make a series of "Baby Feet" paintings with her as a result. It's even referenced in Double Fudge, where Peter's family gets invited to a showing of Mr. Fargo's work, including the now wildly popular Baby Feet paintings.
- Thud! mentions a piece of modern art consisting of a pile of rags called "Don't Ask Me About Mondays". This art was intentional, but when Lord Vetinari viewed it, he displayed his opinions on modern art by having the artist nailed to a post by her ear. This installation (titled "Freedom") was an even bigger hit, and it's said she's planning on having herself nailed to several other things.
- Also invoked in the same book when Nobby suggests that they should display the frame of a stolen painting under the name "Art Theft", but the curator declares that would be stupid.
- In one of the Jeeves and Wooster stories, a pal of Bertie's is having trouble. He wants to paint portraits, but can't get a commission to paint one because he hasn't painted any. He finally gets a commission to paint a portrait of his uncle and benefactor's first baby. It's so horrible that the uncle calls it a fugitive from the funny papers, and cuts the painter off. Jeeves gets the idea that the character in the portrait could be the root of a series on the funny papers entitled, "The Adventures of Baby Blobb". It's a hit and the painter becomes rich.
- In Schismatrix, an entire artificial asteroid with a long stream of extruded plastic and stone head stuck to it (long story) is considered a piece of art by the alien Investors. They even compliment the use of explosions to produce a nice shading technique.
- In one of the novels of the Chanur Saga the main characters must carry an important stsho dignitary on their starship as a passenger. Knowing that the stsho love the color white they get their hands on whatever white furniture and decorations they can and hastily shove them into the stsho's room. It turns out that stsho art consists of abstract designs in infinite shades of white, and they'd created for their passenger a masterpiece of stsho interior design.
- In the Elephant & Piggie book "Elephants Cannot Dance", Gerald's frustrated tantrum at his failure to learn how to dance is interpreted by a pair of passing squirrels as a hot new dance move, "The Elephant."
- In Doug McLeod's humorous poem 'Fashion Victim', a fashion student trips onto the runway for his final presentation, which yanks off his trousers in the process. An influential designer in the audience lauds the student's bare legs as a bold new trend, launching his design career
- Done in one The Knowledge book, dealing with art, in which one artist strikes it rich when the buyer hangs all of his work upside-down.
- In Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, this occurred when Cookie strung some cans together in order to keep them from getting taken. It happened in a different way the second time. Ned paints an orange naked lady by mistake ("It's just squiggles!"), and is so successful that he almost pays off the school's debt. He tries to invoke this again, but it doesn't work and he gets slapped again.
- Red Dwarf:
- Inverted. Rimmer mistakes a light-switch for an artistic masterpiece.
- Played straight when Lister recounts the first time he got drunk and threw up from the top of the Eiffel tower "The story I got told was some pavement artist sold it to a Texan tourist. Told 'im it was a genuine Jackson Pollock".
- Doctor Who: In "The City of Death" John Cleese and Eleanor Bron cameo as art appreciators who mistake the TARDIS for a sculpture - understandably, as it's sitting in an art gallery. They're particularly impressed when the Fourth Doctor & Romana run inside, and it dematerialises.
- In one episode of Spaced Brian is setting up an installation in an art gallery when he falls off a ladder and is knocked out. In a later scene the gallery is open and visitors are admiring Brian's installation, which now includes the unconscious artist himself.
- On Bosom Buddies, Kip complains that Henry doesn't understand his art, and makes his point by asking Henry's opinion on a piece of abstract art. When Henry claims to like it, Kip points out that it was actually the board he used to wipe his brushes. However as the conversation continues, Kip begins to notice that it really does look kind of nice. Eventually, it shows up in his exhibit alongside his other works.
- In one episode of Bones, a murdered artist's body is dumped into a crusher full of scrap metal by his killer, and compacted into a large block. The team's efforts to investigate the crime are initially held up, because the artist's colleagues claim he must've chosen to commit suicide-by-crusher and become a part of his own artwork: take apart the block, and Brennen's team would supposedly be destroying his final masterpiece.
- In the Dark Angel Season 2 episode "Medium is the Message", Joshua created an accidental painting with a tube of paint labelled 'chocolate mousse' which he mistook for candy and put in his mouth. After spitting the paint onto a nearby painting, he tried to wipe it off with some paper and created an even bigger mess, sticking the paper to the painting. He later sneezed into an ashtray and the ashes got stuck in the wet paint, etc. Alec later saw the antique frame and expressed appreciation for it, and Joshua, thinking he liked the painting, gave it to him. Alec tried to sell the frame, but the art dealer hated the old frame and LOVED the inspired and original artwork, offering him big money for it. Alec then convinced Joshua to make more paintings, but she didn't like the later ones.
- Invoked by the MythBusters (especially Adam) on occasion, after one of their experiments has yielded a visually interesting result (like the results of the Dynamite Paint test).
- Outsider Music is basically this trope.
- David Wilcox's "Leave It Like It Is" is about the stain caused when a jar of blue paint gets knocked over and splatters on the kitchen wall. The owners of the house decide that the pattern of the splattered paint is so interesting that, rather than cleaning it up, they leave it like is and eventually give it a title, a frame, and gallery lighting.
- In Beetle Bailey, Cosmo notices the paint splatters Beetle has left on the floor look kind of interesting, and the sawed-off piece of floor ends up winning a prize as a painting. (Thankfully, this isn't the punchline, which instead involves Sarge falling down the hole.)
- The opening number of Wonderful Town has a slapstick interlude where a janitor wins first prize in a Greenwich Village art contest for a well-filled garbage can.
- A quest in Baldur's Gate II has you commissioning, on behalf of one of the temples, a sculpture from a haughty artist. If you do the quest right, you'll end up pissing off the artist and have a heavy lump of useless Illithium ore on your hands. But never mind: the temple still accepts that shapeless ore as a great work of art. In fact, the senior priest will regard it as far more symbolic and meaningful than anything the haughty artist could have produced.
- In Startopia, one alien "sculpture" is an antimatter containment unit they've taken a shine to and declared a national treasure.
- In Zak Mckracken And The Alien Mind Benders, if you bend the butterknife out of shape (by using it for some heavy labor) and try to sell it to the pawn shop, the owner will believe it to be a beautiful silver sculpture, pay you a grand for it, and add it to his personal collection (meaning you can't buy it back, but it's not essential).
- In College Roomies from Hell!!! the frozen remains of a monster from the kitchen are assumed to be a work of art and purchased for $10,000.
- In a Checkerboard Nightmare strip, Chex decides he needs a theme song, so he kidnaps Electric Light Orchestra's Jeff Lynne to force him to write said theme. Jeff Lynne escapes, but leaves behind a letter denouncing Chex as a "sick bastard". Chex reads the letter and thinks it's the song he asked for.
- Doug: The back of his real painting was marked up by his dog Porkchop chasing a raccoon through his paints and then over the canvas. Initially people think it's abstract; matters aren't helped when he attempts to explain and they assume "Porkchop" is the name of the painting.
- South Park episode "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs" was a deliberate Take That at this along with True Art Is Incomprehensible.
- The Simpsons:
Art Dealer: It's called "Outsider Art". It could be by a hillbilly, a mental patient, or a chimpanzee.Homer: Wow... in high school I was voted most likely to be a hillbilly, mental patient or chimpanzee!
- The episode "Mom and Pop Art" has Homer becomes an artist after his failed attempt at building a grill (and subsequently attacking it in a rage) is seen by an art dealer:
- An affectedly enthusiastic art teacher sees a janitor painting a handrail and exclaims: "Another triumph!"
- Another episode mixes this with Eureka Moment. A cartoon version of Real Life architect Frank Gehry casually crumples up a letter and throws it onto the ground, gives it a look, and says to himself “Frank, you genius! You did it again!◊” He then scales up this "design" and makes it a concert hall. 
- Spongebob Squarepants: Squidward goes on a rampage, destroying his art studio. It turns out that in this rampage he created a replica of Michelangelo's David, the same statue Spongebob had created earlier in the episode.
- Pinky and the Brain: Brain's plan is to become a famous artist (which he intends to do by predicting the next artistic fad: Donutism), this fails but Pinky attempts to drink the contents of Brain's brush jar (a milk carton) and promptly spits it out onto a canvas. Cue this trope.
- Dennis the Menace (UK) (cartoon adaptation): Dennis wins an art contest on Blue Peter when Gnasher accidentally gets paint on the other side of the paper he sends off.
- 1970s Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids cartoon: Fat Albert enters a cooking contest (he's the only male entrant, which was the point of the episode). His attempt at a cake is a disaster: He uses the wrong ingredients in the wrong proportions, and so on. Of course, he wins anyway.
- Totally Spies! had photos rendered incomprehensible through a darkroom accident win a contest.
- Rugrats: Angelica is mistaken to be an artist by the mess the babies make in her room and ends up being tasked to paint Charles' den and entered in an art contest by her mother, requiring her to get the babies to go crazy with the paint again.
- One of the live-action bookends of The Super Mario Brothers Super Show had Vincent van Gogh declare Mario's dropped plate of spaghetti as "pure genius!" and then promises Mario a lucrative career as an artist. Luigi eventually discovers that the guy is a scam artist posing as van Gogh, though they really should have been tipped off that he was a fake much earlier on.
- An episode of Garfield and Friends has Jon winning an art contest for a painting that came from Garfield and Odie fighting, getting paint splatter and their paw prints all over the canvas.
- In an episode of Birdz, baby Abby rolls around on a canvas while covered in paint, and Betty is proud of the results.
- Beavis And Butthead:
- In the episode "Butt is it Art?", the duo climb on a piece of public art behind Van Driessen's back - destroying it in the process. He then turns around and tells his class that the pile of rubble wouldn't be effective art if it wasn't "just so."
- There's also the episode in which they take random, sometimes disgusting pictures of themselves with someone else's camera — only for the camera's owner to be hailed as a genius when the photos are exhibited.
- In The Beatles episode "Twist And Shout," the boys meet a girl at a weirdo art exhibition who wants to unleash her creativity in a modern way. She throws paints at a canvas and the image that comes up is the Mona Lisa.
Girl: No, no! Not that!
- The first act of the Mr. Bogus episode "A Day At The Office" also featured an example of this trope, after an incident involving Bogus accidentally eating some paints, which prompts him to drink from the water cup, before spitting it out onto the canvas, resulting in a picture of a rainbow. This inspires Mr. Anybody to paint a picture of a beachside setting under a rainbow.
- There's a (possibly apocryphal) story about a museum that hung a piece of art on the wall, which received a lot of attention and adulation. Said piece of "art" turned out to be an architectural layout of the men's bathroom that somebody had mistaken for an artwork.
- A related story involves a sculpture submitted to a museum. The museum threw out the sculpture, and instead put the stand it was on on display, mistaking it for actual art.
- The photographic technique of solarization came about when Man Ray's assistant Lee Miller carelessly switched on the light in a darkroom. Ray liked the resulting effect, and (a minor piece of) history was born.
- Marcel Duchamp was never satisfied with his Large Glass until it was accidentally broken on the way to an exhibition.
- In Don't Try This At Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs, Michelle Bernstein tells of accidentally dropping a terrine (i.e., pretentious meatloaf) in a bowl of chocolate sauce. The resulting mess was delicious, and she went on to use the same combination intentionally.
- This is one of the supposed origins of the chimichanga, and the French Dip sandwich.
- Chocolate chip cookies, the most popular variety of cookie in the world, were supposedly created by accident. Ruth Graves Wakefield, owner and cook of the Toll House Inn, was attempting to make a batch of chocolate cookies for her guests when she discovered she was short on baker's chocolate. She decided to substitute it with chunks of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate, thinking the chocolate would melt and absorb into the dough. They didn't, but she served them anyway, and they became wildly popular. So popular in fact that she signed a deal with Nestle to print her recipe on every pack of their semi-sweet chocolate bars, in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate.
- As well as Gun Powder...
- Gunpowder was first discovered by a Taoist Philosopher/chemist searching for the formula for immortality... Irony much?
- Found art. True found art is the deliberate designation of a non art object as art by an artist (sometimes with alteration but this is not necessary), but this trend in art is the inspiration for many examples of this trope in fiction and has increased the likelihood of real life occurrences.
- In France and Germany, municipal garbage workers had to be specially trained to distinguish between found art installations and piles of garbage.
- A rather amusing one from the 19th century was the case of Emmanuel Domenech and the 'pictographs' he had found in the Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal. He thought he'd found native American artwork showing various things from their culture/history, but had actually discovered the misfiled notebook doodlings of a German school kid, complete with crude drawings of school life and sexual themes. It was also potentially an example of Mistaken for Exhibit, since the library itself someone thought this random set of drawings was an historic cultural piece and filed it away in the archives. You can see the full story in this Museum of Hoaxes article.
- There are a lot of songs with unintentional mistakes in them which turned out to make them sound even better.
- "Blue Monday" by New Order begins with a distinctive semiquaver kick drum intro, programmed on an Oberheim DMX drum machine. Gillian Gilbert eventually fades in a sequencer melody. According to band interviews in New Order Story, she did so at the wrong time, so the melody is out of sync with the beat; however, the band considered it to be a happy accident that contributed to the track's charm.
- The Beatles had a problem with the recording of "A Day in the Life". The transition between John Lennon and Paul McCartney's parts of the song was initially left blank because they couldn't think of a way to change from one to the other, consisting mainly of a bar count and Mal Evans triggering an alarm clock to mark the beginning of Paul's section. Eventually they settled on the now-iconic noisy orchestral glissando, but they were unable to remove the alarm clock from the song, and ultimately decided to leave it in. Considering that Paul's section begins with "Woke up, fell out of bed", that ringing alarm clock fits in perfectly.
- "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" starts, then stops abruptly while Bob and the producer laugh hysterically for a while, then starts up again like nothing happened.
- Faulty equipment created the distinctive guitar "fuzz" effect on Marty Robbins's "Don't Worry." This inspired many subsequent artists to tinker with their own amplifiers to try to reproduce it, which in turn eventually led to the invention of fuzzbox pedals.
- The iconic theme to The Terminator has a very strange time signature that continues to fox listeners - apparently due to the artist not quite timing the loop properly, but having the effect of giving the song a strange, inhuman lurch that fits the theme perfectly.
- German omnidisciplinary artist Joseph Beuys suffered from an inversion of this trope: On at least two occasions people destroyed his art accidentally.
- In 1973 an art object called unbetitelt (Badewanne) (a bathtub for newborns filled with adhesive plaster, gauze bandages, grease and copper wire) was destroyed by two women who decided to clean it and use it for washing dishes after a party.
- Another piece of art called Fettecke (literally 'fat corner', it was made of 5 kilograms of butter) was destroyed nine months after Beuys' death by a janitor who cleaned it up.
- In 2012, an old Spanish woman without training was trying to restore a 19th century fresco at a local church and accidentally made a portrait of Jesus look like a smiling monkey. It seemed like a case of accidental destruction of valuable art, but instead, it drew worldwide interest to the church and the painting that made it far more famous and recognizable than the original, which was not considered especially extraordinary.