"I shudder if the majority of people look at my brush work and say it is pretty, for then I know it is ordinary and I have failed. If they say they do not understand it, or even that it is ugly, I am happy, for I have succeeded."
— An anonymous artist
Art is a very subjective concept. Works that have meaning to one person can seem utterly banal and vulgar, or resemble nothing that could exist outside Lovecraftian Fiction, to another. It may take the form of a childish scribble, or an inhuman monstrosity of twisted metal, but the disconnects are the same.
True Art Is Incomprehensible takes this a step further, where a work's value as art is argued to be defined by its confusing, ambiguous or highly subjective nature.
In general, expect such arguments to fall into 3 categories:
A work is art because it is trying to redefine the concept of art. By making something that an audience would not consider art and referring to it as art, it forces that audience to re-think what art is to begin with. This attitude was famously pioneered by the Dadaists of the early twentieth century, particularly Marcel Duchamp.
A work is art because it was made to be aesthetically pleasing to the creator's own subjective tastes alone. It is art because they like it, the audience is just a nice afterthought. Ironically, "fine art" as we know it today may actually have started out this way, as historically most art was created for the enjoyment of private patrons (usually aristocrats or government officials) rather than for the public.
Lampshaded by a commercial where an artist is discussing a canvas which you do not see until halfway in, trying to say it represents the helplessness of life. The canvas was revealed as blank white. The girl he was trying to explain it to gives a deadpan response of "You ran out of cash and the store wouldn't take a check. Right?" the artist responds "Right."
It parodies this like so much else. Nagi is convinced that her manga is a masterpiece, but the only other person who can understand it is her friend Isumi. Everybody else just feels very confused after reading it. Or even just hearing her describe it.
Isumi herself tries writing a manga. Naturally, Nagi immediately declares it a work of genius.
Hidamari Sketch, also in an arts class setting, cannot avoid this. When the tenants decided to draw their renditions of a bunny as an introduction, Hiro and Yuno just couldn't comprehend Miyako's work...
Moriya of Bakuman。 seems to have this view, as a Foil to Shiratori, who believes that manga should be for everyone. Moriya believes in placing an emphasis on quality and artistic value without pandering to the masses, and as such, writes works that are difficult to understand, and thus considered too complex for publication.
Invoked in Amazing Spider Man #22, where Peter Parker exclaims "If that's art then I'm glad I'm a science major" upon seeing a gallery of pop art (one of which is just a painting of a toe with a band-aid on it), while a hippie nearby says "I wish I could draw like that". Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko also voiced his disdain for pop-art in issues of The Blue Beetle and The Question, even creating a villain named Boris Ebar, an art critic and liberal politician who used pop art to spread decadence. Ditko's reasoning for Ebar's motivation was that he, hippies, and liberals weren't "manly" enough to appreciate traditional art.
There's some rather painful irony present there for any comic book fan who's ever tried to justify it as an art form, making this seem like a bizarre meta-joke on Ditko's part.
In his last, unfinished comic book Tintin and Alph-Art, Herge wanted Tintin to deal with the modern art business. The Alph-Art mentioned is a new style which depicts nothing but big letters. And Captain Haddock was even supposed to become a fan of it.
Parodied in the Carl Barks Scrooge McDuck story "Hound of the Whiskervilles", where Scrooge gets big in modern art by painting his clan's tartan.
Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics discusses an entertaining aversion to demonstrate the importance of context: An enormous square of canvas with two tiny right triangles at the center of the top and bottom edges. Its name? The Big N, which is in fact precisely what the painting is.
This trope is why Rudi's buddy Freddy accidentally destroys one art installation, thinking it was the buffet. Also, a woman at said vernissage:
Woman: "What a great piece of art! I could look at it all the time!"
Rudi (thinking): "I don't have the heart to tell her it's just a mirror."
This trope was already so over-used by 1966 that it was parodied and lampshaded in an Archie Comics story by writer Frank Doyle. Veronica paints a terrible abstract painting which Archie almost drops on the ground... until Jughead stops him, saying "come on, Arch, let's not be so corny!"
Jughead: You fall, smear the painting, it gets hung upside down...
Parodied in L.A. Story: Steve Martin's character jokingly gives an erotic artistic analysis of a painting, mentioning that it depicts a man, a woman and a puppy (among other things). When the camera pulls back, the painting is revealed to be a red rectangle.
"The way he's holding her, it's almost ... obscene."
The entirety of the movie Art School Confidential. The realist artist is flunking out, everyone else's art looks like something you'd see on a drug trip, and the guy with the highest mark hasn't taken an art class in his life.
The film adaptation of Ghost World: The art film ("Mirror. Father. Mirror.") that Enid's teacher shows to the class as an example of her work is hilariously awful, whilst the actual, looks-like-a-person drawings Enid creates are lumped in with the boy who traces his favourite video game characters in felt-tip pen. Then they're passed over for another girl's wire coathanger sculpture. Daniel Clowes may have had some issues to work out, it seems.
The tampon-in-a-teacup "found art" that is lauded as being genius.
This is ironic, considering Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, one of Clowes's own graphic novels, is pretty darn bizarre. It's likely that Clowes believes in incomprehensible art (as one can see in any number of examples from his work), but instead was giving a Take That to unimaginative hacks who get by on cliche rather than originality or true provocation.
In fact, much of Lynch's work is fairly confusing — and even relatively accessible works (Blue Velvet, say) have truly bizarre moments... to say nothing of the fact that he promoted his Inland Empire by sitting outside a building holding a cow on a leash. Judging by a few choice quotes, Lynch himself doesn't even pretend to make sense, or rather, to have to make sense. Apparently, concrete meaning destroys the mystery and is too dependent on life itself making consistent sense. "It's better not to know..."
The Rebel a.k.a. Call Me Genius stars Tony Hancock as a struggling artist called Tony Hancock who tries to ingratiate himself with pretentious critics by painting incomprehensible abstracts. The critics see through the ruse and reject his work. When another artist imitates Hancock's style the critics love it. (Hancock and his writers had previously used basically the same plot in a Hancock's Half Hour radio episode using poetry instead of painting.)
Andy Warhol. The guy taped hours and hours of absolutely nothing happening. And when a critic called him on it, sniping that his films were nothing but "a camera focused on Taylor Mead's ass for two hours", Warhol promptly produced a two-hour opus entitled... wait for it... Taylor Mead's Ass. It's possible that this was another method that Warhol used to make comment on his overarching theme of "fame"; yes, absolutely nothing is happening, but you're still sitting down and watching it and discussing it because it's absolutely nothing happening to his very attractive line-up of famous superstars (or, in the case of Empire, the very famous and iconic Empire State Building) and directed by the famous and well-admired Andy Warhol. By expecting "meaning" because it's a film by big deal pop artist Andy Warhol starring a bunch of famous people, you're just proving his point, and the joke is on you. Warhol, you magnificent and sexually ambiguous bastard.
Oddball actor Crispin Glover wrote, directed, and starred in a film aptly-titled What Is It?. The film includes porn stars, actors with Down syndrome, the image of a nude Shirley Temple, a snail voiced by Fairuza Balk, and swastikas. Glover's justification for all this basically amounts to it being offensive. You can see a trailer here. Glover saw fit to film a sequel, It's Fine, Everything Is Fine, which is about a serial killer with severe Cerebral Palsy who has graphic, consensual sex with his victims before killing them. A third firm was planned, called It Is Mine, which has not yet been made but is intended to form the end of an overarching story that supposedly connects all three films. On top of that, his films are commonly shown as a "road show" format, which he prefaces with even more surreal multimedia presentations and book readings. And if that's not strange enough, he has consistently refused to release any of his films on DVD, because too many people who couldn't possibly understand them might see them. The guy is a living, walking example of this trope, writ large.
Eat the Schoolgirl, a bizarre Japanese art film filled with sex and violence.
Semi-subverted in Short Circuit 2; after escaping from an attempt to sell him and landing in an open-air modern art gallery, Johnny 5 is mistaken for an exhibit by a high-class couple apparently well-versed in this trope. The subversion comes when they dismiss him as a bad and ugly attempt at "True Art", spending not even 5 minutes studying him before moving on to something more appealing.
The indie film The Artist's Circle pokes fun at this trope. The artist pounds a long steel rod into the floor of a warehouse, and critics flock to discuss its inner meaning. As the discussion continues, the artist keeps working on his "masterpiece", until the critics are completely encircled in upright rods like a cage. The artist then walks away.
Lampshaded in the "Choreography" sequence of White Christmas, with somber young women striking inexplicable poses to ugly music, before Danny Kaye breaks into song:
Chaps / Who did taps / Aren't tapping anymore / They're doing choreography
Chicks / Who did kicks / Aren't kicking anymore /They're doing choreography.
Heps / Who did steps /That would stop the show in days that used to be...
Through the air they keep flying / Like a duck that is dying / Instead of dance, it's choreography.
In The Big Lebowski, Maude is a good in-universe example. Her painting technique consists of being strapped into a harness connected to rolling tracks in the ceiling, and splattering paint onto canvas from above while flying past at high speed. While naked. The result is paintings with a strongly vaginal nature.
Un Chien Andalou is widely considered the Trope Maker here when it comes to film today (though Luis Bunuel suggested that psychoanalysis would make for an interesting method of Deconstruction). It certainly isn't the Ur Example however: avant-garde efforts by the likes of Fernand Léger, Man Ray and Hans Richter (amongst others), all looking to cross into film now and then, came about in the early '20s on the European cinéclub circuits, where the trope was quite well-embraced for some time.
Mr. Nobody is so incomprehensible that the only way to describe it is: He may or may not see the future, may or may not live in four different realities, and he may or may not be real at all.
In Cosmopolis, Robert Pattinson plays a billionaire financist who is riding is his stretch limo through the city to get a haircut, in the way he meets some people. Pretty straight-forward isn't it? Well, just watch it.
The bulk of Holy Motors (2012) is a man traveling by limousine who acts out a variety of unconnected scenarios, requiring him to play a homeless woman, satyr, hitman, angry father, dying man, etc. There is no real plot tying it together and many of the scenarios make little sense. The film opens with an unrelated scene of a man with a key attached to his hand finding a door to a movie theater in his bedroom. There are two musical interludes. It ends with talking limos bickering with each other. The film received lavish critical praise.
Played for comedy in Contraband, where a few million dollars in counterfeit cash is covered up with a paint-spattered tarp... that is actually a Jackson Pollack painting worth tens of millions of dollars.
After seeing Tim Burton's 1996 comedy Mars Attacks!, one critic was so put off by its supposed lack of entertainment value as to dub it an "anti-entertainment." The fact that, in North America at least, the movie was a box-office bomb - the worst of Burton's career - only fueled this suspicion. However, Burton's defenders pointed out that, as one of the most successful producers, as well as directors, in Hollywood, Burton wouldn't be stupid enough to do something like that.
The somewhat obscure 1977 action thriller Rollercoaster (about a terrorist blowing up rides at various American amusement parks), has its climax at California's Magic Mountain (now Six Flags Magic Mountain), where the terrorist is targeting the then-new "Revolution" coaster. While the police are frantically searching for the bomb, there's a Big Lipped Alligator Moment where we keep cutting away to an avant-garde punk rock band entertaining (to use the term loosely) a crowd elsewhere in the park. They aren't very good, and the bandleader's "performance" consists mostly of throwing a chair violently around the stage.
"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. Incomprehensible intentionally to teach how you don't need to know word meanings to understand verbs, adjectives, and nouns. And incomprehensible intentionally to parody this trope.
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, features, among other things, a word that ostensibly represents a stone wall being knocked over by a lightning strike*
. It once was voted the 77th best novel in English of all time, which prompts the question, "It qualified as being in English?" At one point in the 1990s a revised and updated edition of Finnegans Wake was released, with an announcement that numerous typographical errors had been identified and corrected. One commentator quipped, "Typos in Finnegan's Wake? How can they tell?"
Parodied in the Discworld novel Thud!: While investigating the theft of a painting from the Ankh-Morpork Art Museum, Fred and Nobby make note of two "modern art" pieces by Daniellarina Pouter: Don't Talk to Me About Mondays, which consists of a pile of rags, and Freedom, which consists of a stake to which Ms. Pouter had been nailed after Lord Vetinari had seen her previous piece. (She was delighted and is planning to nail herself to a wide variety of objects in the near future as a special exhibition.)
The curator of the museum also dismisses Nobby's suggestion that they label the empty frame that once held the stolen painting Art Theft as "foolish".
According to The Complete Ankh-Morpork City Guide, the Logic Bomb signs ("Do Not Feed The Elephant" etc.) Myria put up in the Museum to confuse the Auditors in Thief of Time are now considered very valuable artworks.
Parodied by C. S. Lewis in The Pilgrim's Regress. Glugly, a "poet" who has been mute since birth, entertains an audience of jaded aesthetes by making silly poses and nonsense sounds. The onlookers (except for the naive young protagonist) praise her work as highly rational and abstract.
Fudge-a-Mania, by Judy Blume, has Peter and Fudge's little sister accidentally getting into an artist's paint and wandering over his canvas, leaving behind little blue footprints. The artist thinks it looks stunning and wants her to help him make more paintings.
Modern poetry is Incomprehensible Art's most forbidding fortress:
T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land is disjointed, studded with foreign language phrases and obscure literary allusions, and left. This confusion serves Eliot's points, which, depending on whom you ask, are that True Art Is Ancient, New Media Are Evil, Science Is Bad, nothing makes sense, and/or the modern world is the intellectual and cultural "Waste Land" of the title. However, Eliot did include a big batch of clarifying notes, claiming he did it because his editor wanted to publish The Waste Land as an independent volume. He did publish a page or so of explanatory notes... which most people consider to be even more incomprehensible than the poem itself.
On an opposite front, Vasilisk Gnedov wrote a poem with no words in it at all. (One interpretation of the intent of the work is that it meant to symbolically reduce language to nothingness, so that the viewers could leave all their preconceived ideas about language behind.) Many other Russian poets of the age (immediately before/after the October Revolution) wrote gibberish in attempts to create a language of the subconscious usable for direct intuitive communication.
The cover of Nova Express by William S. Burroughs touts the book as some of the best satire since Jonathan Swift. If you read the book, you're likely to find it more resembles the results of beating a keyboard mercilessly with a cat. The incomprehensibility is apparently part of the satire.
"Though I cannot help but wonder if Mark is really just trying to turn us into apopheniacs here. Leading us to search for — and/or construe — connections which may well be entirely nonexistent. But if that is the case, then at least it's an entertaining form of insanity."
There's a wonderful essay by David Sedaris chronicling his foray into conceptual art, which went hand-in-hand with his speed addiction. At his performance art piece, the only part that got any positive feedback was his own father's heckling of the work, misinterpreted by the audience as being part of the show.
Then there's Kurt Vonnegut's character Rabo Karabekian. In Breakfast of Champions, we meet him having painted a painting that consists solely of a green field with two strips of orange, meant to signify one or another Christian saint. In Deadeye Dick he paints a barn door-sized painting of a green figure eight on its side with one orange stripe, and gives it the title "The Temptation of Saint Anthony". In "Bluebeard," his wife confronts him about his struggling art career and asks why he doesn't draw 'correctly'. Karabekian, in a Crowning Moment of Awesome, takes a small chunk of charcoal, looks briefly at their children sitting in another room, and draws a perfect portrait of them in a few minutes on the wall. He then says to her, "Because it's too f***ing easy."
In the fourth Dexter novel, Dexter and his wife, Rita, visit an art exhibit while in Paris. The Art consists of videos of a woman cutting her own leg off. Dexter finds it mildly interesting though he worries Rita will be distressed. Rita insists on staying and viewing "real" art, all the while refusing to believe the videos, or the displayed leg bone, are real. When the artist hobbles out on one leg and touches the leg bone, Rita faints. The plot of the book also revolves around the antagonist's artistic efforts.
Parodied in Take the Plug Out by Ephraim Kishon (also known as Take the plug out, the kettle's boiling). An art critic is going over to an artist, who has decided to make himself a cup of tea and has plonked the kettle on a stool. The art critic mistakes this for the actual artwork.
Somewhat mocked by Stephen King in the third book of The Dark Tower series, The Waste Lands where Jake (who is slowly losing his mind due to being in the middle of a Temporal Paradox) reads an English paper he is about to hand in, but doesn't remember writing, and is horrified to see that it's nothing but a bunch of mad ramblings, (although they do turn out to be prophetic), ending in about five full lines of nothing but choochoo repeated over and over. The next day when his teacher sends it back with a note, he's certain that he is about to be committed since the paper clearly showed he was losing it. Instead she praises him for his truly insightful and thought provoking masterpiece, so far ahead of anyone else in the class, and asks his permission to submit it to a publication company for young auteurs.
Also seen in It, where Bill Denbrough attends a creative writing class at college and is roundly criticised for writing 'stories'. The star pupil is a boy who writes a play which consists of people each shouting out a single word, until you come to realize that the words make the sentence: "War. Is. The. Tool. Of. The. Capitalist. Death. Merchants." One suspects that Mr. King may have an axe to grind.
Used to disturbing effect by Dean Koontz in From the Corner of His Eye, which follows the career of an oddly-sympathetic psychopathic killer. The serial killer purchases all manner of disturbing modern art — including a number of paintings that consist of a single spot of color—because it supposedly represents human alienation. He finds the representational art of one of the protagonists sneeringly bad for daring to depict anything positive about society.
Woody Allen parodies this in comic essay "The Irish Genius", which is about the fictional poet Sean O'Shawn, who was considered to be the "most incomprehensible and hence the finest" poet of his time. The understanding of his work "requires an intimate knowledge of his life, which, according to scholars, not even he had."
By the end of Fulgrim, the troop of artisans and "remembrancers" accompanying the Emperor's Children have gone from masters of their craft, to overly-meticulous perfectionists, to debaucherous madmen whose art confuses, disgusts or outright PAINS those who don't share their views, landing it in this trope. Some examples: a painting of the resplendent and physically near-perfect Primarch Fulgrim himself, crafted with a combination of paints, gold flecks, feces, vomit, spoiled food and the skin, blood and viscera of a man the artist killed in a rage; a musical sung by possibly the most beautifully-voiced woman in the entire Imperium backed up by an orchestra that is made of various musical instruments that seem to be random pipes and synthesizers welded together; and a marble sculpture of the Emperor in full regalia, perfect down to the micrometer. Fulgrim wasn't pleased with that last one, because it not only surpassed his OWN attempts, it was also unveiled after the rest of the fleet had succumbed to the corruption of Slaaneshi demons which prompted all of the above. He "finished" the work, impaling the sculptor to the statue with a power sword. The musical was so incomprehensible and discordant it ended up summoning Daemonettes from the warp who went on to slaughter the chorus, the singer, and the musicians, as the audience was cheering ever louder.
Dave Barry has snarkily documented some real-life cases of this: the page image, a literal pile of trash that was thrown out by the janitor and meticulously reconstructed by the artist's fans, cans of an artist's poop that he successfully sold to an art museum, and many similar "works" of "art."
Live Action TV
Spoofed in Reno 911! when the sheriff's department is called to a modern art museum to remove a painting deemed "offensive." The problem, however, is that all the paintings are so abstract, they can't tell which is the one people complained about. They end up taking four armfuls of them, missing the very non-abstract work that was flagged.
Spoofed in the 1979 Doctor Who serial "City of Death", when the TARDIS materializes inside a Paris art gallery and is mistaken by a pair of art lovers (Eleanor Bron and John Cleese in cameos) for an exhibit. After the pair give an approving post-modern critique which boils down to "it's art because it shouldn't be here, but is", the Doctor and Romana rush into the TARDIS and it dematerializes, further impressing the two art lovers.
The same thing happens in The Fires of Pompeii.
Parodied again in the episode "The Lodger". The Doctor, pretending to be human, creates an elaborate and crazy sciency device out of household items- and when the landlord of the place he's staying freaks out, the Doctor tries to pass it off as modern art.
The Doctor: It's art! A statement on modern society! "Ooh, Ain't Modern Society Awful?"
And again, although with more subtlety in "The Girl Who Waited". They land in an alien building, and Rory deduces its an art gallery based on a sculpture, the Mona Lisa and a blue bubbling thing. Rory just says "And, er, whatever that is." Justified since it is an alien art gallery.
The Chaser's War on Everything constructed a skit where they threw out their old rubbish by disguising it as art in galleries.
The Red Dwarf episode 'Legion'; Rimmer is attempting to impress the titular Legion — who has created several works that Kryten's connoisseur chip identifies as masterpieces:
Rimmer: [About a small, cubic object on the wall] Now this three-dimensional sculpture in particular is quite exquisite. Its simplicity, its bold, stark lines... pray, what do you call it? Legion: [Bemused] The light switch. Rimmer: [Embarrassed] The light switch. Legion: Yes. Rimmer: I couldn't buy it off you, then. Legion: Not really — I need it to turn the lights on and off.
In another episode, Lister mentions a field trip to Paris as a teenager where he got drunk and vomited down from the top of the Eiffel Tower. The contents of his stomach landed on the blank canvas of a street artist who sold it off as a Jackson Pollock.
Played deadly straight in an episode of Law & Order — a talented-but-traditional artist (i.e. one who painted stuff that actually looked like other stuff) couldn't sell his paintings because they weren't in the zeitgeist. He eventually snapped and murdered the patron of a modern artist whose work was not only incomprehensible, but actively misogynistic as well, but was racking in loads of cash because it was 'daring'. Ironically, representational art is making something of a comeback these days— noted representational artist Lucian Freud has had a solo show at MOMA.
Also played straight in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. A woman is praising an artist for the "primal" nature of the red "artwork" on a wall. It's the victim's blood running down the wall.
Brian Topp epitomizes this trope, as well as being evidence of True Art Is Angsty. Ironically, for most of the series he's not particularly successful, and when he's not angsty, his work is actually comprehensible. Unfortunately for him, it appears that Wangst is his entire muse; he can't paint unless he's miserable.
A particularly biting satire appears in the episode 'Art', which features Vulva, Brian's former, more successful (and even more pretentious) collaborator, and his modern drama installation — it's two hours of completely incomprehensible gibberish, featuring lots of shouting, frozen poses, weird music and some guy in glasses jumping about with a vacuum cleaner attached to his belt. Memorable for this exchange:
[Vulva freezes; the audience thinks he's finished and begin to applaud] Vulva: It's not finished! [Applause stops; Vulva remains standing still for a few more seconds] Vulva: It's finished. [The audience applauds again]
"Art" also features an aversion when Daisy, inspired by the Vulva, tries to do the exact same thing, only with her it involves dressing as a clown and screeching "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit!" as loud as she can. It's a dismal failure, no one goes to see it, which prompts Tim to comment in surprise that this modern art thing isn't as easy as it looks.
Another episode features an installation that Brian has been frantically preparing for. We see the audience's reaction, and they comment approvingly on how he manages to isolate the lonely despair of modern life. Then we see what it is; it's mostly what Brian prepared except with the unintended addition of Brian himself, lying unconscious in a pool of green paint having accidentally knocked himself out when the tin fell from a ladder onto his head.
Another example is when Brian takes Twist to an exhibit of an artist's white paintings... which turn out to be a number of canvases of varying sizes which are blank white. Brian, obviously, is in awe of them, and Twist "insightfully" declares them to be "samey", to which Brian ecstatically agrees.
Spoofed in The Prisoner when Number 6 builds a boat, but, before escaping, enters its rearranged components in an art competition as an abstract sculpture called "Freedom". It wins. It's played dead straight, however, in the last episode.
Parodied / Discussed / Deconstructed in an episode of Community when Shirley (a devout Christian) asks Abed to help her made a viral video with a gospel message. Being Abed, he takes the idea and runs with it - but decides that the best way to approach the project is to make a meta pseudo-religious documentary-style film about filmmaking, which he describes thus:
Abed: We need a Jesus movie for the post-postmodern world. I want to tell the story of Jesus from the perspective of a filmmaker exploring the life of Jesus. See, in the filmmaker's film, Jesus is a filmmaker trying to find God with his camera. But then the filmmaker realizes that he's actually Jesus and he's being filmed by God's camera. And it goes like that forever in both directions like a mirror in a mirror because all the filmmakers are Jesus and all their cameras are God... and the movie is called "Abed". Filmmaking beyond film.
An episode features Murphy betting with Miles she could pass off one of her toddler son Avery's fingerpaints as an abstract art piece (by "self-taught artist A. Veret") to discredit a pair of pretentious art critics she was doing a piece on. One of them immediately starts trashing the "painting" calling it "amateurish" and with no value, only for the other critic to jump in to its defence and they both end up getting into a huge argument. Murphy is about to reveal the ruse when the painting ends up being sold at a very high value to a guy who had not even seen the painting: he assumed it was a very important piece of art due to two prominent art critics arguing about it and Murphy doing a piece about it. Murphy tells the guy it was a child's fingerpainting but he just tells Murphy she doesn't "get it". Eventually she gives up and goes off to get "A. Veret" some more art supplies.
Another episode has Eldin (who spent the better part of the series painting an elaborate mural in Murphy's apartment) exhibiting one of his paintings in a museum, but was upset that the patrons were more interested in the unveiling (mistaking it for performance art) than the work itself.
parodied this at great length and with gusto. The Joker enters an art contest along with several other artists, each of whom seems almost as crazy as him, including an artist who paints with his feet, and a monkey who flings paint balloons at the canvas. In the end, the Joker carefully mixes paints, does all sorts of preparations, and finishes with a single stroke with an imaginary paintbrush. He presents a blank canvas to the judges, labelling it "Death of a Mauve Bat." The Brainless Beauty contest organizer asks where the bat is, and the Joker says, "Alas, it is dead." The organizer remarks to a skeptical judge that, obviously, it's "a commentary on the emptiness of modern life." The Joker wins.
Averted in How I Met Your Mother: Barney intentionally makes a horrendous performance involving him acting like a robot and playing a recorder terribly, and everyone (except for his friends, who were being polite) walks out. Granted, he wanted to show Lily (who performed in a pretentious play at the start of the episode) that you can't fake politeness and compliments if you hate the play, and intentionally based it around everything Lily hates (such as the repeating the word "moist" for half an hour, or spraying her repeatedly with a water gun).
In a Seinfeld episode, Elaine's love interest is the hospitalized artist Roy, whose work consists entirely of triangles. When he takes a turn for the worse George decides to spend a recent windfall on the triangles, counting on the increase in value that would come with the artist's death. However, his spending so much money on Roy's work inspires him to live again.
In another episode, George is pressured into buying a piece of art by Jerry's girlfriend, which is just a bunch of squares. "It's a bunch of lines! You're telling me you couldn't paint this?"
In the same episode ("The Letter"), Kramer has posed for a portrait for Nina (Jerry's artist girlfriend, played by Catherine Keener). True to the trope, the requisite pretentious and snobby art patron couple decide, after much deliberation (they find the portrait simultaneously "hideous" and "exquisite"), to purchase it from her.
Done in an episode of Get Smart. Agent Smart goes on a long discussion about a painting that looks like a corner of an empty room with a small black dot on it. He says the painting is an allegory for an individual's sense of insignificance in an indifferent world, pointing to the dot as representing mankind. Then the dot flies off.
On an episode of the crime series Monk, the titular character is mocked by a formal art class for his paintings, as they are painted in accordance to his particular compulsions and tics. After an art collector buys one of his paintings, he thinks he's brilliant, though others have a hard time agreeing with him, and even going so far as to offer his therapist a painting in exchange for a session. It turns out the "art collector" was just a man who wanted the canvas, as the paint could be washed off for the real target—the canvases were made of the exact same paper they print money on. Counterfeit to the max, '80s style!
Teacher:[relieved] He really does suck!
Wickedly parodied on The Red Green Show, when Red offers some simple criteria for viewers to tell if something they see is art or not: If I can do it, it's not art.
Lampshaded on 227. When Mary is cleaning an art gallery for a friend's opening, she leaves her cleaning products on a tray and forgets about them. When a high-brow critic starts praising a certain art piece, everyone assumes he's talking about a gorgeous painting by Mary's friend. But no! He's extolling the genius of Mary's cleaning tray, and encourages her to produce more "pieces" in that vein. Mary's career as an artiste skyrockets, but when she's interviewed on the Arsenio Hall Show with her mentor, the questions lead her to realize that she's no artist. Telling the pompous critic off, she declares that her friend was the true artist all along.
Some of the Great Gonzo's acts on The Muppet Show were like this, such as smashing up a car with a sledgehammer while the orchestra played "The Anvil Chorus", eating a car tire to "The Flight of the Bumblebee", or trying to disarm a bomb while reciting Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias".
Lampshaded in one episode when guest Peter Sellers wanted to squeeze two chickens under his arms while reciting the opening soliloquy from Richard III. Kermit told Sellers that he couldn't do that act because "Gonzo tried that last week."
Another episode had Floyd Pepper writing a new theme song. When Kermit says he's sure he'll like it, Floyd tells him he won't.
Floyd: You won't understand it, man. No one does. If I didn't know I was a genius, I wouldn't listen to the garbage I write.
In the Columbo episode "Playback," Columbo mistakes a ventilator shaft for a piece of modern art while in an art gallery.
Averted in an episode of New Tricks, in which the team are called in to deal with a case involving art fraud, and are seconded an officer from the Fraud Squad who is an expert on art to help them out. Most of the works that appear are more traditional forms of art, but at one point Brian raises the typical complaint of modern art that it's all just meaningless lines and colours. In response, the art expert — who, in another inversion, is not at all pompous and pretentious but a genuinely likable and friendly young woman who is sincerely passionate about art — puts up an obscurist modern piece on the wall and gives him a few helpful pointers on how he might approach reading it. Once he finds a way to interpret the work on his terms, Brian finds himself quite moved by the painting. The actual forger, however, does raise the "it's all just a game to humour pretentious people" defense once he's been rumbled.
Played with in Gilmore Girls — Rory is reporting on an art exhibit that has rather bizarre art. She goes to get a drink at a water cooler and girls come up and tell her that the water cooler is their friend's piece of art and that it represents his soul. They were kidding, though.
This was an argument some people made with regards to The Sopranos' No Ending. Didn't make it any more pleasant.
The Tom Green Show. Tom secretly takes a self-composed piece of modern art into a museum and places it on an empty space on the wall. Before long, he's vandalizing his own work while a tour group watches. Not long after that, he's fleeing the museum guards.
An episode of Bones involves a dead artist. The artist's works consists of old cars that have been sent through a scrap yard compactor. His agent even has the work of art that the artist was found in declared art (stalling the case) because it was a piece of art and, more so, the artist had made a comment about eventually merging himself with a piece of his art (i.e., get crushed into one of the cars).
Played with in an episode of Coronation Street. Toyah Battersby, an art student, tries to pass off her slovenly step-father Les' chair, covered in debris such as empty beer cans and old cigarette stubs, as her art project to her tutor. He tells her about an occasion where he had a student who tried to pass off a pile of bricks as his art project, which the tutor didn't buy, and he failed him. He then asks Toyah to explain how her "project" is anything other than a ratty chair covered in rubbish. She improvises a pretentious explanation about how it represents the British working class, which the tutor doesn't buy, until he sees Les for himself, and agrees it is an accurate representation of him, which causes him to not only give her a high grade, but also recommend her project for an exhibit. Its particularly funny because Toyah literally threw the whole thing together at the last minute using the first things that came to hand, because she had neglected her project until only moments before the tutor turned up at her house.
Hilariously spoofed in the Malcolm in the Middle episode, "Burning Man". Through an elaborate sequence of events, Malcolm and his entire family (minus Dewey) end up taking a vacation to the Burning Man festival in their RV. While there, Hal sets up the space around the RV as a mini-suburban home (with attached lawn and barbecue). The other Burning Man attendees think he's doing performance art and begin to crowd around to watch him, much to Hal's annoyance.
Another episode subverted the randomness that post-Pollock drip art tends to have, with Hal flinging paint at a 7-foot-tall, landscape-oriented canvas. His family assumed it was all random until the finishing touches went on (with inches of paint under them), at which point everyone who saw it deemed it beautiful.
Later on we're told why people like Ziyal's work, she combined the styles of a famous Bajoran artist and Cardassian artist.
An episode of Boy Meets World has the Matthews in an art museum. They see a very stylized statue that does not really resemble anything. Normally Book Dumb Eric interprets it as two monkeys fighting over a coconut from their father and the realization that half a coconut is not enough for either son. This Aesop, of course, relates perfectly to the plot of the preceding episode and the relationship between the two Matthews brothers and their father and seems to be his commentary on their lives...then we see that the title of the statue is "Monkeys with Coconut."
Another episode - one in which Topanga hadn't quite shed her Cloudcuckoolander personality - had Topanga making Corey watch as she painted her face with "tribal" makeup and then performed various incomprehensible yoga (or possibly tai chi) poses while playing weird New Age music on her stereo. Her name for this performance-art bit was "Donut in the Sky."
Ian Hislop of Have I Got News For You does not seem to be a fan of modern art. He referenced that year's winner of the Turner Prize, in the most mocking tone of voice ever, as, 'a recreation of a scene from a Buster Keaton movie...now this has already been done, by Buster Keaton, but he's done it again, so it's art. And he's done it very slowly, so it's very good art.'
Played for laughs on Family Matters. Laura is working on a bust of Carl for her art class, but at the last minute, Steve Urkel breaks the nose before the bust can dry, and his attempts at fixing it only mess up the rest of the bust, until he gives up and draws a big goofy-looking smiley face on the front of the former bust. Laura's art teacher then walks over and sees it, praises it as deep, and asks Laura what it's called. Laura makes up the title "Man in Turmoil" on the spot, and the teacher loves it and gives her an A.
This is at least alluded to in Six Feet Under after Claire goes to art school, and also lampshaded. One art installation includes a photograph of the back of a man with a typical children's drawing of a house and family carved into his skin, and another includes a plastic pyramid big enough to crawl into. Some seem to think these things are great, while others make remarks about how they don't really get it and are a little skeptical about whether there is truly anything to get. There is also one episode early on in which a celebrated photographer includes in his exhibition a candid photo of his sister's boyfriend peeing against a wall. The sister's boyfriend is understandably unimpressed.
This seems to be an omnipresent rule in the Bravo Reality show Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.
In one episode of One Foot in the Grave Victor acquires what he thinks is an abstract painting, but is actually just an old piece of board covered in bird droppings.
Dexter is confused by Lila's strange, creepy sculptures in the second season:
Dexter: Why are they eating each other?
Lila: You'll have to ask them.
The Good Wife: A second season episode has the main characters on an event, on which an incomprehensible play is performed. The title of the play is The Cow Without a Country, and basically consists of the main character trying to find a cow, often repeating the phrase "Where are you, moo-cow?" in the process. To be fair, the audience only gets glimpses of the plot of the play, but judging by the look and feel of the play, it certainly qualifies. Moreover, before the play, a poem is recited about workers, trains and buses with lots of spoken sound effects, and a complete lack of coherency and consistency.
In one episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will joins a poetry club just to meet a girl. They then ask him to name a poet he likes, and he makes one up on the spot named Raphael De La Ghetto. But, then they ask him to recite a poem. He comes up with one (that qualifies as incomprehensible mostly), and then they ask him to bring the poet to a meeting.
It's one of the principle pillars of Frasier, giving many opportunities for humiliating Frasier and Niles, and laughs from Dad, and Roz and Daphne.
In one episode of Designing Women, two of the ladies were discussing museums, and Charlene mentions how, without fail, every museum in the world has a painting that it nothing but a giant colored dot. She then takes a quick little swipe at the more pretentious artsy-types by saying that, no matter how much symbolism they try to put on it, in their heart of hearts, they know it's nothing but a dot, too.
In music this trope is really Older Than Print. There were musical genres emphasizing complex and difficult-to-understand composition as early as the 14th century Ars Subtilior, or later the 16th century mannerism, that left us with a rich repertoire of very elaborate choral music. Contrarily to what modern avant-garde advocates would like to think, these movements have not been Vindicated by History: they went completely ignored for all the Common Practice period, and even today, while they do enjoy some revival, they remain largely a matter for specialists and connoisseurs. Instead, lasting success was enjoyed by much simpler pre-14th century Gregorian singing, or by 15th century Renaissance composers like John Dowland (the repertoire of whom is often covered by pop singers nowadays). Because the history of music is a succession of complex styles that make the theory of music evolve, but are not very successful in the long run, and simpler styles that enjoy great success for centuries, modern audiences get the illusion that incomprehensible music is a recent phenomenon.
It should be noted that people have been complaining that modern music is pretentious, incomprehensible garbage for literally hundreds of years, and while they're not ALWAYS wrong, they sometimes are. Nicolas Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective is the required text on the subject.
as saying, "I have heard that Wagner's music is better than it sounds."
This trope is a strong trend among classical enthusiasts, particularly on Internet discussion boards. The more obscure the composer and the more dissonant or even completely atonal the music he or she writes, the better. In an inversion of True Art Is Ancient (another camp into which many classical fans, particularly older ones, are apt to fall), more recent composers also tend to be favoured (although not too recent; many popular living composers, such as John Corigliano, Thomas Ades, or certain minimalists, write much more transparent and accessible music). Further bonus points if the composer is non-European and thus blends non-European musical traditions into his or her work.
John Cage's "4'33"" is four and a half minutes of silence (or rather, four and a half minutes of the ambient noise where the work is performed). Cage regretted the effects of this trope on his career. Artistic conservatives thought he couldn't compose; artistic radicals wanted more 4'33". Both sides ignored that he studied music with Arnold Schoenberg and Henry Cowell and composed hours of real music, with sound and everything. See Hear. Cage revisited the piece late in life, adding an instruction for microphones to be set up within the audience, and around the area it's being performed - the result is an incredibly amplified ambient sound being performed.(Whether this is a revised version of 4'33" or a distinct composition titled "One^3 4'33" (0'00")" depends on how you want to look at it.) A performance of this work in a public park around dusk was... haunting.
Sonic Youth, in what was either an act of homage or sarcasm, once performed a thrash metal cover of 4'33". The piece lasted for twenty seconds.
Cage also wrote a piece called "As Slowly As Possible." There's a performance of this going on right now in Germany which is scheduled to end sometime around 2640 AD. (To be fair, Cage seems to have planned the work to last about an hour. It's not his fault someone decided to take his tempo literally.)
Tool's instrumental work is normal, but lyricwise can get convoluted. The band has never printed the lyrics on the actual albums, preferring to post them on their website, with the justification that they "don't like printing the lyrics because people don't get it." Their artwork and internal photos for their albums and their music videos are pretty trippy too.
Almost everything that Knorkator does follows this trope. Some songs seem rather normal up to the hilarious conclusion, but in other cases it just doesn't make any sense. However, given the fun they are clearly having, it's probably done on purpose to parody "true art".
Captain Beefheart's work (especially Trout Mask Replica) exemplifies this trope, having been called incoherent, brilliant, and "the musical equivalent of masturbating with sandpaper."
Lady Gaga is this trope. The fact she's declared bankruptcy several times, and makes her concerts so elaborate and expensive it's physically impossible to turn a profit on them, leads people to say that she's Doing It for the Art since it's clearly not for money. We're pretty sure she has a message in there, we're just not sure what.
Frank Zappa's stuff often fits, too. One of his most famous (or perhaps infamous) compositions was "Weasels Ripped My Flesh", which is simply a long, droning, discordant tone played on a church organ. After a while, the "appeal" of this piece shifts from "God, this sure is ugly!" to "How much longer is this going to go on?"
Art-punk group Wire occasionally flirted with this, but never so much as with the series of Mind Screw live performances they did preceding their first "break-up" in 1980.
For starters, each show of their four night tenure at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre was preceded by a series of four solo performances by each member of the band. Here's a description...
A supplemental note: For his piece, guitarist Bruce Gilbert pushed around a black tea trolley with an empty glass on it. Every so often, he would randomly stop, at which point someone would fill it with water or, on one night, poitín. He would then drink all of the liquid from the glass and continue walking. Arguably Played for Laughs.
Their Leap Day 1980 performance at the Electric Ballroom upped the ante even further, judging by the "descriptions" given in the liner notes of the concert recording Document And Eyewitness. That, and the recording itself. Look it up.
Gilbert and Lewis later went on to form Dome, who are, musically and performance-wise, probably the epitome of this trope.
Several of Bull of Heaven's recent "songs" are fakes. For example, 217 is an MP3 hidden in two RAR archives disguised as MP3s, but the second archive is encrypted with an indecipherable password. 215 is also a password protected archive, and 219 is an .exe file. 216 can be listened to, just change the extension to .rar and extract the .mp3, no password needed. As well as their 5.6 year long 800-lb gorilla, Like a Wall in which an Insect Lives and Gnaws. They've upped the ante again, with a zetabyte-sized, multi-eon-long piece compressed into an 85 kb archive. You Cannot Grasp the True Form.
"The color of infinity inside an empty glass/I'm squinting my eye and turning off and on and on and off the light/It's for this experimental film..."
The Beatles' "Revolution 9", composed by John Lennon, famously is a tape collage included on a major studio rock and roll album. "Revolution 9" has actually been comprehensively broken down and analyzed, and many musical scholars have made arguments that it has a meter and a key signature, as well as a distinct melody.
A lot of 80s UK music was like this. Parodied by Not the 9 O'Clock News in "Nice Video, Shame About the Song".
Nik Kershaw's The Riddle confused many a listener. In Kershaw's own words, it was "nonsense, rubbish, bollocks, the confused ramblings of an 80's popstar." To add further to the confusion, Kershaw's record label, MCA, held a competition to decipher the meaning of the lyrics. Without telling Nik about it. The music video is equally confusing, but not that it's a bad thing.
The way that incomprehensibility is downright expected in electronica videos is cleverly subverted by Daft Punk's videos for "Revolution 909" (incidentally, a song named after the aforementioned "Revolution 9" by the Beatles) and "Burnin'". Another Daft Punk video that looks like it fits the trope but then subverts it: "Around The World". At first it seems to be people in inexplicable costumes dancing... until you realize they're actually moving in time to the song. Each costume is a different instrument - the babyheads are the bass, the skeletons are the guitar, the mummies are the drums, the girls in swimsuits are the keyboards, and the robots are the vocals.
Van Morrison's Astral Weeks is regarded as one of his best albums, maybe his very best, but it's a hard one to figure out. The musicians who played on it weren't told what the songs were about, and it's possible even Morrison himself didn't know. The lyrics have been described as "stream-of-consciousness" and "impressionistic."
Parodied by Non Sequitur. An empty frame is hanging in an art gallery. An art critic sees this and goes into this whole "this is brilliant!" spiel that includes words to the effect of "true art is dead". Then a maintenance guy comes along and hangs a sign in the frame saying "Exhibit Coming Soon".
Also parodied by Calvin And Hobbes. Calvin tries to be avant-garde by signing a snowy landscape, going into a spiel similar to the Non Sequitur example above. He tells Hobbes he can have it for a million dollars. Hobbes' response?
Hobbes: Sorry, it doesn't go with my furniture. (walks off) Calvin:(to the audience) The trouble with being avant-garde is sometimes it's hard to tell who's conning who.
Which pales in comparison to:
Calvin: People always make the mistake of thinking art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.
The Nemi strips parodied this rather mercilessly. The titular character is about to paint a landscape, but before she can begin a pigeon takes a shit on her canvas. An "art lover" immediately runs up to her, visibly impressed. She protests, quite surprised, that it's just a piece of pigeon excrement on a canvas - which only amazes him and several others further.
In Prickly City, Carmen explains that it's fun when Wile E. Coyote goes over a cliff, but not when Thelma and Louise do. Winslow: "I'll never understand high art."
Game developer Brenda Brathwaite has made a variety of art-games, which fall into this if only because the games themselves seldom give you any understanding of the meaning behind them until the very end, if at all. None of them are available to the public, they were put in art galleries, but they are games and they are meant to be played. Most famous of these is Train. It's simple enough: Each player rolls a die and they put that number of people on their train car, or move the train that far forward. There are cards that let you switch tracks or stop other players moving. The objective is to get the most passengers to the terminus as soon as possible. And when you get there it turns out that your destination was Auschwitz. Think about it.
William Shakespeare's plays had remarkably simple plots. Some scholars, however, delve so deeply into them that the academic explanations for such plots as "girl and boy love each other so much they commit suicide" are positively mind-boggling. Some aspects of his work actually are bizarre, like Hamlet's character (is he just faking insanity or genuinely losing it?) but many of the explanations are just Hineininterpretierung.
The entire point of Timberlake Wertenbaker's play Three Birds Alighting on a Field. It's a satirical look at the art industry where the first scene is an auctioneer selling a giant piece of blank canvas (entitled "No Illusion") for 1,200,000 Pounds UK.
Lampshaded by Gilbert and Sullivan in Patience: "If this young man expresses himself/In terms too deep for me/Why, what a most exceptionally deep young man/This deep young man must be." Acted out in the scene where Grovesnor desperately tries to repulse the Aesthetic Ladies by reciting shallow doggerel, only to be congratulated on his consummate artistry.
Yasmina Reza's play 'Art' (properly spelled in single quotes) revolves around a character who buys a painting that is a canvas painted white (with white lines) and the characters' disagreements over whether it actually qualifies as artwork. The actual play, however, is reasonably straightforward and doesn't itself invoke the trope.
Passing Strange is all about a young man's pursuit of artistic freedom (among other things), and that pursuit takes him to Berlin in act two, where he joins up with Nowhaus, a collective of artists whose two major beliefs seem to be this and True Art Is Angsty.
The second half of Sunday in the Park with George, centers around an artist whose work is quite obscure but very expensive to make, being mostly lasers projected onto the walls or a shapeless statue (depending on your production.) The artist, faced with people trying to (or refusing to try to) understand his work, and the risk of being declared outmoded before his time, eventually decides to screw over other's opinions or current trends, and create.
Blue Man Group is in part an Affectionate Parody of the modern art scene's tendency towards this trope, but the creators were actually frustrated early on that they were being regarded as performance artists because of the genre's reputation for pretension and hype. Today, however, it's become far more successful and beloved than most straight practitioners could ever dream.
Tom Stoppard comments on this trope in his one-act play Artist Descending a Staircase, when one character states, "Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art."
The play Museum is a near-plotless single scene of a museum security guard in the modern art exhibit having to put up with all kinds of weirdos who marvel at the various eyesores on display. It ends when one of the artists comes in, makes a slight change to his work, and leaves without saying a word, after which everyone attacks the artwork and makes off with a piece of it.
Parodied in Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, in which Konstantin presents a play starring his girlfriend as some kind of god, or representation of life, or the universe, or something, dramatically intoning about all kinds of random crap on a blank stage while surrounded by special effects like sparklers thrown in front of her and the smell of sulfur being released. His mother heckles it mercilessly. Later Konstantin tries to apply the same thing in real life by giving his girlfriend a seagull he's killed as some kind of love symbol. Naturally, she's just weirded out and left open to another writer's attentions.
The Gas Heart by Dada playwright and poet Tristan Tzara, whose characters are the features of the human face, who repeat nonsensical phrases over and over or question each other to no ends. Tzara describes the play as "the only and greatest three-act hoax of the century; it will satisfy only industrialized imbeciles who believe in the existence of men of genius."
In Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play Portrait of a Planet, a painter tells the story of his artistic evolution. He started with realistic paintings, moved on to color compositions, then circles and triangles, then empty canvas, then frames without canvas. However, when he even left out the frames, no one would by his "paintings" anymore, and he was sent to an asylum.
In The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion, if the player becomes the leader of the Fighters' Guild, former member Modryn Oreyn tells them that he now spends his time painting. If you decide to break into his house after this, you'll find that his "masterpiece" is little more than a pair of stick figures. Don't believe me? See for yourself.◊
That scene is a depiction of either the hero or Oreyn torturing an Argonian, something which happened only a few missions before. Smells like burnt lizard!
In Final Fantasy Tactics A 2, in one of the Bonga Bugle newspapers, it says that the Head Editor took 1000 photographs during the mission, but left the lens cap on. The newspaper goes on to say "'Night: a study in 1000 images' rocks art world".
Subverted in The World Ends With You. Sho Minamimoto piles up a bunch of trash heaps and often acts as if they're all masterpieces. However, similar to Dada himself, it wasn't supposed to be real art, but rather a mockery of the concept of art which fits in with Minamimoto's view that there's no such thing as beauty in the world.
In addition, one Reaper who is assigned to move the pile of trash says, "I just don't get modern art."
Parodied in Grim Fandango, with the Beat poetry at the Blue Coffin club in Rubacava. Manny can try his hand at reciting poetry by stringing random verses together; getting applause depends less on the content of your verse and more on convincing the crowd that you're one of them. At one point, Manny recites a poem and gets jeered, then the club's owner follows, reciting exactly the same poem, and she gets applauded.
Grand Theft Auto Vice City has an in-universe example. Claude Maginot, who plays the father on the sitcom Just the Five of Us, considers the show lowbrow beneath contempt. His idea of true art is a theatrical production called In The Future, There Will Be Robots, which according to reviews, is "hard to put into words". (Which in turn, according to the VCPR radio hosts, means it must be good).
Startopia allows the player to purchase and display sculptures portraying the cultural values or depicting the heroes of each of the game's alien species. The art of The Greys is a pair of cubes and a tetrahedron balanced on top of each other. Naturally, it is the most popular work, in-universe.
Rin's art in Katawa Shoujo. Even Rin herself isn't quite sure about what it means, though this doesn't really bother her.
Thanks to the random generation nature of the dwarf-created artwork in Dwarf Fortress, this will probably make up a good quarter of any art you see. While Dwarves primarily focus on famous events, or their interpretations of said events, the rest of the time they will make various effigies (sometimes effigies within effigies) of random objects, such as cheese. Sometimes, due to bugs, Dwarves can make truly mind-bending pieces such as Planepacked.
Incidentally the gentleman cat is Twisp. Catsby is the demon.
Ironically, Twisp and Catsby are perennial favorites of both critics and vanilla fans alike.
Curator Vanderbeam from Starslip Crisis embodies this trope. Much of the art featured on the Fuseli was created by aliens, so it presumably makes sense to its native culture, but it's still incomprehensible to humans (For example, one strip features Vanderbeam waxing eloquent about a painting's brilliant use of ultraviolet light.) And there's also "The Spine of the Cosmos", supposedly the greatest artistic work in the universe, capable of driving those who truly understand it mad: it's a three-foot-tall, wiggly spike. When the strip's Big Bad paralyzes the Terran fleet with a broadcast of the spine in its proper context, Vanderbeam alone is unaffected — rationalizing that since he's only looking at a picture of the Spine rather than the Spine itself, its context was changed to "a metadiscussion on the commodification of power".
It gets better, even. Vanderbeam's plan to save the fleet is to recontextualize the artwork enough that it loses any meaning in the previous context, which ultimately culminates in an oddly artistic Rule of FunnyCrowning Moment of Awesome: "Wear it like a haaaaat!"
Better-better: Cutter Edgewise, drunkard ex-pirate pilot of the Fuseli, normally displays a virulent disdain for Vanderbeam's standard methods of artistic assessment. Nonetheless, he unexpectedly comes to Vanderbeam's rescue when he should be paralyzed by the Spine. He alludes, in a mildly confused manner, that he was, in fact, paralyzed by the Spine, but when Vanderbeam was talking to himself about why he was unaffected, Cutter happened to be in earshot, and Vanderbeam's longwinded rambling managed to connect-in other words, once someone (unknowingly) pointed out the altered context of the piece, Cutter was able to shake off the memory or the effects or whatever of what he originally thought he was looking at.
And finally, in the context of the first link this. Mr. Naylor seems to carry a smidgeon of a grudge.
Usually not addressed in Boy Meets Boy, where Mikhael was an artist, but played around with a bit in a few strips, starting here, where he made a film of himself working in a coffee shop.
A running joke in Candi is that the title character's art professor always gives her low grades because her art is comprehensible.
Later turned around; he gave her lower grades not because her work was "comprehensible", but because she very rarely did anything outside of her own very narrow interests and wouldn't push her artistic boundaries beyond "Draw comics and anime art" despite being in a general art class. When he explained this to her, it cast a different light on his prior actions.
Yorick in The Word Weary is an accomplished performance artist. Though his work is never shown (somehow it involved full-frontal nudity and a bucket of monkey blood), he states that after seeing his "bizarre, inexplicable piece, tomorrow will make more sense than any day that preceded it." He also states that his pieces are very well-regarded.
XKCD mocks the trope, taking the side that the emperor indeed has no clothes. It's a comic written with jokes about mathematics, physics, computer science, and similar hard science topics. ''Biology'' is the soft science of choice in the comic.
This website was once found on the /x/ paranormal board of the image board that must not be named. It started to get somewhat disconcerting when, after the date passed on the url, people started to feel exhilarating emotions. Besides that it is still incomprehensible.
Parodied also by The Nostalgia Chick's review of Showgirls. The movie was so awful that it must be an art film. The Chick insists it's brilliant, even though neither she nor anyone else can understand it.
Also alluded to in her review of Freddy Got Fingered, where she notes Roger Ebert's theory that it might one day be seen as neo-surrealist dadaist cinema.
"In fact the film has gained something of a cult follow and has a little bit of a renaissance based on the I-can't-tell-if-they're-being-hipster ironic belief that this film is a counter-cultural art piece. Not So Bad, It's Good, so bad it's art."
Oancitizen is driven mad by it (like everyone else), in part because he can't classify it—it has a coherent plot so it can't be dada, but said plot is so psychotic that it can't be anything else.
Confused Matthew makes arguments against this trope regarding his reviews of 2001, The Matrix sequels, and his dismissal of Baudrillard's philosophical body work as well as other "obscurantist" writings. Matthew tends to value to a work's "content" over everything.
In-universe example in Boatmurdered. For some reason, many of the engravings were of cheese or some other image of cheese. Yes, engravings of engravings of cheese. Blessed Are the Cheesemakers indeed.
On the other hand, many featured dwarves screaming, burning, and being killed by elephants, which are quite comprehensible commemorations of the many, many dwarves killed by elephants, lava, or the steam the lava created when it hit the water.
The Cinema Snob tends to look more favorably on exploitation flicks if they are pretentious and hard to follow (for instance, in his review of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, he beings to wonder if it's okay for him to like the film, considering how surreal and artsy it is).
In one episode of Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, J's first date with White Jay ends with a spoken-word performance. One of the contestants starts talking about how she's not sure about "white chocolate" (white men) won't "make her chocolate brown pussy moan". J gets up and leaves after that one.
Are We Cool Yet? from the SCP Foundation universe. A group of reality-bending art terrorists who create dangerous and insane things for attention.
Parodied to an outlandish level by Edgar & Ellen — when a pile of prank supplies Ellen has assembled is mistaken for a sculpture by the twins' art teacher, they try to use this to mock the art teacher's pretentiousness and blindness to what actually has meaning with some of their pranks... but nearly everything they try is interpreted as further art by their target.
Parodied in (naturally) The Simpsons; when Marge takes art classes, her teacher is an overwhelmingly enthusiastic artist who has a tendency to shout "Marvellous! Another triumph!" when he sees the handyman giving a coat of paint to a stair rail.
Also parodied in "Mom and Pop Art": Homer gets all pissed off while trying to build a barbecue grill, then a modern artist sees Homer's construction, which turned out to be a pile of twisted junk and bricks held together with cement, praises it as "the greatest expression of anger and wrath ever seen by modern art", and soon Homer starts attracting entire crowds to art museums with his "conceptual sculptures". And just to make things worse, within 5 minutes the jury finds another "artistic genius", one of them says "I'd like to see something a little bit more... kitsch", and Homer reinvents his "art style" by flooding the entirety of Springfield.
What's even weirder is that when Homer tries to fake it, the art critics don't believe him.
In King of the Hill, Hank is appalled that his colonoscopy has become part of an artwork. Earlier in the episode, he tries to fix a television-based exhibit, assuming it was broken.
Later in that episode, we return to the exhibit, and the TV exhibit is still broken in the background, indicating no one noticed it was broken.
Or maybe they think it is even better.
In a later episode, Peggy becomes an artist but only gets attention from the art community when her works are exhibited as "outsider art" (read: art by crazy/mentally disabled people).
An episode of Doug has Doug taking an art class, where his dog Porkchop chases a raccoon across the back of his canvas and it ends up covered in paint paw prints. After Doug absentmindedly puts the canvas up backwards thanks to his crush Patty walking by, the prints become a sensation in the art world.
Later on the art critics ask him to paint something else but it is taken away from him after a single stroke; the critics declare the resultant squiggly line another masterpiece.
Amusingly, the real "famous artist" invited to judge everyone's paintings immediately declares Patti's painting of her grandmother to be the one he likes the most, saying that heart is what's really important.
Not to mention Doug's older sister Judy, and pretty much anything she and her classmates at the Moody School for the Gifted come up with.
Parodied in Pinky And The Brain: Brain tries to finance his plans by creating a new art movement... Donutism. Then he sees everyone else painting donuts. But later Pinky spits ink in the canvas, and the result is considered a genius work. And Brain turns him into an artist, "Pinkasso".
Dilbert took the engineer's method; he asked some people what they like in art and concluded that a picture of a big blue duck would satisfy everyone. He was right and Blue Duck monopolized the art industry. Not really incomprehensible but it didn't have any meaning.
Ended with an impassioned and amazingly deep speech about the true nature of art, whether it be simple pleasure to the greatest number or a way of humans to express their raw emotion in their own way. This being Dilbert, everybody gets bored after five words.
Parodied on Clone High USA. Joan of Arc has a secret crush on Abe, so she enters a movie into a film festival to show him how she feels. But, of course, the movie is such a confusing mix-mash of French art-house movie clichés that no one understands it (except, of course for clone Sigmund Freud).
In an episode of Arthur, Binky discovers that a piece of abstract art in a museum is hung upside down. At the end of the episode, the curator personally corrects it before a press conference.
Class Holes, the show that was originally Brian's "What I Learned On Jefferson Street". It was intended to be about a girl struggling through science class and learning more about her father, but network meddling turned it into a generic sitcom about a hot blonde going to college with her father and a monkey. When the executives kept trying to make changes, Brian decided that it was the last straw and quit.
Handi Quacks was a show created by Peter that the head of the network immediately wants to greenlight with one small change. Peter objects to the change, is granted full creative freedom, but still decides to quit, apparently.
In the episode "The Ultimate Thrill" of Batman The Animated Series, a criminal named Roxy Rocket steals a priceless and fabulously critically acclaimed work of art that has just been bought by Wayne Enterprises. The picture in question is quite small, drab-colored, and consists of a red blob over several brown boxes.
In the Rugrats episode where they go to a craft & antique fair, Didi tries to sell her artistic bird houses with no success, until birds poop all over them. That's when a hippie couple come by and buy her bird houses, mistaking them for alternative art.
Another episode had the family visiting an art museum, where Stu is mistaken to be an art connoisseur by an art student after his comment that an exhibit of a soup can looked like somebody forgot their lunch, which, as it turned out, was the precise meaning behind it. Later on in the episode, he's describing more of his views to the breathless student, culminating in his description of the "Empty Wall" (a blank wall between exhibits). He comments to his wife how he loves modern art:
Lampshaded in The Iron Giant, when beatnik artist Dean has to explain to the Iron Giant which piles of metal scrap he can eat and which ones are his sculptures. Later, in order to discredit Agent Mansley and hide the Iron Giant from him, Dean drapes some Christmas lights and discarded road signs over the robot and passes it off as one of his sculptures.
Dean: You came here just in time. This rich cat, some industrialist wanted him for the lobby of his company. Whipped out his checkbook right on the spot. I said, 'You get him for the rest of your life, but, what, I have to give him up the minute I give birth? Give me time to cut the umbilical, man'.
The American Dad! episode "Lincoln Lover" briefly features an incomprehensible play about Abraham Lincoln, wherein an obese man dressed in underpants and a stovepipe hat tosses joints of meat around the stage while reciting advertising slogans.
There's the South Park episode with the independent film festival. Cartman famously criticizes indie films as all being about "gay cowboys eating pudding." Such a movie is indeed one of several weird films we see when Stan and Wendy attend the festival.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone actually met when they teamed up together for a project in film class. Everybody else in the class wanted to do deep films about sexual exploration; they were the two guys who wanted to imitate Monty Python.
In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Wacky Deli", Ralph Bighead ends his cartoon series Meet The Fatheads (Based on his own parents) so he can leave animation to create what he believes is true art (Without keeping in mind that masterpieces are subjective). He finds out he has to create a new animated show to get out of his contract and has Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt create it, hoping their lack of experience would result in a messy disaster that wouldn't get past a pilot episode. However, Wacky Delly, the show they create, turns out to do the complete opposite. Ralph stops at nothing to eradicate what he believes to be nothing but popular schlock that's ruining his chance to be a "serious" artist, but his sabotages only make the show inexplicably more popular. Rocko convinces him that as long as it's his own creation, its art and Ralph finally puts passion into it. It soon has jumped the shark, people hate it, and it gets cancelled. Ralph then declares he will show them true art and spends the next several years sculpting his "masterpiece", a gigantic still life of a bowl of fruit. Even then, he learns that people still remember him not as an artist, but as the guy who "ruined" the "Wacky Delly" show.
In "Junk Junkies", Heffer adds his "G.I. Jimbo" to the items that Rocko is selling to pay his debt to the pizza guy. Rocko says that no one will want to buy it, since the figure is broken and melted "after surviving eight tours of duty on the kitchen stove". However, one customer says he must have it and offers $500 for the brilliant masterpiece... which happens to be just enough to pay off the debt.
On one of the few occasions where Linda sees what her sons Phineas And Ferb have built, Phineas, Ferb, and Candace had gone somewhere else, so Linda didn't realize that it was Phineas and Ferb who built the contraption.
Linda: (Looking at the contraption) I'll never understand this modern art.
Comes up, appropriately, in Dan Vs "Art." Dan's car is painted and covered with plastic frogs by a famous artist, which the crowd lauds as a masterpiece. In order to take his revenge, Dan and his friend Chris sneak into the museum and vandalize the artist's latest show, but this is hailed as a stroke of genius. In the end, Dan finds that the artist uses a slot machine-like device to tell him what to make, and when he tries to expose him, the artist's art factory winds up destroyed. This inspires the artist to make a simple statue of Dan (title "Unnamed Jerk"), but the same crowd who loved the car claim the statue "doesn't mean anything," and they walk away.