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True Art Is Incomprehensible

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Comic by Malaka Gharib

"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

A character espouses the notion that "True Art" must of necessity be incomprehensible, or at best, only comprehensible by the "right people". This attitude typically has one of two effects:

  • The art attracts critical acclaim and high-dollar sales because of its impenetrability. May result in reactions akin to, "That's worth $10 million? My five-year-old could paint that!"
  • The artist labors in obscurity because people cannot understand and therefore don't buy his creations. The artist may respond by invoking the Quality by Popular Vote trope, or state that they're Doing It for the Art.

This trope is often played for comedy, such as when a somebody sees deep meaning in something that was thrown together for rather more mundane reasons. The Mistaken for Exhibit variant is when someone assumes that something is an objet d'art on display when it really isn't.

The trope largely originates with the 20th century boom in abstract art. Closely related to Postmodernism, one common practice of which is deliberately obfuscating language so as to return literature to an elite status (as opposed to modernism, which often made itself accessible with free interpretation). Specific art styles used for this trope include Dada and Surrealism.

See also: True Art Is Angsty, Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory, Mind Screw, What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?, Viewers Are Geniuses, Design Student's Orgasm, Word Salad Lyrics, Quirky Work, and Le Film Artistique.

In-Universe Examples Only:

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  • Parodied by a Visa Check Card 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 paint and the art store wouldn't take a check again, right?" to which the artist replies, "Right."

  • Mechamato: Paintasso steals preschoolers' drawings, considering them masterpieces, and when he steals Amato's drawing, that even the preschoolers consider ugly, he hangs it up in a golden frame and thinks it's genius, despite having no idea what it means.
    Paintasso: [to MechaBot] Hideous? You know absolutely nothing about art, monsieur!

    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • Parodied in GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class. Noda, who's already in her own little world, declares "You don't need drawing techniques for modern art, you just need taste." This is proven when a solid black rectangle drawn in pencil is able to be viewed as "art" by everybody except for Namiko.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler:
    • 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...

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics:
    • This trope was already so over-used by 1966 that it was parodied and lampshaded in a 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...
      Betty: Of course! And it wins a blue ribbon!
      Jughead: Right! this is real life, man! Stuff like that only happens in books!
      Betty: I'll bet I've read that story a hundred times!
    • Veronica insists on hiring a trendy abstract artist to do her portrait, over the objections of her father. After she criticizes that a painting and a sculpture of her don't actually look anything like her, he starts dancing around the room repeating her various criticisms and smashing up his previous attempts. Her father concludes it's a performance art piece.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: 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.
  • Spider-Man: Conversed in The Amazing Spider-Man (Lee & Ditko) #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".
    • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • Rudi: 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.

    Film — Animation 
  • 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'.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The indie film The Artists 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.
  • 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.
  • Boomerang (1992): Nelson's commercial for Strangé's fragrance, for which Marcus unwisely gave him total creative control; what was meant to be a straightforward ad becomes a bizarre tableau of simulated gore and Strangé as an earth-mother made of steel and roots, giving orgasmic birth to a perfume bottle (tying in with her original concept, "AfterBirth"). Nelson is rapturous, while Marcus can only watch through his hands by the end.
  • Played for comedy in Contraband (2012), where a few million dollars in counterfeit cash is covered up with a paint-spattered tarp... that is actually a Jackson Pollock painting worth tens of millions of dollars.
  • 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. Ditto the tampon-in-a-teacup "found art" that is lauded as being genius.
  • Parodied in L.A. Story.
    • Harris amuses himself by getting his friend Ariel to film him rollerskating through an art museum. He calls it performance art; she apparently calls it "wasting time".
      "History will decide."
    • Harris 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 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.)
  • 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.

  • 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."
  • Dave Barry has snarkily documented some real-life cases of this: an empty room with the light wired to turn on and off by itself, 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."
  • In Dexter By Design, 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.
  • Discworld:
    • Parodied in the 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.
  • The Dragon Business: In the second book, King Longjohn has a collection of sculptures (like a goat-moth hybrid and a sphere with a smiley face) that he ascribes with profound meanings that only the gifted can understand. Cullin thinks the sculptors must have been eating hallucinogenic mushrooms. Affonyl plays on Longjohn’s taste to make him overpay for her artwork by shoving an uprooted tree and a boulder together. Reeger's attempts to cash in on this by smearing poop on a board (or mixing "the raw material of the earth" with "a fresh fecal palette from the king's finest horses" as he calls it), and claiming that "the power of the air around us" is enhanced "by the terrible fumes wafting up," but his efforts meet with a decidedly tepid reception.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • By the end of the Horus Heresy novel Fulgrim, the troop of artisans and "remembrancers" accompanying the Emperor's Children have gone from masters of their craft, to overly-meticulous perfectionists, to debauched 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.
  • Stephen King:
    • Somewhat mocked 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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 fucking easy."

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Batman (1966) episode "Pop Goes the Joker" 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, labeling 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.
  • The Black Adder: In "Born to Be King", one of the acts Prince Edmund hires for The Feast of Saint Leonard's Day is "The Jumping Jews of Jerusalem", a group of Jewish men who go on stage and jump in place for several minutes. After the performance is over the leader admits he doesn't think the audience understood the act.
  • 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).
  • Boy Meets World:
    • An episode 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."
  • The Chaser's War On Everything constructed a skit where they threw out their old rubbish by disguising it as art in galleries.
  • In the Columbo episode "Playback," Columbo mistakes a ventilator shaft for a piece of modern art while in an art gallery.
  • Played with 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 is 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.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Spoofed in the 1979 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 gag is taken further in "The Fires of Pompeii" when the TARDIS materialises in Ancient Rome and gets sold off as a modern art piece to a nouveau riche marble merchant.
      Metella: You call it modern art, I call it a blooming great waste of space.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Zero Context Example
  • 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.
  • 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. There's also the heap of junk entitled "A Heap of Junk".
  • Parodied 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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).
  • Law & Order:
    • 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'.
    • 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.
  • Malcolm in the Middle:
    • Hilariously spoofed in the 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.
  • On an episode of the crime series Monk, Monk 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 goes 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!
  • Played with in the Murdoch Mysteries episode "This One Goes to Eleven", when Crabtree and Brakenreid are both bemused by an abstract painting, mostly comprising geometric shapes, eventually deciding it's probably a landscape of some kind. Julia, on the other hand, only needed to glance at it for a second to realise, correctly, that it was a reclining nude. (Murdoch, who was given the work and is embarrassed by it, tries to deny this, but backs down when she seems quite prepared to embarrass him further by explaining how it's a nude.)
  • Murphy Brown:
    • 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 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.
  • Lampshaded again in the 'Recycling' episode of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, in which resident geek Cookie's milk jugs are mistaken for priceless, brilliant art. It doesn't go well.
  • Played several ways 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.
  • 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.
  • Spoofed in The Prisoner (1967) 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..
  • Red Dwarf:
    • The Series VI 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Rutland Weekend Television: The show sent up Ken Russell movies for this with a spoof of the movie version of Tommy. Pommy is a spot-on spoof of the 1975 movie (down to requiring a unique stereo sound system and the tagline "He'll tear your ears apart") and director Ken Russell's output in general. (Pommy becomes deaf, dumb, and blind watching a Ken Russell movie.)
  • Seinfeld:
    • In one 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.
  • 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.
  • Frequently spoofed in Spaced:
    • 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.
    • One 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.
    • 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.
  • Played with in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Weyoun examines a somewhat abstract painting done by Gul Dukat's daughter Tora Ziyal, but has to ask Major Kira if it's any good because he has no sense of aesthetics to begin with.
  • The Suite Life on Deck: In one episode Zack accidentally sneezes pudding onto an art class canvas. His rich friend London likes it, and eventually Zack and Cody splatter different food stuffs onto canvas and sell them to the upper echelons, pronouncing Zack's name in a French accent to make it sound more artsy.
  • 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.
  • Parodied 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.
  • This seems to be an omnipresent rule in the Bravo Reality show Work Of Art The Next Great Artist.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • This trope is affectionately mocked by They Might Be Giants in their song "Experimental Film", which is almost certainly about a student making an art film.
    "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..."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Parodied in multiple Calvin and Hobbes strips making:
    • In the 10 January 1993 Sunday strip, Calvin tries to be avant-garde by signing a snowy landscape without having built any snowmen, arguing that art is dead. He tells Hobbes he can have it for a million dollars.
      Hobbes: Sorry... it doesn't match my furniture. (walks off)
      Calvin: (to the audience) The problem with being avant-garde is knowing who's putting on who.
    • In the 15 July 1995 strip, Calvin has an extended spiel mocking pretentious artists' statements about modern art pieces:
      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.
      Hobbes: You misspelled 'Weltanschauung'.
    • On the other hand, Calvin eventually goes back to making bland, cookie-cutter snow art after Hobbes points out - in a Your Approval Fills Me with Shame sort of way - that his grotesque sculptures aren't marketable.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Muppet Show:
    • Some of the Great Gonzo's acts early on 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 trash I write.

  • 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.
  • 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 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Friedrich Durrenmatt'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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy Tactics A2, 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".
  • 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 and 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).
  • 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.
  • Hitman 2: In Whittleton Creeks' "Another Life" mission, a news report on the television has Pam Kingsley report on the discovery that a painting: "Artist as a Blank Canvas" by Emil Gorka, was on display in a museum in Barcelona, and turns out to be a fake. The painting in question? It's literally looks exactly like a blank canvas. Everybody treats the situation seriously, as if the Mona Lisa had been stolen and not something that has the least detail put into a painting possibly ever. It turns out that the Ark Society, a secret society doomsday prepper group, had replaced it to store the original on the Isle of Sgàil as a part of their art collection.
  • Rin's art in Katawa Shoujo. Even Rin herself isn't quite sure about what it means, though this doesn't really bother her. An exhibitor tries unsuccessfully to get her to come up with names for her creations, and they eventually decide to play up the incomprehensibility even more by running an untitled exhibition of untitled paintings.
  • Indie game MacGuffin's Curse rips on this trope (as well as other True Art ones) rather frequently. The Mayor's office is full of abstract paintings, and Lucas is generally unimpressed.
    Lucas: "This one's called 'PAIN BEAUTIFUL PAIN' but it's just a bunch of squares. The corners could be sharp, I guess?"
  • The Mass Effect 2 DLC "Kasumi's Stolen Memory" has one that's apparently due to Culture Clash. You encounter a turian abstract sculpture that Classy Cat-Burglar Kasumi says is simple and doesn't make sense, and therefore rarely makes it off Palaven, but to turians it's a masterpiece.
  • Subverted in Opoona. There are actual television programs (in game) that explains Landroll's art movements.
  • In Persona 3, this is what Chidori's sketches are like. She even says to Junpei that he wouldn't understand them. However, after her Heroic Sacrifice you see that she completely changed her style, filling her sketchbook with drawings of Junpei.
  • 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.
  • Stellaris allows players to build immense projects known as Mega Structures, such as a Dyson Sphere or a Ring World Planet. As several Precursor civilizations have come and gone, some ruined Megastructures can be found, and restored to a more functional state. One such structure is the Mega Art Installation, and the Flavor Text for a Ruined Mega Art Installation says it all really:
    It is unclear if this intrasolar art piece is broken or not. But it's probably broken.
  • 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."

    Web Comics 
  • Lampshade Hung (and ranted against) in this (...and this... and this) Better Days strip; the characters (channeling the author) take the view that True Art Is Incomprehensible is just an excuse for artists to be lazy and not impart any actual meaning onto their work, instead forcing the viewers to do their work for them in interpreting it.
  • 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.
  • In Broken Plot Device, Max goes on a rant about such so-called art, ending with "The naked."
  • A Running Gag in Candi is that the title character's art professor always gives her low grades because her art is comprehensible. Eventually subverted: he finally explains that 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.
  • Frequently used in Darwin Carmichael Is Going to Hell with Matt, who embodies this trope. None of his art, such as "Untitled Series #12" a.k.a. "I Stuck My Head Up My Ass and This Is What I Found" makes any sense to anyone in-universe. After Ella and Skittles go on a raid randomly stealing street musicians' instruments, Matt decides to "take credit" for the jumbled mess they leave.
  • Flying Man And Friends is pretty incomprehensible as is, but incomprehensible art is mentioned directly in this strip.
  • In the Loserz strip "Damn Squares", Jodie's final exam project for her art class is a straightforward depiction of a robot fighting an amazon warrior, and get's a reluctant B minus from her unimpressed art teacher for it. Another student's far more abstract project is a series of differently colored rectangles called "The Depths of My Soul"; this nets him an A double plus and a college scholarship.
  • Parodied in My Milk Toof when Lardee makes some art for Carrot. ickle doesn't get it.
  • Parodied by The Twisp & Catsby strips from Penny Arcade. You dare to criticize? Well, they're not ''for'' you.
  • In Sandra and Woo, Larisa exploits this view to pass off three contradictory explanations of a painting.
  • For Bert in Sluggy Freelance, true art is... crotches. It probably amounts to the same thing.
  • Starslip:
    • 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". 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 Funny moment: "Wear it like a haaaaat!"
    • 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. As a bit of Genius Bonus to all this, note that Vanderbeam's justification is eerily similar to the standard interpretation of Rene Margritte's The Treachery of Images (a painting of a tobacco pipe).
  • Weregeek shows how it happens and how it works. Yeah, roleplayers not tied to heroic style are pretty cynical people, don't ye know?
    Abbie: Art school... It all comes down to your Bluff check!
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • Brows Held High's Oancitizen is driven mad by Freddy Got Fingered (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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • An io9 article argues that the absolute... bigness of Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen qualifies it as an Art film. Though no one seems completely sure whether the article is sincere or not, so it might be parodying this trope instead.
  • The Nostalgia Chick:
    • Parodied in her 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.
    • 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 following 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."
  • This Very Wiki has a page demonstrating the idea of true art being incomprehensible.
  • Are We Cool Yet? from the SCP Foundation universe. A group of reality-bending art terrorists who create dangerous and insane things for attention.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 cliches that no one understands it (except, of course for clone Sigmund Freud).
  • Comes up, appropriately, in the Dan Vs. episode "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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Justice League:
    • In the Christmas episode, the Flash responds to an alarm from a modern art museum, and finds the empty building full of piles of scrap:
      The Flash: Whoa! Somebody did a number on this place.
      Ultra-Humanite: Actually... I hadn't even started.
    • The Humanite is there to trash the place because it's full of incomprehensible art which offends his sensibilities.
  • 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.
    • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Rocko's Modern Life:
    • 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.
    • In the episode "Wacky Delly", Rachel Bighead ends her cartoon series Meet the Fatheads (based on her own parents) so she can leave animation to create what she believes is true art (without keeping in mind that masterpieces are subjective). She finds out she has to create a new animated show to get out of her 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. Rachel stops at nothing to eradicate what she believes to be nothing but popular schlock that's ruining her chance to be a "serious" artist, but her sabotage only makes the show inexplicably more popular. Rocko convinces her that as long as it's her own creation, it's art and Rachel finally puts passion into it. It soon has jumped the shark, people hate it, and it gets cancelled. Rachel then declares she will show them true art and spends the next several years sculpting her "masterpiece", a gigantic still life of a bowl of fruit. Even then, she learns that people still remember her not as an artist, but as the person who "ruined" the "Wacky Delly" show.
  • Rugrats (1991):
    • "The Art Museum" has 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:
    • In "Auctioning Grandpa", Stu and Didi 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.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Parodied 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.
  • 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.
  • Inverted on 2 Stupid Dogs, in the Super Secret Secret Squirrel cartoon "Chameleon". The titular shape-shifting art thief absolutely despises modern art, apparently because it makes his camouflage powers go crazy, which Secret uses to his advantage.
  • Top Cat exploits this as one of his get-rick-quick schemes. He sees a modern-art painting hailed as a masterpiece, so he ties a paintbrush to a turtle's tail, lets the turtle wander over a sheet, and passes the result off as the work of a great artist.


Video Example(s):


Would You Like Some Sausage?

Gord tries to show he is a real artist by building a pulley system with sausages hanging from the ceiling that are attached to his fingers, whilst he sings and plays a keyboard at the same time. His father however, isn't quite so impressed.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (16 votes)

Example of:

Main / TrueArtIsIncomprehensible

Media sources: