Contemporary art or palette?

Remember those quiz questions that go something like, UK law or Game of Thrones? Well here’s another – Abstract art or painter’s palette?

Whilst this may seem somewhat uncharitable with regard to contemporary art, I think there is a valid question lurking somewhere in the question. It’s the one about how art is judged, how we assign value to a piece of work, where we put it in the grand scheme of art history things.

I’ve discussed some of this elsewhere:

To me, contemporary art can be mystifying; what is it, what does it mean, is it just something nice to look at? Often there’s a design behind it, an intention, and it’s for us to experience the outcome, but sometimes there isn’t – or not much of one anyway. Spin paintings for instance, drips and dribbles and drops. So can something unintentionally ‘artistic’ or aesthetic be described as art?

Art or Palette? – Conboyhillpaintingmedia (

Similarly, I’ve considered the role of association – who ‘likes’ the particular piece of work – and positioning, usually on a gallery wall or maybe taking up several rooms in a gallery if you’re Anish Kapoor. There’s a phenomenon called the Halo Effect whereby people perceived as having a significantly favourable characteristic, are often credited then with having many more. My suspicion is that this might also apply to creative output and the contexts it finds itself in.

… who were the enablers, the handy contacts, the people with money, the influencers (who may have no idea what constitutes ‘good’ but they know what will sell) who got it there? And where did it come from – the local market, someone’s attic, the back bedroom of a teenager with a laptop and a music app. It seems to me that the final question … should always be, would I judge this as ‘good’ if I didn’t know it was a Pollock?

“Would I say this was good if I didn’t know it was a Pollock?” – Conboyhillpaintingmedia (

When people visit a gallery, they’re already geared to expect an experience consistent with being about to see remarkable art work. And let’s be clear, a painting hung on a pristine wall, maybe on its own and framed by two arched doorways and a corridor (a large abstract by Sean Scully appeared this way in a documentary) would have to try really hard not to look good or at least impressive. But what would those pieces, Scully’s for instance, look like in a less impressive context? A craft fair? Your loft? A garage sale?

I’m a psychologist and so my immediate thought is, who has done the experiments? Who has transposed pieces of work – big name/unknown artist – from one of these contexts to the other and measured people’s response to them? I haven’t come across anything yet but long ago something similar happened with a ‘prestigious speaker’ delivering a talk at a high calibre university, and while the talk was comprised of clear English in grammatically coherent sentences, it was total gobbledygook. Nevertheless it was highly rated afterwards by the audience of students and academics, which I think lends some credence to my extrapolation here.

This means I’m still at a loss as to what ‘good’ art as opposed to ‘high value’ or exhibited art might be, and so I present my Painting or Palette conundrum. I like it so does it matter? Here’s an animation which I like even better.

An introduction to the Halo Effect: Halo effect – Biases & Heuristics | The Decision Lab

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