“How to Make Modern Art,” one of the latest videos from h3h3 productions, the Youtube channel of the comedy/satire duo Ethan and Hila Klein, does an excellent job of pointing out the massive contradictions of what value is when it comes to art in our society.
The video, which begins with a gentle satire of modern art, something Ethan derides as only trying to confuse and belittle its viewers, quickly becomes much more as he digs into why these confounding pieces such as a vcr recording of two bracelets on a counter sold for such monumental sums of money.
It is here where the contradictions become most easily visible. In a capitalist society, money is the stand in for value, so by a billionaire buying or commissioning one of these modern or post-modern art pieces that most of people find repulsive or uninteresting, he is imbuing it with enormous value. In this way, the wealthiest individuals in our society get to choose what is held up as “high art,” and even placed is supposedly public institutions such as museums, as well as being supported by the CIA.
This is not to say, though, that a single wealthy individual can determine what is art and is not. Indeed, a billionaire who commissions a piece that is universally disliked even among his colleagues so that no one would be willing to buy the piece in an auction, meaning that just like the teenager posting “Sonic the Hedgehog” original characters to Deviant Art, will find the piece’s only value lies with him. It is in this way that when we say we “worship money” in our society, that we really mean that we worship money’s use in a market.
So we find in our world that the market for high art is one dominated by big money buyers, creating the disparity we see between what art is enjoyed, and what is valued. For this high art is valued! Valued by those millionaires and billionaires, in part because of the very sentiment Ethan so poignantly pointed out: it is another way for the upper classes to smugly belittle those below them and let themselves feel smarter or more refined than either they really are or compared to the general population. Although I’m sure there are at least a few who appreciate these pieces thanks to knowing their context in the history of art, the cynic in me doubts they are the majority.
So, our intrepid youtuber, Ethan, decides that he wants in on this market, and after taking note of some of the superficial trappings of modern art, creates a piece he believes fits the bill: his iconic red beanie framed behind glass.
After placing it on Ebay, and declaring “If you don’t make a million dollars, it’s not art,” he reportedly receives bidding going up to $10 Million. It is unknown whether or not he will actually receive this full payment.
The event bares similarity to the 4chan post protesting the state of art in the world today, which nearly hit $100,000 in its bids. Both, whether the artists knew it or not, do a brilliant job of critiquing our current liberal capitalist ideology which the ordinary denizens of the internet have been alienated by, and thus display this alienation by partaking in the ironic imbuing of value into these pieces of “art,” at once showing the shallowness and falseness that capital gives the highest art in our society, but also revealing what could be.
After all, the bidders and those who found entertainment in the story of these pieces found enjoyment in this great irony. Imagine, for a moment if our society equated that enjoyment with value, well then that 4chan post and that beanie would be worth more than almost all the modern artworks found in Ethan’s video.
Wouldn’t that be something great? If we could actually chuckle and smile when we walked into the contemporary art sections of a museum and not even in the ironic sense of how baffling and uninteresting the pieces are.
I think it would be.
And so for that wonderful critique of capitalist ideology, I commend comrade Ethan for his great moves. Keep it up!