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Can You Tell the Difference Between Modern “Art” and Toddler Art?

Can you tell the difference between “real” modern art and the artwork of toddlers? You’re not alone if you can’t. A few years ago, ABC displayed “masterpieces of modern art” along with junk, such as “a piece of framed fabric ‘20/20’ bought at a thrift store for $5.” Most people couldn’t tell the difference. In a second test, ABC displayed “master” artworks beside works of four-year-olds, and even a professional modern “artist” couldn’t tell the difference.

Recently BuzzFeed posted a similar comparison online in the form of an eleven-question test. For each displayed work, viewers can try to determine whether it’s modern “art” or toddler art. I was surprised to miss the first question. Such bold brushstrokes! Such a vivid mix of colors! I thought surely it was a high-priced modern “artwork.” But no; it was painted by a toddler. In all, I got only five of the questions right—about what I would have expected guessing blindly. (The representational artist Bryan Larsen—whose beautiful works may be purchased from the Cordair art gallery—outperformed me, correctly categorizing seven of the works.)

When a toddler produces an artwork and we have no idea what it’s supposed to be, we might acknowledge the toddler’s choice of colors and shapes, or perhaps praise his efforts. But when a professional artist produces “art” that is indistinguishable from toddler art, we shouldn’t pretend that it’s “art” with a meaning that’s somehow over our heads. We should acknowledge forthrightly that it’s junk and judge it and its producer accordingly.

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