Thanks for taking the time to articulate these comments; they’re super helpful! Taking your points in turn:

  1. I was limiting the scope of the essay to conceptual art, so no, not Kehinde Wiley. You’re right that I’ve focused mostly on minimalist/anti-minimalist art, and it’s fair to ask how far beyond this my points extend. Well, “Literature sausage” isn’t particularly minimalist, and I think my points do extend to most art that has the “common features” I list in the “Target” section. Does that justify putting “modern art” in the title? My experience with galleries with “modern” or “contemporary” in the name has been that many (most?) of the works there have these features, enough for searching through these galleries for other works typically not being worth my time. But it’s possible that I’ve just been going to the wrong galleries. Engaging with people’s comments on this post has already led me to discover some pretty cool contemporary artists!
  2. I think I understand “enjoyment/pleasure/appreciation” a lot more broadly than many people. E.g. if you find “Guernica” beautiful, I think this means it causes you pleasure, though of course this is a much darker, deeper and more complex pleasure than the pleasure you might feel when seeing a patch of daffodils. (It’s possible that studying too much philosophy has skewed my language use here, though.)
  3. Whoops, I didn’t mean to criticize “This is not a pipe” at all! I put it in only because it has a similar structure to my hypothetical “this is a bad artwork” artwork; it was only meant to be a funny illustration. But it’s fair to ask: how can I criticize conceptual art for being overly self-referential but leave Magritte (or, for that matter, Kafka) scot free? Well, part of the answer is that Magritte isn’t immune to criticism the way my hypothetical “bad artwork” is. But now I’m thinking that the issue may be more complicated — you might claim that Duchamp’s urinal says something like “this is (isn’t?) just a urinal,” and then it looks like the two works really are quite similar. My feeling is that this may be right about Duchamp, but doesn’t justify the profusion of readymade art that people have exhibited since.
  4. “Scandalizes” was important in that sentence. The point of “Guernica” isn’t to scandalize — it’s, among other things, to illuminate the horrors of war. My sense with a lot of conceptual artists is that they assume that making your audience uncomfortable is an avant-garde — hence good! — thing to do, even if you’re not giving them anything — like intrinsically valuable experiences or illuminating moral truths — in return. But you’re right to push me here: that was probably the weakest portion of the essay, in part because I don’t know that much about contemporary artists whose work has a moral/political message.
  5. I’ve made up my mind, yes, though of course that could change. My belief that there isn’t much there to appreciate in minimalist art is like any one of my convictions: I’ve settled the question to the best of my abilities, so I’m not going to actively seek out evidence one way or the other anymore, but if contrary evidence comes my way, the belief will be open to revision. Calling this a “mental block” seems to presuppose that the mere fact that some artists intentionally created this art means that there must be something in it to be uncovered.

Staff writer at Rabbit Hole Magazine. Harvard PhD. Want to video chat about one of my articles? Pick a slot at

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