‘Art is Bullshit’ And 10 More Critical Things I Will Teach You About Art

image - Flickr / Mark Chadwick
image – Flickr / Mark Chadwick

Barnett Newman’s painting, “Black Fire 1” sold for $84 million even though your 5-year-old could’ve done it.

He was never able to teach art because he would often fail the basic drawing classes that schools would make teachers pass.

When I started writing blog posts one of the first tweets I saw, from a good friend of mine, was “This is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.”

I would write about what I did when I was dead broke. I would write about peeing face down on the ground while cars swerved around me.

I would write about throwing a coconut on the ground in the middle of NYC on the advice of a psychic so I could make all my money back. I was scared. I was scared shirtless.

People who came out of the financial world weren’t supposed to do that. It was embarrassing.

People still write me with the worst garbage. I love how people take valuable time out of their day to tell me what a horrible person I am. Sometimes it bothers me I have to admit.

Sometimes people know the right button to press. But it gives me an opportunity to focus on the emails I get that tell me how my stories have helped them. I’m very grateful for that. I hope it never stops.

Why is Barnett Newman art? He has one painting that is all red but a light orange strip (he called it the “zip”) going right through it. He divided the art world from the word of meaning, to the world of meaningless.

Aging is like that. We start off with ambition. “I’m going to DO something”. We end with meaning: “I’m going to help others.”

Some pain, a bandage covering a deep wound, divided the two.

I’m not an artist. I try to write as well as possible, like many people. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

So because I’m not an artist at all I’m going to write what I think it is. Because nobody can stop me. There are no rules.


Saying something that divides the world into a “B” and an “A”. Before you said it and After you said it.

You make people think that the world was upside down from what they thought before.

Everyone divides the world into what is possible what is not possible. Art is when you make people think more is possible than they could have possibly imagined.


It doesn’t mean physical beauty. Our thoughts are like the tip of an iceberg.

When Amanda Palmer was just starting out she would dress up like a bride and silently hand anyone a flower who gave her a dollar.

When you look at a bride, frozen on the street, wearing white makeup, her eyes looking at you, it brings up thoughts. What is a bride? What is love? What is the connection right now between me and her.

What is the loneliness we can never quite shake and here is a hand willing to reach out to us with a flower for just a dollar.

To put your finger on someone’s loneliness, even for a second, is art. It’s a massage of the heart.


On every website I see articles like “10 Ways to Get a Job” and the article usually gives very practical advice. I think the authors can improve these stories.

The more blood in the article, the better the article is. The more you tell your story, the deeper the well people can drink from.

Most people give advice freely. But they forget to tell their story.

When you do that, you let people sip from your dirty hand but you don’t let them drink from the well of your life.


Michael Jackson made a song about gang violence. Weird Al took the exact same song and made it about finishing your dinner.

Al showed that meaning can be twisted and still enjoyed. Gang violence is important. But so is an ability to look at the same thing and have fun with it.

Andy Warhol made a painting of a Campbell’s Soup can. Can any child do it? Of course. Why was Warhol art? You might think it wasn’t. Others might say he was the first to really underline the commercialization of art. A before and after way of looking at things.


Colleen Ballinger saw all of her classmates put up videos on YouTube while singing or performing. They all thought they were going to become discovered on YouTube and then suddenly rich and famous.

She thought they were untalented idiots.

So she put on sloppy bright red lipstick. She clipped her hair back in the ugliest way possible. She began giving completely arrogant lessons on how to perform. She messed up all her words while pretending not to realize it.

And she (performing as “Miranda Sings”) gets about 8 million views per youtube video and is performing all over the country now.

The truth is: silliness is art. Seriousness can lead to disappointment.

Jerry Seinfeld had her on his show. At one point he was frustrated with her constant complaining. He said, “I thought I was helping your career by having you on here.”

She said, “What!? I thought I was helping you!”

That’s art.


Everyone looks at Jackson Pollack paintings and says “I can do that”. But can they? Maybe they can.

Jackson Pollack took his whole body, took other materials and not just paint, took down the canvas and put it flat on the floor and used his body to fling paint and other objects all over the canvas.

He created a new form of art combining painting, abstract expressionism, sculpture, dance, Jungian philosophy, and defined his own category of art.

He was just as insecure as anyone else. He was afraid he was going to go out of fashion. He took on a mistress. He had problems with alcoholism. He died (and killed a passenger) while driving drunk one night.

And yet the energy he brought to what he did, the combination of history and future and movement and sculpture and paint makes him one of the greatest artists of the past century.

He combined with energy and passion. More than anyone else before him.


When you make art, you’re striking out on a path that is totally new. Don’t do it unless it’s new.

Why is this scary? People might hate you. People might resent you. People will make fun of you. People will call you trash. People will say “why is this even here?” People deny you opportunities and money.

Vincent Van Gogh died broke. Kafka died broke. The list goes on. If you do what you love, you can’t do it with the hope of obtaining something.

You have to do it with a sense of surrender. You’re doing it because your body and mind want to do it, not because your wallet wants to do it.

Fear brings humility. Fear brings gratitude from you to the people who admire what you are doing.

Why would you want to do something that makes you afraid? Because art again comes from that sense of connection that we have with the rest of the human herd. It’s a way at a deep level we can communicate with others.

That connection feeds us more than any dollars will.

Right now in New Mexico, there is a radar waiting for signals from outer space. They may never get a signal. Or it may take 100s of years. We don’t know.

We all feel sometimes like we are from deep in empty outer space. We just want to send out a signal that someone will listen to and respond to. If you aren’t afraid, then you aren’t doing it right.


I erased this entire section when editing.


Why not? If you can give an adult 5 more reasons to laugh today then you just made their life 100% better.


What do I know about art? Who am I to comment on it? Nobody. I am an absolute nobody. It’s arrogant and foolish. BLAH!

I am someone who thinks everyone has the latent ability to quit their job and become king of their worlds. That’s what I believe. That’s my evil plan.

To get everyone to celebrate their abilities and quit their job and make millions. I believe that you can do that.

What is art?

When your chest and your heart and your mind are all on fire and you feel like a god just kissed you. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated.

Keep up with James on Twitter and jamesaltucher.com

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