The Pretentious Artist


Dinner For Schmucks 2010

Tim: “I don’t think I get it, Kieran.”

Kieran: “Poppycock, you’ve been stockbroking too long, Tim.”

Kieran: “What does it make you think of?”

Tim: “I guess it kind of makes me. Um. Think of your penis.”

Kieran: “Then you get it.”


I traditionally avoid going into art galleries, though being an artist and art enthusiast I want to see art that I don’t have the money for. I usually go during first Friday if I have the time, so I have a crowd of people there as well (and to get some free wine and cheese). I do this because I feel awkward speaking to the art curator, especially the artist. Why? I found that it’s because they speak a whole other language then I do, a language I feel I need to describe and have a conversation about art. I have spoken to many artists, art teachers and a few curators and they have not made me feel awkward or stupid. So why am I so nervous to go to a gallery? Little bit has to do with my own personal insecurities and I know I will usually be the only one in there with the gallery’s curator. Exploring this awkwardness, I found myself thinking it’s about the language I don’t speak, the pretentious one, the language that popular culture has led me to believe that the artist is a show off. With a little critical inquiry into artifacts and sources in popular culture I found to change my views of the fine artist being pretentious.

Kieran is an artist of masculinity and freedom. He includes himself as the subject for every painting. When he talks about his craft and his art he is pretentious. He describes his huge ranch that is his getaway from all the glamor or that he even uses metaphorical mediums to literally put into his art: bull shit or even zebra after birth. He is someone living the glamorous life and it makes the protagonist nervous about his own relationship. This is a prominent example of why I picture the fine artist as a pretentious, though the only time I see this pretentious language used is in the reviews or statements describing the artist.

You can find little about the artist from reviews and statements. Art enthusiasts and critics will use a language that uses very confusing words, vague points, and passive language that does not take responsibility to what they are saying. I call it pretentious language. I usually find pretentious language in artist statements or reviews in places such as the publication New American Paintings, where they connect the artist to the art enthusiast since 1993. An example of this review comes from the first art I found on their website, Long Night in the Garden.


Nina Rizzo Long Night in the Garden, 2015, oil on canvas, 60 x 120 inches

New American paintings reviewer B. David Zarley starts his review of it well, stating it takes a while for the eyes to adjust to the overall darkness. After that however its gets a little confusing: “which open like false editorial spread irises to provide for the killing of Kurtz and the comforting recognition of shapes, shapes engorged, swollen sweet and suspended, striated like carapaces or the long, primed, puckered muscles of the thigh, like ladders from Pluto, the fat wet tongues of leaves lapping against and pulling the eyes, as if by slow jungle steamer, into and through Nina Rizzo’s Conradian jungle” B. David Zarley.

This review does not describe the art, it’s almost as if he is creating his own abstract creation. Taking credit for his understanding though being very vague and confusing so the reader has to put in the effort to define what it means. This pretentious language is what I picture the artist using.


A Bucket of Blood 1959

Maxwell H. Brock: “I will talk to you of Art, for there is nothing else to talk about, for there is nothing else… Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of Art. Burn gas, buggies, and whip your sour cream of circumstance and hope, and go ahead and sleep your bloody heads off. Creation is, all else is not. Creation is graham crackers; let it all crumble to feed the creator; feed him that he may be satisfied. The Artist is, all others are not. A canvas is a canvas or a painting. A rock is a rock or a statue. A sound is a sound or is music. A preacher is a preacher, or an Artist.”

In the 1959 horror movie A Bucket of Blood we get a glimpse of the protagonist’s desire of being an artist, someone who is all knowing of the world and its personal workings. Walter is a busboy at an artist’s hangout. Jealous of the surrounding successful, creative and intelligent people Walter takes a stab at sculpting. He unsuccessfully tries to win the admiration of the artists he holds so highly. After almost making a smiley face from the clay, he tries to save the landlord’s cat that has been crying for help stuck inside the wall. With the right intentions to free the cat by making a hole for it to escape, he stabs it. Then preserves it in clay. Takes the cat statue (with the large kitchen knife sticking out) to the artist club. They love it. He gets his wish and becomes the artist that others admire. Though lacking the talent he ends up murdering people, growing more intentional as the story goes on. Turning them into statues. He is revered by his peers; he starts to take up the artist persona. He hides himself as a pretentious artist. This seems to be the reason why the artist would use pretentious language, because he/she is scared of being ridiculed. That the artist themselves is not special.


“Why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.” –Andy Warhol


I was searching for a good pretentious quote from an artist I always thought was pretentious: Andy Warhol. Someone I really thought would personify who a pretentious artist is like. Maybe just from his simplistic works or how he is the “artist” that is satire as the pretentious artist. I was mistaken and I found myself admiring him. So by critically breaking down the intentions of critics or of others with an opinion on the artist I found that most opinions were false and solidifies the pretentious artist in the eyes of our popular culture.

Fine artists depict the world around him/her. My views can be changed after seeing the world through the eyes of the artist. Relationships are made through the art, we get an image of the culture and history that surrounds the artist. The artist out of fear of judgment will use language to persuade otherwise. Most of the pretentious language we associate with the artist comes from the viewer not the artist. Today the artist and the artist voice is hidden behind the art and namely the computer screen. Art is typically sold is over the internet with new artists using etsy or even galleries make it convenient to buy over the internet. Based on a survey from galleries sell most of their works online with the gallery itself being just a store front. Though the article is to be taken lightly; is selling its counseling for people starting their art business. So the pretentious voices we hear from our popular culture are not typically from the artist, but the art enthusiast and the art dealer.

Works Cited

Archibald, Dion. “Andy Warhol Quotes.” Art Quotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <;.

Lotz, Cally. “Pretentious Artists Statements: Why We Write Them.” The Collectors’ Artist. N.p., 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. <;.

Rizzo, Nina. Long Night in the Garden. 2015. Oil on canvas. Linda Warren Projects, Chicago, IL.

Zarley, David B. “New American Paintings.” New American Paintings. Chicago Contributor, 26 Oct. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. <;.

“Art Galleries, Art Sales and the Internet: A Survey.” Art Business. Alan Bamberger, n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. <;.

A Bucket of Blood. Dir. Roger Carman. Perf. Dick Miller, Julian Burton. MGM Studios, 1959. Film.

Dinner for Schmucks. Dir. Jay Roach. Perf. Paul Rudd, Jemaine Clement. Paramount Pictures, 2010. Film.


5 thoughts on “The Pretentious Artist

  1. Pdxgaller-

    Your post is fascinating. I, as well, am often intimidated by the world of artists: they seem far more sophisticated than I and seem to have a much deeper, understanding of the world. But it is a very exclusive club, true artistry. I am glad to learn that I am not the only one who feels this way. I think the inquiry you had into “where does this pretentious perception come from?” was a very objective way at looking at. The last statement you made: how pretentiousness is not usually from the artist himself, but from those who represent or admire his work, is an interesting observation. Thank you for guiding me to a new way of seeing the “pompous” world of artistry.

  2. Hi!
    I love the way you started your post! It caught my attention immediately! I was not an art person at all.. but I’m interested in it. (Love painting but not good at it) Sometimes people can’t understand how the arts works. For example, most of people can’t understand why Van Gogh cut his left ear (Left? I’m not sure.), Neither do I. It’s like when most of people see the graffiti on the wall when they walk by, they will think it’s really a bad thing. But on the bright side, if the graffiti is healthy and cute, why not considered it as an improvement of appearance of the city?

  3. I definitely see how art is portrayed as snobbish in the media. I can understand where you coming from when you enter the art galleries: the sense of discomfort. It’s like, they speak another language? I feel art can and should be viewed an every way possible. One person could look at a painting and see happy sunshine and rainbows and someone else could see the opposite. The feeling that you get when looking at art in a gallery, you feel the pressure of the curator’s point of view on the piece and the language they use just makes you feel inadequate. But hey, going to galleries is fun. Who cares what they think – art is subjective. It’s there for us all to enjoy, whether we agree with the idea of the art or not. Great topic. A very interesting read.

  4. I feel just like you when going into galleries. I sometimes wonder what I missed because I was afraid to go in or to engage with the curator or dealer. I’m gald there are others who feel this way too. Your point on the pretentious language used is spot on. I wonder why its this way. Can’t we just like something, because we do? Do we need to come up with a million metaphors or 15 letter words to describe why? Most artists I know are very down to earth, most of them hope that something they create will resonate with someone else in the world in a meaningful way.

  5. After living in Portland for a year, my perception of artists has definitely changed. I was considering a similar identity for my posting, the starving artist. I think your choice works better, though. I’ve looked at some galleries around Portland that amaze me and many that frustrate me because of how pretentious the artwork or installations are. I love the Andy Warhol quote you used, I often feel that way about being an artist. It’s not something I brag about, unlike many pretentious artists. The arrogance and self-righteousness of artists usually bleeds through their personality into their work, resulting in photographs like “Piss Christ”.

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