Adam Ruins Art

Aug 06 2017

In this episode, Adam asks what makes art great by illustrating why certain pieces are considered classics (regardless of merit), exposing the masters as clever copycats and revealing how today’s fine art market is primarily a tax dodge for the super-rich. Here are his sources.


“Throughout history, Leonardo wasn’t always considered one of the best painters and the Mona Lisa wasn’t always considered his best painting.”

Donald Sassoon. Becoming Mona Lisa. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003.

One night, a handyman at the Louvre hid in a closet, took the Mona Lisa off the wall, and walked right out the door the next morning.”

Duncan J. Watts. Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer. Crown Business, 2011.

When newspapers started reporting on the daring heist, the Mona Lisa became a media sensation.”

Ian Leslie. "Why the Mona Lisa Stands Out." 1843 Magazine, May/Jun 2014.

From 1949 to 1958, the CIA secretly sponsored art tours and exhibitions around the world.”

Frances Stonor Saunders. "Mondern Art Was CIA 'Weapon.'" The Independent, 21 Oct 1995.

Movies like It’s A Wonderful Life weren’t popular until TV channels started rerunning them like crazy.”

Alice Vincent. "13 Things You Didn't Know About It's a Wonderful Life." The Telegraph, 22 Dec 2016.

“Research shows that hearing a song more often can make you like it more.”

Carlos Silva Pereira, João Teixeira, Patrícia Figueiredo, João Xavier, São Luís Castro, and Elvira Brattico. "Music and Emotions in the Brain: Familiarity Matters." PLoS ONE, 16 Nov 2011.

But this master of originality started his career as a forger.”

Noah Charney. The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of the Master Forgers. Phaidon Press, 2015.

“Some historians blame his dealer, but either way Michelangelo was flagrantly copying older sculptures.”

Mariana Zapata. "How a Forged Sculpture Boosted Michelangelo’s Early Career." Atlas Obscura, 1 Nov 2016.

“From 1889 to 90, Van Gogh honed his style by making 21 copies of paintings by his favorite artist, Jean-François Millet.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Collection record for Vincent van Gogh, First Steps, after Millet. Accessed 1 May 2017.

When Claude Monet painted his ‘Lunch on the Grass,’ he was inspired by Edouard Manet’s masterpiece also titled ‘Lunch on the Grass.’”

Musée d'Orsay. Collection record for Claude Monet, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. Accessed 1 May 2017.

And Manet was inspired by the women in this Titian painting, and the poses of the figures from this Marcantonio Raimondi engraving.”

Musée d'Orsay. Collection record for Edouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. Accessed 1 May 2017.

Which in turn was made after this Raphael drawing.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Collection record for Marcantonio Raimondi, after Raphael, The Judgment of Paris. Accessed 1 May 2017.

“Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet after he read an epic poem called Romeus and Juliet.”

The British Library. Collection record for Arthur Brooke,Romeus and Juliet. Accessed 1 May 2017.

Hip-hop has elevated sampling to an art form — following the tradition of Mozart, who borrowed music from a Viennese opera to write ‘The Magic Flute.’”

Adam Baer. "Wolfgang Amadeus Copycat." Slate, 13 Feb 2002.

George Lucas created Star Wars by borrowing elements from everything from mythology, to samurai movies, to Flash Gordon serials from the 1930s.”

Everything Is a Remix. Directed by Kirby Ferguson. 2015.

A small handful of galleries and rich collectors decide what’s good. And once they decide it’s good, the price of that art can skyrocket.”

Alex Mayyasi. "Why Is Art Expensive?" Priceonomics, 23 Sep 2015.

Big galleries keep prices a secret so they can change them depending on who the buyer is.”

Allison Schrager. "High-End Art Is One of the Most Manipulated Markets in the World." Quartz, 11 Jul 2013.

Daniel Radcliffe once tried to buy an expensive painting, but he was denied because they were waiting for a ‘more prestigious collector.’”

Dan Duray. "Harry Potter and the Boring Art Fair Story." The Observer, 16 Feb 2012.

Auctions play all sorts of devious tricks to drive up the prices, like paying people to bid.”

Robin Pogrebin and Kevin Flynn. "As Art Values Rise, So Do Concerns About Market’s Oversight." The New York Times, 27 Jan 2013.

“When bids are slow, auctioneers will even use a practice called chandelier bidding. They just point to a random spot above everyone’s heads, and pretend to see a bid.”

Don Thompson. The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

“Sometimes we even bid anonymously to drive up the price!”

Michael Wolff. "Is Art a Criminal Enterprise?" USA Today, 17 Nov 2013.

“Because the fine art world can be manipulated by crooks who use it to defraud the government and launder dirty money.”

Graham Bowley and William K. Rashbaum. "Has the Art Market Become an Unwitting Partner in Crime?" The New York Times, 19 Feb 2017.

Legally the buyer and seller can both just be listed as ‘private collection.’”

Patricia Cohen. "Valuable as Art, but Priceless as a Tool to Launder Money." The New York Times, 12 May 2013.

Those collectors can also write off their donations on their taxes. And that gets really shady because these art farts are allowed to hire their own appraisers to decide the value of their donations. It’s essentially a tax dodge.”

Jason Felch and Doug Smith. "Inflated Art Appraisals Cost U.S. Government Untold Millions." Los Angeles Times, 2 Mar 2008.

In the 19th century, opera was pop music and Shakespeare was for the masses. Some of the greatest art ever made was commercial.”

Shamus Rahman Khan. Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School. Princeton University Press, 2010.

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