Ok, So Most of You Can Tell Graffiti From Fine Art

But Which One is Fine Art, Plate 2
Fine Art

But Which One is Fine Art, Plate 1
Graffiti

Yesterday I posted two images to my blog. One was of a painting taken from San Francisco’s de Young Museum and the other was some graffiti that I found on Market Street. My questions posed were which one was fine art vs. graffiti and which one would you rather have hanging in your home.

Most people had no trouble picking out the fine art vs. the graffiti. This might partly be my fault because you could partially see a sticker that was painted over in the graffiti photo.

Of those who responded 90% were able to correctly identify the painting on the top as fine art. 10% got it wrong and thought that the graffiti was the fine art.

Also interesting though, people seemed to prefer the graffiti over the fine art when it came to hanging it in their home. Of those who responded 56% said that they’d prefer the graffiti panel over the fine art painting if they were going to hang it in their home. Only 13% actually said that they’d prefer the fine art painting over the graffiti and 31% liked neither.

I’m thinking of redoing the challenge again a bit later with two paintings that I feel would be harder to tell apart. We’ll see.

Congrats to everyone who correctly guessed. And remember don’t let anyone else tell you what art is good and what art is bad. That decision is for you and you alone. Unless, of course, you’re actually an art investor, in which case you’d better make damn sure that you pay attention to what the art elite say is art vs. what is not art.

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15 Comments

  1. TranceMist says:

    What makes art “Fine”?

    The fact that it’s hanging for sale somewhere?

    To me these two are basically indistinguishable.

  2. Thiago Silva says:

    There was a long and interesting discussion about “art” on The Online Photographer a while ago, in a sense inadvertently started by me. Check the post below, and the two consecutive ones:

    http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2007/11/random-excellen.html

    http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2007/11/prejudices-no-2.html

    http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2007/11/approaching-art.html

    It was quite a discussion.

  3. j03 says:

    This whole discussion infuriates me.

    I’m going to go ahead and court controversy here. I disagree that people should make their own aesthetic decisions.

    “Don’t let anyone else tell you what art is good and what art is bad.”

    Why not? You let accountants handle your taxes. You let carpenters build your houses. You let chefs cook your food.

    Why not lend an ear to the expert opinion of gallery owners and art critics.

    If your art experience stopped when you last made a finger painting as a 6-year-old, maybe you shouldn’t be passing judgement on “Fine Art.”

    Art is a skill like anything else. It requires serious study and refinement. If one is unwilling to put time and concentration into makeing an aesthetic judgement, that’s their perogative.

    I’m just saying they’re probably wrong.

    People will claim that this is an elitist attitude. Well fine. People don’t become elite art critics by spitting out unfounded, uneducated, unthinking opinions. It takes work, damnit.

    You should respect that.

  4. Jonny says:

    While I understand the point you are trying to make here (I agree they are both art, no doubt), the real issue (to me) is the rights to ‘art’ vs. vandalism, which isn’t something you’ve quite tackled yet.

    I still don’t understand how you can support the rights of photographers with regards to copyright protection, yet encourage a form of vandalism.

    Unless the grafitti artist has permission, or is performing the work on their own personal property, they are infringing on someone else’s rights. Regardless of whether it’s private or public property.

  5. Thomas Hawk says:

    People will claim that this is an elitist attitude. Well fine. People don’t become elite art critics by spitting out unfounded, uneducated, unthinking opinions. It takes work, damnit.

    Good point! And while you’re at it maybe let other people decide what music you’ll like and what food you ought to like as well.

    I still don’t understand how you can support the rights of photographers with regards to copyright protection, yet encourage a form of vandalism.

    I don’t always support photographers rights with regards to copyright protection. It depends on whether or not someone does something interesting with the photograph. I’d certainly endorse the work of Richard Prince for instance.

    I like to see art created and generally put the creation of art as a higher priority in the world than property rights.

  6. Jonny says:

    It depends on whether or not someone does something interesting with the photograph.

    I appreciate you addressing my post, although I don’t particularly agree with the above sentiment either. Correct me if i’m wrong, but that seems to suggest that only ‘good’ photographers deserve the right to have their work protected.

    I didn’t necessarily mean support in the context of ‘endorsement’, more when it comes to issues such as the right to take photographs in public, the right to post your photos on flickr and NOT have them ripped off by some prick in another country and re-sold without permission.

    These are all issues you’ve voiced strong opinion on in the past.

    Now on the subject of vandalism, you are arguing for the recognition of grafitti as ‘fine art’… which I whole-heartedly agree with. Some of it is truly fantastic.

    But that being said, I cannot say I support something that infringes on the rights of others. There’s no ‘grey area’ here as far as i’m concerned. If you steal a photo from someone and re-sell it, that’s theft, and copyright infringement. It doesn’t matter whether the photographer is horrible or world-renowned.

    If you permanently mark something that you don’t own… regardless of who else owns it, it is vandalism, which infringes on the rights of property owners.

    I know i’m probably not going to convince anyone who has already made up their mind on the matter… But I have to voice my opinion here. I just don’t get it when people put the rights of some over the rights of others. To me, it’s a double standard.

    Thanks for reading.

  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    Correct me if i’m wrong, but that seems to suggest that only ‘good’ photographers deserve the right to have their work protected.

    No, the quality of the photographer should not determine the level of protection. It should apply to all equally.

    What I’m saying is that oftentimes great art is created by borrowing from other art and that I consider this more important than copyright.

  8. Jonny says:


    No, the quality of the photographer should not determine the level of protection. It should apply to all equally.

    What I’m saying is that oftentimes great art is created by borrowing from other art and that I consider this more important than copyright.

    That makes more sense, thanks. I certainly agree with the idea of adaptation… as long as it’s not outright ripping off.

  9. j03 says:

    People will claim that this is an elitist attitude. Well fine. People don’t become elite art critics by spitting out unfounded, uneducated, unthinking opinions. It takes work, damnit.

    Good point! And while you’re at it maybe let other people decide what music you’ll like and what food you ought to like as well.

    Fine art isn’t like food or music.

    You’re making a faulty comparison.

    Most Americans directly experience and evaluate food at least twice a day for their entire lives. They’re perfectly capable of deciding what food they like and what food they don’t like. That is, they have the *experience* to make those decisions for themselves.

    Same goes with music. People listen to music day in and day out, they’re flooded with it on the radio and wherever they go. They have a lifetime of *experience* to decide for themsleves what is good and what is bad.

    Most people don’t visit a muesum and consume fine art twice a day. Most people aren’t surrounded by fine art in their personal lives. Most people have little to no experience in judging fine art.

    In that way, fine art is more akin to molecular chemistry. People don’t presume to make decisions about whether compound X is a good or bad molecular compund. They defer to an expert. Molecular chemists.

    You seem to be saying everyones powers of aesthetic judgment are equally good. So then there’s no need for designers or architects or artists, because everone’s judgment is equal and correct?

    That’s my basic argument. Making good aesthetic judgments takes time, training and experience that most people don’t have.

    Did you pick up the camera and start shooting brilliant shots right from the start? Or did it take you some time and experience to start making better decisions?

  10. Pete says:

    jo3, the problem is that you are describing the CREATION of art/photographs/buildings. The issue at hand is the judgement of these things. It doesn’t take a lot of training to respond to a piece of art in a positive or negative manner. The training comes in handy when you are trying to create something that people will respond positively to.

  11. Rmer one says:

    Both paintings dont look anything like graffiti art/aerosol writing.

    this is graffiti art-

    http://www.cruelvapours.com

  12. JAKE says:

    I CAN DEFINETLY TELL THE DIFFERENCE!!! AND WHICH ONE I WOULD RATHER HAVE IN MY HOME WELL PROBABLY THE GRAFFITI. I ALSO THINK GRAFFITI SHOULD BE PUT TO AN END THE, CUZ IT DAMAGES THE ENVIROMENT.

  13. JAKE says:

    I AGREE WITH RMER1 I DNT THINK EITHER LOOK LIKE GRAFFITI. BUT I DONT KNOW MUCH ABOUT GRAFFITI BESIDE BIG BUBBLE LETTERS AND NAMES.

  14. kreos 818 says:

    hey i love graffitie its an addiction once u start u cant stop it fuck jake^
    little bitch ass hippie the ones damaging the enviroment are the chinese
    fthc thlc 4gs cfm esk stn if they let me in its cuz im good plus fuck jake graff 4r life