Some of our current political craziness reminds me of modern art…. Back in the day, the rich could easily demonstrate their superiority: they might have a Vermeer on the wall, but you didn’t. They had a chamber orchestra—you didn’t. But with cheap replication, anyone can afford a Vermeer print, anyone can buy the music they want for a song. In such a situation, you pick a marker that nobody really likes: one that marks you as different and special…. Modern art instead of Rembrandts.
We live in an era when billionaires seem compelled to buy artworks that few would like unless they had been apprised of the theory. Tom Wolfe pointed out in his 1975 history of modern art, The Painted Word, that the great creative talents of the New York art world were less the painters of the era—Pollock, de Kooning, and Warhol—than the critics—Greenberg, Rosenberg, and Steinberg—who had come up with the verbal justifications for why the paintings were worth a lot of money.