The Work Itself Is Totally Irrelevant

One thing I love about Andrew Potter is his ability to make baffling aspects of our culture completely intelligible. For example, why is a painting of a soup can considered an incredible piece of art?:

In the age of secularized, commercialized, mass-marketed entertainment, what plays the role of the ritual in preserving the aura of the work is the artist’s life. Their past, their history, their lifestyle or persona is what provides the ballast that anchors the work in some sort of creative tradition or narrative, saving it from the frothy superficiality of mere commerce. That is why it matters more whether Avril Lavigne was a real skate punk than whether she wrote her own songs, and why we remain fascinated with the work of Andy Warhol, despite the fact that his whole artistic agenda was to blur the lines between commodities and art works. His life itself was a work of art, and when we buy a Warhol or apprehend one in a gallery, it is the aura of that life that we are appreciating. One logical endpoint of this takes us to the world of contemporary art, where many of the works in and of themselves are so ludicrous in concept and so inept in execution that the old philistine war cry “My child could do that” is an insult to untalented children everywhere. But this objection misses the point, which is that the work itself is totally irrelevant. What is being sold is the artist himself, his persona or, better, his brand. [Andrew Potter, The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves, 97-98.]