Cars Are Often Regarded As ‘Low Brow’ Art Among The Elite And It’s Complete Nonsense

Carart Top

When you’re surrounded by something, immersed in a given culture, it’s often easy to forget how that culture is perceived by outsiders. For example, cars form the very water in which I swim (were I a fish, which, thanks to a strict and complex drug regimen, I am not). This just means that sometimes I forget that there are people out there who don’t perceive cars as I do, which is to say as something more than appliances, as vehicles not just in a literal sense, but vehicles for all manner of human expression, culture, art.

Cars are embodiments of engineering and sculpture and graphic design and athleticism and sound design and so many skills and modes of art. But, not everyone realizes this, and there’s still many, many people out there who regard the whole of automotive culture as valueless schlock, exclusively populated with drooling barbarians. My own personal struggles with drooling aside, this idea is garbage. And yet, people still believe it, as I was reminded by an email I got last week.

The email was from a reader named Wes, who told me this:

I got into a debate with some artsy friends after Torchinsky’s article about Claes Oldenburg, and the definition of art. None of them thought automotive design had any merit. I (obviously) disagreed.

I hate sneaking off to car shows because *certain friends* will call me a cretin for rubbing shoulders with the “yokels” that allegedly attend them, only to post photos on social media later that they seem to enjoy. It’s just obnoxious.

The art community will call a rotten banana duct taped to a wall “art,” but when it comes to the VW Corrado, the ass of which was inspired by the Bauhaus Movement, it’s just a product.

First off, Wes, you need better friends.

Really, it’s not your fault; I have some wonderful friends, but I personally have still encountered this attitude toward my interest in cars, from family, friends, strangers, colleagues, and more. It’s still a surprisingly pervasive attitude, that somehow cars or really any merging of art and engineering is no longer worthy of being considered “true” art, whatever the fuck that is.

Once, in a painting class in college, I was making a kinetic piece that involved painted objects on clear mylar that would scroll over a background, a sort of not-still still life. It was a bit silly, sure, but I was young and hopeful. While talking about it with my professor, the professor from another painting class walked his old ass all the way across the studio just to sneer at me “they teach engineering at State,” referring to another local university.

Who does that? All because there was a motor involved? It’s ridiculous. But it’s real, and it definitely still happens to many people when they try to appreciate the artistic and cultural value of objects with engines and wheels.

But back to Wes and his jerky friends: Wes, if you confront your arty pals with this, and they push back and question my credentials, lemme just put that shit to bed right now: I have an Art History degree, and I know my shit. Put some Egyptian art on a wall in front of me and I bet I can tell you the time period within three dynasties, and if it’s Armana period, I can spot that across a fucking room. The pun with the feather glyphs used instead of the half bread loaf glyphs in the Offering Formula? I’ll talk about that shit until you cry.

You want to compare Arshile Gorky, Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky, and Alexander Calder while throwing darts? Bring it, bitches. I’m the dude who’ll remind you why you shouldn’t let a Dadaist iron your shirts, or what’s so funny about the pediments at the Palazzo del Te. Plus, I’ve had art installations of my own exhibited at the Arnolfini in Bristol, galleries in LA, the Walker Art Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and more.

[Editor’s Note: I hate to break this up, since Jason is clearly on a mission here, but I’m just going to poke fun at him for showing off. That’s all. -DT]

Is my degree useless? Absolutely. Was it a colossal waste of money? Probably. Can I go toe-to-toe with Wes’ snobby-ass friends, art-wise? Fuck yeah I can.

Thank you for indulging my boasting, but I feel like this is one of those cases where I need to establish some credentials with the intended audience in order to get them to pay attention. The audience is full of people who still, somehow, are so mired in archaic, classist, regressive thinking that they still believe in bullshit like the division between “lowbrow” and “highbrow” art. Those divisions are just made up gatekeeping crap from art dealers with financial motives, or, perhaps even worse, simple human insecurity.


Is Henry Moore’s Architectural Project more of a sculpture than Big Daddy Roth’s Beatnik Bandit? No. It isn’t. They’re both sculptures. The fact that one can sit on a vitrine and one can be driven simply doesn’t matter, because they both share the same fundamental goal: be a three-dimensional object that’s engaging and meaningful to encounter.

But what about the idea that cars are “products” or things designed for non-artistic use? Because they certainly are. Does that mean they don’t deserve to be treated as something more, when exemplary? If not, then perhaps we should yank this 15th century basin out of the Met, because it was designed to be a fish bowl or hold scrolls, or maybe we should just chuck the pre-dynastic Palette of Narmer out in the dumpster because it’s just a cosmetics-mixing palette.

The truth is, to anyone who is actually paying attention, this debate was settled decades ago, and cars won over the snobs. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has been exhibiting cars for decades. Established, respected artists like Alexander Calder, Joseph Beuys, Claes Oldenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Chris Burden, and Andy Warhol and so many more have made car-related works for the better part of a century. This isn’t a question. The automobile can be art, full stop.


If you can’t accept that a lowrider painter like Theresa Contreras is a painter you can compare to, say, Clyfford Still, just working in different cultures and media, then the problem is you, not the art, not the artists, not the cars or the people who appreciate them.

Again, this debate is settled, and I don’t even think there’s a serious question about that. But — and the reason why this topic commanded an entire article from me — I understand that the idea is still pervasive and that, somehow, the appreciation of cars is considered by far too many base, uncultured, unsophisticated, and worthy of ridicule. Because I don’t need to prove my point that cars qualify as artistic objects, what I can do instead is point out how some really common areas of interest that are considered “classy” or “highbrow” or “respectable” to mainstream society are, really, no better than being interested in cars. Let’s do that:


OperaHard to get more classy than opera, right? It’s unquestionably art, and nobody would ever call you a “yokel” for going to the opera! But is it really that much more sophisticated than the love of automobiles? Let’s take a look at a synopsis of one of the most known and respected operas of all time, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, in this case the first Opera in the cycle, Das Rheingold:

Das Rheingold features more gods than any of the three following ‘dramas’, and no mortals whatsoever! The introduction to the cycle, it tells of the theft of the magical Rhine gold and the forging of a ring by the greedy dwarf Alberich. He renounces love in order to gain the ring’s power, but when the ring is stolen by Wotan, the leader of the gods, to pay a debt to the builders of his new fortress, Valhalla, Alberich confers a terrible curse upon the ring. Anyone who does not possess the ring will covet it, and anyone who does will live in fear of losing it, and will ultimately be robbed of it and killed by its next owner…

Dwarves, gods, magic rings, Valhalla – this is just some D&D Lord of the Rings shit. It’s a Marvel movie with more singing. And that’s great! But does it really deserve to be so elevated over the appreciation of cars? Come on.


WinetasteNobody gives you guff if you’re really into wine, right? Everyone thinks that’s classy. You collect wine? Read wine magazines? Can talk endlessly about how you convinced yourself you taste bits of wood and flowers and shit in a boozy grape drink? Wonderful. Fantastic. Everyone thinks you’re a worldly sophisticate with big, deep, important opinions about wine. Congratulations, you really like grape juice.

How does this get more respect than being into cars?


ArchdigestHave someone coming over and want to make them think you’re erudite without having to actually do all the work? Throw a few copies of Architectural Digest on your coffee table. Because appreciating architecture suggests a lot about you: you have taste, you like to travel, you appreciate the majesty of human achievement, and more. You can go on historical building tours in any city and, again, nobody will call you a yokel.

And sure, architecture is great! It combines engineering and art and the practical and the emotional. Remind you of anything? Yes, dummy, cars. Cars do the same damn thing, but at 60 mph. That’s dynamics and statics. If you’re someone who thinks architecture is worthy of respect but cars aren’t, you’re being a dick.



It’s a game.


I think you get the point; society has arbitrarily decided that some pursuits are ones that confer status, and others are encouraged to be looked down upon. All of this is classist horseshit that should have died off long, long ago. In terms of the joy and enrichment it brings to people’s lives, an incredibly expensive collection of wine has no more cultural merit than someone’s treasured project car, even if it’s a fucking Chevy Vega. If you think this is something you need to debate or disprove, you should take that as a sign to look inward and try and figure out how you got to be such a jackass.

I’m done with all this classist bullshit, I’m done with anyone making any of you, car-lovers, feel bad or embarrassed of your passions, and, yes, I’m done with Wes’ stupid friends who called him a cretin. They can fuck right off.

Everyone else, I hope you find delight in whatever art draws you in, especially if that art has wheels and a motor.



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92 Responses

  1. “while talking about it with my professor, the professor from another painting class walked his old ass all the way across the studio just to sneer at me “they teach engineering at State,” referring to another local university.”

    This is another fascinating example of when adults behave like children. The dynamic it creates for younger adults and kids is what interests me, because they think it’s their fault, that something THEY did caused the older, experienced adults to behave that way.

    I love it! It’s just another bizarre human thing, and it’s especially great when you get to an age where the behavior of older adults no longer intimidates you, but rather makes you laugh at the fool THEY are making of THEMselves as they try to make you feel worse.

    But the trippy part is when you feel sorry about who they are and how their upbringing probably led to such acts, so you DON’T laugh out loud because that would be hurting someone who is clearly too traumatized to act in a responsible way. So now YOU are taking responsibility for THEM! Man, it’s just layers of messed up.

    I guess the only mature thing to do is to project and respect boundaries. “Hi, Professor, um, I’m sorry, I can’t recall your name, but that was uncalled for don’t you think? I’d like you to knock that kind of behavior off around me, thank you.”

  2. Hear, hear, Jason!
    Yes, automobiles/motorcycles/other types of transportation and aspects of them can absolutely be art. Just because something is usable for a practical purpose doesn’t preclude it from having artistic and aesthetic value. Moreover, something can nominally be prescribed for a mundane purpose but either be designed in such a way or be so valuable that it longer is practical for serving that purpose. For instance, when’s the last time you saw a Ming vase actually holding flowers? Likewise, a concept car may be pure art and utterly useless at being a car.

  3. Perfect summation and nice comment CoolDave, I would say most vehicles on the road were very clearly designed by “focus groups and market research”. There’s been such an emphasis on ringing every last ounce of originality out of vehicle design we get a market full of interchangeable countless SUV’s, sedans, etc. Now, I don’t like it, but it was refreshing to see the fart noises piped into a Tesla. Can you even imagine Hyundai doing that??

  4. I understand why people think cars are just an appliance. But I don’t understand why people think how a car looks doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t buy an ugly refrigerator, you buy one that looks nice in the kitchen. Way more people are going to see your car.

    1. On the other hand, don’t overlook the herd mentality. Every millennial who now buys a house has to have a gunmetal gray stainless fridge. After all, regular stainless is so yesterday!

  5. There’s a fair amount of the West’s eternal Plato vs Aristotle dynamic at play here. Or to put it a more enjoyable way, it’s Sheldon and Wolowitz sniping at each other over who’s truly contributing to science.

    There’s always a tension between the more conceptual and the more pragmatic, and depending on where you come from, it can sometimes be hard to see the merit in the other side’s pov. But taken together, it’s our heritage and one of the truly great things about the West.

    To steelman the other side here a little, there are plenty of so-designated high artists and their fans who appreciate the beauty of manufactured objects, as things in themselves. Even the stuff we here all love. So we shouldn’t necessarily suspect the worst just b/c someone likes brutalism or whatever.

    Salvatore Scarpitta comes immediately to mind – he has pieces that are just restored midget race cars, as he perceived their beauty in how extreme outlandishness (the conceptual) was put in service of winning races (the pragmatic).

      1. Pretty sure they’re saying that Western philosophical ideas are the underpinning of the division between high and low art common to popular art criticism. And that they’d agree with you about the value of Eastern art, culture and architecture but since that division isn’t so prominent in those cultures as it is in those of European origin they didn’t feel the need to mention them.

        Did you really read that whole comment and think it was some Western Civ chauvinist screed?

        1. If that last part seemed confrontational it was unintended and I apologize. I do understand the need to be on guard against that sort of thing, especially nowadays, but I really don’t think that the OP was implying any sort of superiority just that the argument itself is to a large extent unique to modern Western societies.

  6. I have a mental model that splits nice objects into Art and Craft. For me to call something art it is almost required that fine motor control of a human is required in its creation. So the freehand sketch the car designer originally makes is art. Replication of that in clay is art. Replication of that in metal by stamping presses is craft. So no assemblages of crafts by other crafting techniques can ever be art. Sorry.
    Hand-shaped vehicles bodies? Mostly art, sometimes craft.
    Welding? Sometimes art, mostly craft.
    Machining? Sometimes art, mostly craft.
    Sewing? Sometimes art, mostly craft.
    I think you see where I’m going. A nice car is not art unless created partially by artistic methods. A shark in a tank is most likely not art either.

    1. It’s far more accurate to say that craft is what you make with your hands. A print of a great painting is art, any faithful reproduction of the idea that came from a human mind attached to a human heart is art. Art isn’t the object itself, or the method of its creation (aka the craft), but the conveyance of the author’s emotion or meaning into the mind of the observer. A DVD of Citizen Kane is art, a paperback copy of Brave New World is art, an MP3 file of Bach is art, and a brand new Hyundai Elantra N, fresh off the assembly line where machines stamped and welded and glued it together, is art. The machines involved in the building and distribution of all of these things could neither conceive nor put in motion the production of art without a human who thinks and feels and commands the machines to spread the word. A pen is a machine, a chisel is a machine, and so is a stamping press.

    2. So, if a machine is programmed to exactly replicate famous paintings, to the point they are indistinguishable from the original, you would stand by this internal gatekeeping that one of the identical items you’ve been presented with is art and the other is a craft?

      By your definition, there has never been a photograph that qualifies as art.

      1. Yep. Mechanical reproduction is never art. Only the original. Doesn’t prevent the expansion of the enjoyment of the original by mechanical reproduction. Look at the market for reproductions in all art forms. I left some weasel words in there to cover things like Photography. Deft handling of the equipment and a refined sense of what you want to capture in a scene are what separate art from snapshot. So there is room for art in photography apart from my original description. Also post-shot manipulation can be art as well by my above criteria.

  7. I prefer OG Ghia to the Type 34.
    I spent sooo many years trying to track down a copy of One Night in Bangkok in the 90’s.

    One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
    Not much between despair and ecstasy
    One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
    Can’t be too careful with your company
    I can feel the devil walking next to me
    Siam’s gonna be the witness
    To the ultimate test of cerebral fitness
    This grips me more than would a
    Muddy old river or reclining Buddha
    And thank God I’m only watching the game controlling it
    I don’t see you guys rating
    The kind of mate I’m contemplating
    I’d let you watch, I would invite you
    But the queens we use would not excite you

  8. Reminded of the times the boys on TOP GEAR (I know) got into cars as “theater”. Do you show up at the uptown club (or the awards show) in a hired limo, or in a restored 1959 Borgward Coupe that you drive there yourself? What says more about you as a person of culture? Many people are out-and-among-them more in their cars than in any other “social” setting. They’re wearing a 1,000 pound fashion outfit whether they realize it or not.

  9. It is not just cars,

    Back in 1998, The Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim in NYC was a big hit. A few years later, a History Channel show about motorcycles included a talking head who said that the best thing about the success of the exhibition was that it aggravated art snobs. I agree.

    I am among the least artistic humans to have ever walked the earth, but even I know that a person who does not see artistic merit in an early XKE roadster or a Ferrari 250 GTO or (insert any car you fancy here) has a hole in his/her soul.

    1. I was lucky enough to go to the Art of the Motorcycle in the Guggenheim. It was a fantastic show. So was Speed, Style, and Beauty: Cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection at the Boston MFA. All the rare, uber-expensive cars I dreamed about as a teenager in one gallery.

  10. I studied for my masters in vehicle design at the Royal College of Art. You know who some it’s slightly more famous than me alumni are?

    David Hockney
    Tracey Emin
    Henry Moore
    Barbara Hepworth
    Peter Blake
    Alan Rickman
    Ridley Scott
    Ian Dury
    Asif Kapadia
    Thomas Hetherwick
    Sandra Rhodes.

    Case. Fucking. Closed.

    1. while “art” is a word open to defintion by the user, in my mind it requires some sort of intentional communication. Maybe some don’t get it, but some do. What does any car communicate beside “I go”? “Craft” is a better word, meaning something functional well done in a pleasing way. A chair is not art, though it may be pleasing. Likewise a car. (Of course, the Kia Soul, while sort of ugly, is art. No?)

      1. Cars communicate countless things. The design of a sports car may communicate speed, sexuality, violence, grace, even humility or cuteness, a Ferrari is sexy, a Challenger is threatening, a Miata is friendly. The sounds will be designed to provide a note of joy, anger, ecstasy, Ford’s coyote has a note of exasperation, a threat of violence when idling, and howls in fury when driven purposefully, whereas a BMW N55 purrs along most of the time and sings in exultation when pushed into boost. The dynamics also communicate a feeling, acceleration is an obvious one, but the steering feedback is different in every car, and so is behavior. A dainty lotus will react sharply to everything you do, leading you in a nimble dance on a knife’s edge bringing out any talent you have, it will inspire apprehension, fear, excitement and ultimately pride, whereas a 911 Turbo will overwhelm you with unbelievable capability, allowing you to achieve things you’d never be capable of without such an advanced all-wheel-drive machine, inspiring confidence and power in the driver, an automotive Excalibur.

        The design of a family car will communicate security, solidity, warmth, the impression of a monolith with more mass than it truly carries, more consequence than the machine alone can provide, the engine note will be tuned to provide peace, a sense of a thrumming servile beast that will not betray. The driving dynamics will be likewise engineered to give the driver a sense of stability and control.

        More than that, cars are an incredibly class-conscious art medium. A tuner or muscle car is designed to reflect the working and middle class, a capable and powerful thing that forgoes luxuries in favor of performance in order to surpass the upper-class sports cars, an ode to the struggle of the working person and their ability to still find joy in their utilitarian life. The transformation of a pushrod truck engine into a Corvette is a testament to making the best with what you’ve got, using available brutish tools to achieve the same joy as the upper class’s exotics.

        1. Extremely well put. Every car conveys a message about it’s owner and it’s purpose, whether they or the viewer is conscious of it or not.
          Not only that, cars are a reflection of the times, the circumstances and the people that created them.
          In the same way that some people don’t understand, or want to understand art, that doesn’t mean art doesn’t exist. Some people see cars as an appliance or something to be used, that doesn’t mean that they’re choice of vehicle isn’t an extension of them – it just means they’re not aware or don’t care what it says about them.

          1. My wife doesn’t “get” a 1973 Pontiac Trans Am 455 Super Duty any more than I “get” Jackson Pollock. But you know what? We appreciate each other’s enthusiasms, even when we don’t share them. It makes me happy to see her see something that makes her happy. That means that I can be glad that Jackson Pollock lived and worked, because of the enjoyment his work brings to my wife. I’m grateful for that.

      2. I would argue that an automobile is a much more effective medium for intentional communication than “capital-A-Art.” Cars are designed to be all about communicating things like: “I have a lot of money and I’m not afraid to spend it” or “I spend all my weekends outdoors” or “I want people to think I care about the environment” or “I have a small penis but winning this street race will fix it.”

  11. Well said! The notion that Andy Warhol’s work is art but Raymond Loewy’s isn’t is hogwash. Balderdash. Malarkey, I say.

    And I’d also point out that snobbery within the automotive community is equally tiresome. Derisive or dismissive comments about someone’s car because it’s something you don’t think is “worthy” isn’t helping anybody. There’s a guy on Opposite Lock with a brochure-perfect 1990 Pontiac Sunbird that he takes to shows; for every “Nice car” or “Wow, I haven’t seen one of those in ages,” he gets a “Why’d you waste so much effort on THAT?” or “My mom had one of those, what a piece of shit.”

    As you might guess, I’m in favor of a more egalitarian approach. It’s why I actually enjoy scraping the bottom of the automotive barrel every morning. Keeps us all honest.

      1. Many not so exclusive cars can have amazing artistic value. For example, the gas cap door on my ’79 Alfa Spider was an absolute object of beauty.

        While praising “lesser” vehicles, on the other hand, it’s also hard to ignore high end French cars from the 30’s and not admire them as shear sculpture.

        1. And that’s without even mentioning logos and badges. The chrome script “Thunderbird” emblem on the back of my dad’s 1977 was just terrific. There are divided opinions about such a malaise machine, especially from an art/design perspective (I loved it, y’all can go to hell), but that logo badge was sexy as hell.

          And think of an old-school Jaguar hood ornament. It’s a representation in flowing chrome of what the rest of the car coming at you is about. Or a 1957 Chevy Bel Air, which is pointing ROCKETS at you, from the dawn of the space age. Many of the classic hood ornaments back in the day were an artistic metaphor for the car.

      2. I remember being at the annual exotic car show near me, surrounded by the latest in Italian and German performance and everyone is huddled around this guy showing all the cool features on a Citroen DS19.

    1. I struggle with this myself and am actively trying to be better at it. This is a reason that car communities feel stand-offish and hard to get into.

      I want to foster an environment where anyone who loves cars and wants to be around them feels welcome. I shouldn’t knit-pick aesthetics too much since trends change and my own interests will likely look weird in the future.

      1. Paragraph 1a of my personal philosophy of ‘People is jest people’ is something like,
        I don’t care if you Cruise Classics, drag race, mud bog/rock crawl, carve corners, or just race a lawnmower: we’re all just turning chemicals ( and now electrons ) into noise & fun. All gearheads welcome!

  12. I generally find both artists and engineers to be irritating. Both Torch and David are exceptions to that rule, because they don’t take themselves too seriously and both clearly have a passion for what they do.

  13. I was thinking the art snobs dismiss cars as art because you can’t look down your nose at other people. Then it occurred to me Porsche! Yes they are out all about looking down their noses at others, so art. LOL

  14. Having been involved in the Hot Rod and Street Rod hobby for years and attending shows all over the country, I’ve found that some cars are built as true art, where all of the aesthetics are taken into account and everything looks right. There are many others where they just buy parts or throw whatever at the car but it to get a complete car but things don’t blend well. On my builds, I want everything to look like it was made that way. I spend the time roaming swap meets to find the right vintage elements to go together.

    1. So much this. On some of those custom car shows the owner of the shop calls himself a designer and it gives me an aneurysm. The put zero thought into the overall look and feel of a car and it ends up a no doubt expensive collection of off the shelf billet parts and shiny pieces that just don’t go together. Too many muscle car restomods are over wheeled, because those cars were never designed on 21″ low profiles. And they never bother to correct half assed sixties build quality, with it’s attendant shitty panel gaps and fit. Trust me, real car designers in a studio spend years sweating that stuff.
      Ring Brothers are one of the few companies I’ve seen doing custom builds right.

  15. It always amazes me that some people spend significant chunks of their lives studying art and manage to miss what the whole point of art actually is.

    I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had conversations with people who made bold statements about how they don’t consider something art or how they don’t consider a particular artist as being genuine. These are simply personal opinions, but these people seem to think that having taken an art course or two means they can have the final judgment on whether a particular object is a piece of art or not.

    Of course, appliances can be art. Cars, timepieces, clothing, furniture, etc., all have specific purposes they fill. That doesn’t mean they can’t also be media for art. The world would be a very boring place if we all had the same car, watch, shirt, and couch.

  16. Sigh. I remember when a college classmate who became CEO of a Texas construction company called me to chat and started mentioning that his wine collection had been feature in Wine Spectator magazine. In fact, he said he had a bottle of wine that was once owned by Thomas Jefferson. I told him that was fascinating, but that in our household wine was for consumption and not so much for collecting. For some reason my friend thought I read Wine Spectator. I see this often in second generation wealthies. They inherited a lot of dough and then used that to make even more money. Eventually, your basic material needs are met and then it’s time to plunge some dough into wine, art, real estate, or opera tickets. I like wine and am still fascinated by dogs around a table playing cards on velvet. To each his/her own, I guess.

    1. Art, like wine, is meant for consumption. And whether it has any value, beyond the joy it gave the artist who created it, depends on the consumer. I’ve had $10 bottles of wine that paired perfectly with my meal and left me totally satisfied. I’ve also had overpriced, trendy wines at restaurants that simply didn’t impress me.

      It’s the same with art. Take Jackson Pollock for example. Most people either shrug and admit they don’t get it, or “ooh and ahh” because they think they’re expected to. Personally, I get what he was doing.
      It helps if you know his history and can see his early works to put them in context, but it’s not essential to see the emotion he was putting on his canvas. The bottom line is that I like his work and it doesn’t matter to me if other people don’t.

      To me, if you’re buying a bottle of wine or a painting to impress people, then you’re missing the point. My advice is to go with what you like.

  17. Bah, fuck gatekeepers. Life’s hard enough without shitting on what makes people happy, as long as it’s not hurting anyone.

    That said, no one said you have to like everything. Art can be art and still suck or just not be for you.


    For the record, every art teacher I’ve had has agreed that cars can be art, and encouraged me to draw them in class. Except that one person who said that anything created to serve a purpose other than “be art” can’t be true art, which is bull crap because guess what, some cars are built to be nothing but art and don’t even have functional drivetrains in them. Those meet every little pedantic definition of art, so why can’t cars that actually run be art?

    I’m convinced that anyone who says mechanical things can’t be art is just jealous that they can’t make their art move. Art’s supposed to make you feel things, right? Cars do that, and they do it better than your painting of fruit ever will. Suck it, art snobs! Go drive a Miata and then talk crap.

    1. Call me uncultured, but I ain’t never seen a painting or a sculpture that touched my soul as deeply as throttle blips coming from a big-block V8 or screaming straight 6 inside a truly gorgeous car. Rembrandt WISHED he could have such an effect.

  19. “what’s so funny about the pediments at the Palazzo del Te.”

    So, uh, what is it? I clicked the link expecting to see a row a phalluses (phalli? And why did I click on a link with those expections?), but they don’t look any more phallic than any other column-shaped object.

  20. This.

    This is spot on. And it doesn’t apply to just cars, it applies to everything. People tend to forget that you are free to like or dislike anything you want, but you really can’t deny what it is.

    For example, music. I’m not a fan of rap, new country, new pop (the over-produced, heavily auto-tuned stuff), etc., but I’ll never deny that it’s art. Same with architecture, there’s several architectural styles I don’t care for, but they’re still works of art.

    I happen to own a car that I think is pure art. But, believe it or not, there’s cars I don’t like or care about. I’m not into the whole lowrider scene (and I live in the birthplace of the lowrider!), or even American Muscle cars, but I certainly have respect for those, they are art.

    People free to have their own opinions of art, they just shouldn’t deny that it’s art, regardless of what they think about it.

  21. Art exists to please the artist first.

    That doesn’t imply that it’s any good/useful to anyone else.

    Most of the things on your list are of no use to me. Except for cars.

  22. That picture of Martin Overington filling his old open supercharged Bentley because he’s towing his Bentley Continental GT3 to Silverstone IS art. That’s a litmus test for me: if someone can’t see that beauty, they’re a philistine. Or a Bentley Speed6. A Bugatti Type 34 race car-preferably with mud & rubber bits still adhering.


  23. When forced to share time and general location with the type of bufunery that set Torch off today, I generally drive the conversational bus off the fucking cliff:
    “So you’re saying your art is bigger than mine? Ooohhh, let’s measure dicks next!”
    I refuse to pretend either is less churlish or should be more socially acceptable.

  24. I’ve had this same discussion about where art and cars intersect. I would argue that Street Rods are perhaps the highest form of folk art on the planet.

    I’m thinking mostly about the folks who have a vision for what they want to build and then made it happen in their own garage with sweat, creativity, and craftsmanship, usually over the course of several years.

    When crazy good builds show up at car shows, usually there is a story behind them that’s damn interesting and poignant if you care to ask a question or two.

    1. I think that even having the term “Folk Art” is demeaning to the people who make heart-stoppingly beautiful works, but do it in a medium that isn’t one of the “sanctioned” forms of “High Art.”

  25. It’s a bogus argument from pretentious, ignorant people who are probably failed or wannabe artists. Most of what is considered classic art—the kind of stuff considered to be “real art” even by the dorks who unoriginally proclaim that their kid could do better in reference to some modern art—was made by commission. It could be argued that it wasn’t expression as much as income earning endeavor, which isn’t a great distance from the industrial arts. Which brings me further, in that many of what are widely considered respected art periods or styles today were at their birth considered not to be “real art” until appreciated by later generations. We may all have our particular preferences, but to dismiss an entire industry or movement out of turn or not be able to appreciate the artistry in something even if it weren’t to the taste of the experiencer says more about their ignorance, narrow vision, and perhaps lack of their own opinion than it is a statement of the works in question’s qualifications as valid works of art.

    1. Nailed it.

      My mother still talks about how she doesn’t get what the big deal was with Picasso because she can’t even tell what most of the stuff he painted is supposed to be. In her mind, he was a man who couldn’t paint.

      Of course, his natural talent was recognized when he was still a child and his painterly skills were actually excellent. He was classically trained in Spain and could paint you a spot-on copy of a Velázquez on demand. But his real genius was reinterpreting styles, putting his own spin on them, and then creating his own.

  26. I have a bachelor’s degree in music. I went to college with, and took classes from, the music equivalent of “Wes’s friends.” Some would sneer at the suggestion that Charlie Parker or Eddie Van Halen were as revolutionary, influential, and sublimely gifted as Stravinsky or Beethoven. The real problem is, I get Stravinsky and Beethoven. They didn’t get Bird and Eddie. “The conservatory” is full of great players, but astonishingly light on musicians. Artists. Go to YouTube and find a video of Stewart Copeland of The Police, by now an accomplished film composer, called “There Are Two Types Of Musicians,” where he brilliantly explains the difference. The whizz kid who can sightread any piece of music you put in front of him? He’s brilliant, but yet, “that kid will never rock.”

    Wes, you’re right, and they are not only wrong, but they are insufferable pricks. Tell them that until they make as much money as Grandma Moses, they can stuff it.

    1. Money? MONEY?! Why, you… you… PHILISTINE!!! Artists are supposed to starve, dammit. How else will we know how committed they are to their art? /s, if it ain’t clear. I agree with you 100% on all counts. In some circles, playing the blues exists on approximately the same plane as needlepoint. Having spent most of my life playing mostly that kind of music, I say, “Thbbbbtttt.” And my classical music friends have almost uniformly told me they enjoy my playing, so there. And my vocal coach is both a jazz and opera singer, so there’s that, as well.

  27. Architectural Digest all about money and celebrities. Architectural Record is the real deal.

    I don’t consider myself a snob and love 3/4 midget racing almost as by much as F1 (but love vintage racing the most) but Architectural Digest is just too pretentious , sort of like comparing Robb Report to Rodder’s Journal.

    BTW, Rodder’s Journal is *serious* about cars as art. That magazine is so beautiful it could be about push mowers and still be the best thing ever.

    1. Professional in an allied built environment here, and came to say this. Architectural Digest is basically furniture porn for the dress-entirely-in-black cohort of interior decorator wannabes. Imagine a “car” magazine printed on glossy paper that’s nothing but photos of Recaro seats, and you’ll get the idea. Granted, the folks behind The Autopian might actually like a magazine about car seats, but you’ll probably be disappointed that it’ll never feature the bench seat of a municipal fleet model ’92 F-150, just like Architectural Digest will never show a This End Up sofa in the basement rec room of a 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath, 2,150 square foot Ryan center hall Colonial in Lancaster, New York.

      By the way, architects have moved on to Volvo and Audi. Urban planners — the 98% that aren’t Generation Y ban-all-cars types — favor EVs from any brand, and anything from Subaru. Landscape architects like beater trucks, old Volvos, and late model Pruises.

  28. Should mention that Claes Oldenburg died on July 18, the day before yesterday.
    As I know the cause of death has not been listed as seeing himself in a car blog.

    There is some pretty big obvious overlap between the art world and the car world.

    I would posit that all cars are art, however just like those beige color field paintings in waiting rooms and hotel hallways some of them are bad art. Not that there is anything wrong with that, bad art is art too and has its reasons.

    You know a car art / art car series would be a fine thing for this site.

  29. There are some aspects of motor culture, that attract stupidity. So some snobby people, who has no interest in cars, can’t see the difference between a concuors exhibition and an illegal street race gathering. They just see it all as rather stupid.

    At our local art exhibitions, I mean classic car gatherings, we experience problems with muscle/”super” car owners showing off their cars’ superior power with burnouts and loud exhausts, which annoys neighbors and could lead to the whole thing getting shut down by authorities.
    The fine game of football/soccer experience some of the same issues: Ball handling and team tactics connaiseurs just want to enjoy the game, but hoards of beer spilling shouting short fused crowds see it as their place too.

    I guess you could make some pie charts or graphs to show, when something is no longer generally percieved as art. If the potential content pile gets low some day, do an article on that 🙂

  30. “But what about the idea that cars are “products” or things designed for non-artistic use?”

    Hell, they want to argue that, how about the fact that so much of modern art (and even non-modern art) is a money laundering scheme and a tool used to invest money?
    If a painting is bought for $15 million and then immediately put in a vault and never looked at, is it actually a painting or is it a score card?

  31. Good article Torch!

    I would go on to add that, in my opinion, art is merely the recognition / installation of beauty in an object.

    And my favorite form of art (outside of cars) is probably vintage machinery. Think turn of the century 1800-1900’s stuff. The old cast/wrought iron forms have some much beauty deliberately engineered into them and we miss this with current machines. Modern machines, whether consumer grade or industrial, seem to ascribe to function above all else (unless you look at power tools, in which case they’re designed to look like toys). Which is honorable in itself but it misses a lot of beauty that could be in our day to day lives.

    I think cars are one of the few machines/tools remaining where designers deliberately try to make them beautiful (despite GM & BMW’s best efforts).

    1. The company I work at has a machine from 1956 and a later one from the 70s I think. There is next to no sheet metal on the first, even access panels are cast. there are very few hard angles on it.
      the later one is mostly covered in sheet metal and bent to shape. they’re a good example of even industrial machinery becoming more utilitarian over time. Compared to our modern equipment which are all boxes they’re both art.
      And wildly unsafe.

  32. I find, personally, more artistic merit in older stuff and in peoples vehicles that they build or modify themselves. Where there is an expression of their persona or style. A lot of modern cars (looking at your Toyota) are kind of appliances because they’re built from focus groups and market research.

    1. Ugh, need an edit button. It’s supposed to say ‘you Toyota’, not ‘your Toyota’ because now I look like I’m giving Torchinsky a hard time about a vehicle he doesn’t even own.

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