Here's Why You Couldn't Have Made That Famous Painting, Though It Looks Like A 5-Year-Old Did It

"I can do that."

We've all been guilty of going to an art museum, staring at some seemingly simple work on a canvas and saying "I could do that," or "My kid could have done that." 

But could you or a kid really have done it? 

Art curator Sarah Urist Green is here to explain why you probably couldn't have in the latest episode of PBS' weekly video series The Art Assignment.  


1. You probably couldn't have done it, despite it looking so simple to execute.

Green begins by taking us through some seemingly simple artwork done by the likes of Mondrian, who is famous for his block color paintings (above), and Cy Twombly, whose artwork might be chalked up to some scribbles on a canvas, without closer look or analysis. 

But when you think "I could do that," consider if you could actually technically replicate the artwork. Most times, the answer is no. 

On the Mondrian painting above, for example, Green says:  "If you've tried to use oil paints before, you'll know that it can be really tricky to create such smooth lines at a consistent flat application of color. There's also little details, like a line that stops just short of the edge of the canvas that clues you in that no amateur did this." 

2. And even if you could do it, circumstance and context matter...

Green takes the example of artist Félix González-Torres' 1991 piece Untitled (Perfect Lovers) that showcased two store-bought clocks, side-by-side, ticking in sync. While any person could likely set up two clocks in this way, it wouldn't have the same artistic meaning. 

"The title clearly asks you to consider these clocks to be a metaphor for lovers, and how two individuals with hearts beating like the ticking of clocks can be in perfect sync, and then inevitably fall out of sync," explains Green in the PBS video. "The title further suggests that the lovers remain perfect even after they've fallen out of sync." 

She goes on to explain how Torres' personal life, history and timeline informed the piece, giving it extra symbolic and political weight. 

3. You didn't do it.

When all is said and done, you weren't the one that actually had the idea and executed it. 

Green leaves us with this final thought on the matter: 

"It's not that these things don't take skill, they just take different kinds of skill: research, deduction, collaboration, exploration of new materials, radical thought. Just as we value professions other than skilled labor, we should also value work by artists focused, not just on craftmanship, but the effective execution of good ideas. It's the thought they bring to the forum, or have others bring to the forum, but not just the forum itself. " 

Watch the video below to learn even more about why, no, you couldn't have made that piece of art.

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