The Bullshit Artists

“It’s always been like this, but the magnitude of everything makes it different,” Mr. Storr said. “The art world really was a lot smaller within my relatively recent memory. We’re just talking about tons and tons of people out there, playing. And your chances of bumping into the less inspired ones have increased exponentially.”

Mr. Storr said he tries to have a sense of humor when he catches people talking about things they don’t actually know anything about—“It’s a kind of intellectual vaudeville—a really good bullshitter is admirable and fun to listen to,” he said—but nevertheless laments the fact that vocabulary once associated with genuinely rigorous intellectual work is today so often mangled by individuals unfamiliar with its origins.

“There was a time when some serious thought that later got reduced to catchphrases nonetheless was serious, and nonetheless did convey something about the art,” Mr. Storr said. “The turning of ideas into pitches, so to speak, was at the cost of ideas. We lost some good ideas because they got turned into spiels.”

Perhaps the issue is that the threshold for what qualifies as an idea in the art world is just too low. How else to explain Antony Gormley telling The New York Times recently that his public art project, currently on view around the Flatiron district, “has to do with questioning both the status of art and the nature of our built environment”? Or the Whitney publishing a catalog essay about the 2010 Biennial that describes the works included in the show as “interrogating … gaps and distortions” in history “while also reimagining personal images or memories”?

In Mr. Gioni’s view, such vague and abstract language is and always has been so common in the art world because works of art are never meant to be understood or interpreted in any one way. Abstract language allows everyone to think what they want to think.

“Good artists, they are not faking it—they are making it up,” he said. “The problem is not that somebody might be faking it—the problem is, can they fake it to the point that it becomes real?”

“I think it’s also interesting to think about silence,” Mr. Gioni added.

The Bullshit Artists