‘Nocturne in Black & Gold: The Falling Rocket’ – James McNeill Whistler
So how’s that work for you then? How is this, a picture of a spent firework, different to your average “abstract” pseudo-art which smears paint randomly across a canvas? Certainly, Whistler got it in the neck at the time he exhibited this (1877) from contemporaries like Ruskin, who accused him of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”
But compare this, as Ruskin couldn’t do, to the likes of Jackson Pollock around eighty years later, who really did fling pots of paint in the public’s face. In contrast to Pollock’s random profligacy with paint, Whistler depicts here a real scene (a fireworks display over the Thames), from which he selects a moment to stylise in paint (a falling rocket!) – and in that choice lies the difference between art and bullshit.
Think about why that matters.