Because you read Current Affairs, you consider yourself an uncommonly refined and sophisticated individual. But are you really? Anyone can purchase a subscription. Whether you know anything about high culture is a separate question. If you truly aspire to be a capital-I Intellectual, you’ll need more than just exceptionally good taste in print periodicals. You’ll need to know about Contemporary Art. Otherwise, you may find yourself empty-handed when called on to provide trenchant musings at a cocktail evening, or when asked what you are thinking as you stroke your chin in a gallery. Here, then, is the official Current Affairs test: can you appreciate art? Correctly interpret each painting and add up your score.  

What effect is created by the brushwork in this painting?

1. The lyrical brushwork recalls East Asian calligraphy.

2. The harsh brush-strokes emphasize masculinity, while the bold colors highlight the artist’s politically-charged narrative.

3. The fervent, erratic brush-strokes express the feelings evoked by nature.

4. The languid brushwork is juxtaposed with rigorous, militaristic compositional thrust.

What is the role of the purple field in this painting?

1. The verticality of the field echoes the position of the viewer, reminding him that he is currently standing in front of a painting.

2. A flat surface, the heavily-saturated purple field represents nothing but itself, signifying an end to illusionism in visual art.

3. The monochromatic purple panel is endlessly deep, a depiction of multidimensional/infinite space.

4. It is John F. Kennedy.

What is the correct title for this work?

1. Audiovisual Media Authority

2. Durisol No. 45

3. Ušumgallu and the Seven Sages

4. Run Like Hell

This image is…

1. Playful

2. Unsettling

3. Intimate

4. Hyperbolic

What is the central subject of this painting?

1. The Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996)

2. The act of seeing

3. Nothing. The canvas faces outward, towards us, not to deliver a message, but to display an exemplary quality: independence.

4. Madness

The play between light and dark in this picture…

1. … is a deliberate evocation of the Renaissance chiaroscuro technique.

2. … reflects the artist’s interest in myth and the primitive unconscious.

3. … attempts to situate forms in space by means of shifts in value, using light against dark and dark against light to convey volume.

4. … is a pseudo-painterly conceit that detracts from the fullness and purity of color.


Add together the numbers from your answers to determine your intellectual worth.

6-11: We are humbled. You have an artist’s soul—perhaps even an art critic’s soul. Your sensitivity to all that is seen and unseen in these works is truly profound. The existence of rare luminaries such as yourself makes the obscene carnival of this material universe almost endurable.

12-20: Though your interpretations are a mite superficial, your impressions are basically sound. We suspect that you are hampered by two equally-misguided instincts: the empty reverence for mere “cleverness” and the meaningless quest for “truth.” You must learn to see, simply: to perceive the quidditas and/or haecceitas of each form individually, and in relation to other forms. This is only a matter of practice. For example, do not ask yourself, what is that color? Ask yourself, color (is it)?

21: Your smug, self-satisfied philistinism is appalling. It stinks of anti-intellectualism. In these dark times when cosmopolitan internationalism and the transatlantic liberal tradition is under attack on all sides, your sneering attitude towards the arts consigns you to the same infamous ranks as the thugs who burned down the Library of Alexandria. No doubt you are the sort of subhuman dreg who lurches through galleries screaming, “My ten-year-old could have painted that Basquiat!” It is probable—even certain—that, on more than one occasion, you have enlisted a friend to photograph you in a public sculpture garden while you pretended that various unusually-shaped installations were your penis. You are a disgrace to this magazine and to this country. The editors are placing a temporary hold on all future deliveries of your subscription. If you wish to receive any further issues of Current Affairs, you must send us a five-page typewritten letter describing how much you admire the works of Ellsworth Kelly.

22-24: We have high hopes for you. Though your answers are almost universally incorrect, we are convinced that the fault is not in your eye, but simply in your education. A thorough background in both classical and contemporary art is necessary to understand the thematic complexity and self-referential wit of these pieces. Our personal feeling is that there is no better way to begin to understand modern art than by owning a piece of it yourself. For a mere $84.2 million, you can purchase a Barnett Newman for your very own living room. Watch your friends’ faces when you tell them how much you paid for it, and you will begin to understand the ineffable awe that a truly majestic work of art can inspire.