Abstract Art: A Product of the Untalented, Sold by the Unprincipled to the Utterly Bewildered

Al Capp? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The cartoonist Al Capp was famous for creating the long-running comic strip Li’l Abner. During the 1960s he reportedly described abstract art with the following amusing and acerbic phrase:

A product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.

Today this description could be applied to several products. Is this quotation accurate?

Quote Investigator: Al Capp did make more than one comment of this type. The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in a 1961 newspaper column by Capp who presented a comedic conception of a “Library of Creative Art” in the year 2000, i.e., thirty-nine years in the future.

Capp indicated that contemporary TV commercials would be preserved in the future museum because they embodied “man’s supreme achievement in the realm of wild, impossible fantasy.” However, abstract art works were labeled “incomprehensible messes”, and they would not be present in the museum. The fictional curator stated the following. Boldface has been added to passages below: 1

By excluding their messes from the library the place will look cleaner, and maybe our time will be forgotten as one when the creations of the untalented, the unhealthy, and the unhousebroken were praised by the unearthly and sold by the unprincipled to the totally bewildered.

We’ll all look better in the year 2000 if we retain only the work of artists now called hacks, but who stubbornly kept alive the traditions of Michaelangelo, da Vinci, and Rembrandt.

Although, the museum and its curator were exaggerated satirical devices they did reflect some of the opinions held by Capp.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Abstract Art: A Product of the Untalented, Sold by the Unprincipled to the Utterly Bewildered


  1. 1961 May 4, Boston Globe, Slim Pickin’s in an Art Library: A Sad Commentary On Sick Century by Al Capp, Quote Page 7, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)