Different strokes, different folks

My first assignment in an art class last semester asked us to answer a rather frustrating question. Essentially, it asked whether a subjective view of artwork was more or less important than an objective one. As the professor later elaborated, I learned that they were amazed by how their students consistently didn’t want to categorize art as either good or bad, writing instead that the value or artwork is, ultimately, subjective.

As a very creative person, I have a very vested interest in this topic. And I take issue with this question for several reasons, most notably because it undermines itself and the subject about which it is inquiring.

For one thing, art isn’t, nor should it ever be, a competition. To me, a work of art should be considered based on whether you find it interesting or compelling, whether it is able to express a particular sentiment or capture a moment in time, whether it inspires you or makes lightbulbs go off in your head and, of course, whether you find something beautiful or pleasing. Those things matter to me. I can’t imagine the mindset that looks at art just to compare it with the work of others. But then again, and it’s kind of to my point, this is about my subjective experience.

I suppose one issue is that people often confuse the refinement of one’s taste and ability to discriminate between different techniques and compositions with this supposed need to judge art. This professor implied that if you educated yourself about the artist’s craft and truly studied art, you would then awaken some dormant inner critic that would become harder and harder to satisfy. Personally, I think that promotes snobbery. It’s always nice to gain a new perspective and insight, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to know the difficulty involved in a certain technique, allowing you to notice an artist’s skill. But, at the end of the day, whether or not you know that an artist had employed impasto or chiaroscuro, it’s not going to change the fact that you dislike it or find it beautiful, nor should it. To be perfectly honest, I hesitate to even address this topic because I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to dictate – and this isn’t my intention – how you should appreciate art.

It is not fair to say, nor is it in the remit of any person to argue, no matter how educated they are, that certain criteria must be established and satisfied for a work of art to be “good.” That’s like saying a work of art must check all the proverbial boxes to be considered good. What’s more, how can you use an ambiguous word like “good” as the main qualifier for something as personal, subjective and sometimes mysterious as art? Since art deals with emotions, ideas, abstractions and all sorts of things, the only evaluative mechanism that I can think is fair is the marketplace of ideas. Then again, I don’t even think that’s necessary; all of this analysis just gets in the way of human expression finding sympathy wherever it may, which, in my view, is all we should ever ask of it and ourselves.