In Matters Of Taste There Can Be No Dispute
De gustibus non est disputandum
In matters of taste, there can be no dispute
Taste (sociology) "...an individual's personal and cultural patterns of choice and preference."
Thus sayeth the Wiki on it.
If the ideas of aesthetics and beauty are purely subjective, and one opinion is as good as another, is there a standard, or even method by which creative products can be assessed in terms of quality? When someone says, "This is a good book," basing this judgement solely on their personal reaction to having read it, does this make it a good book? If one book sells a million copies, but another sells only a dozen, does that sales superiority in and of itself make the million-selling book a better book than the only-a-dozen sales book? Furthermore, if there is no basis for such judgement, and there is no standard for quality, what is the point of an art, writing, dance or music education? Why bother if any expression anyone does with any art medium is defined as art, with no standard of whether it's good art, or poor art?
This isn't to set-up a straw man argument here. This idea is honestly perplexing that there can be no quality of art, and just any expression will fit the definition of art. Most notably in the connection between Antonio Soliare and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart what was it about the work of one that rose so high above the work of the other? Why do the strains (as demonstrated so well in the cinema Amadeus) of Mozart's work leap to the mind in immediate recognition, while those of Salieri ring as anonymous and unfamiliar? Both men were quite successful. Professionally, Salieri was more successful than Mozart, even teaching Beethoven. Yet, Mozart's work has been so propagated people are familiar with its melodies without knowing they're listening to the fabled Amadeus.
A similar phenomena surrounded the actress Clara Bow. She was famously called "The It Girl." Why? Because in describing her appeal on the screen a producer once said, "I don't know what it is, but she has it." What is "it" that she had? This alludes to what in the human psyche is an undeniable experience yet one which defies verbal description - words cannot say. Do the artists and their work whose reputations have lasted (some) for centuries have this "it" as well?
Picasso once said of sculpture that the perfect sculpture, if you pour water onto it from the top, it will cascade down and cover every surface. In two-dimensional design instruction, required for any fine arts degree, it is said a good composition has an entry point for the eye, then the composition leads the eye to every part of the work in succession. However, in three-dimensional art (such as sculpture) and two-dimensional art (such as painting, print-making and the various drawing media) as well as in the literary arts, a concept of the "finished work" is stressed; the completed piece.
Along with that is the concept of the "successful" piece. This isn't the standard, commercially-successful concept. This concept predates capitalism by many centuries. Does the work of art accomplish what the artist intended? If so, it is successful. This might be why at the very least an education in art history might be essential. Art, along with man, has developed over the thousands of years of its existence. Regardless of philosophical definitions and parameters, humans have demonstrated over their entire history a preference for art of quality. Humankind has elevated to heroic stature their most celebrated artists, a practice which continues in modern times. There must be a standard humankind has expected to be met, or why wouldn't every artist be so celebrated simply for the fact they were artists; or no artist?
In discussing this issue, should artists recuse themselves for bias? Wouldn't it be self-defeating for an artist to declare certain qualities of art demonstrate poor craftsmanship should this artist himself or herself, employ these qualities? Or, perhaps the reverse, championing the same qualities for the mere fact they are the ones the same artists might employ? Should that be the case, is it possible for people outside the field to set themselves up as legitimate critics whose opinion on matters of art quality on the face of them should be taken as factual?
A writer in the so-called "horror genre" known best for work in the late twentieth century which sold notably well and were as a matter of course turned into a string of movies with more or less monetary success as well actually said of his own work he thought it was of poor quality and didn't understand its commercial appeal. Yet, he made money doing it, and it had become his job so he continued to do it despite his opinion of his own "work." Was this false humility? Was this an attempt to drum up sympathy? He later recanted, leaving society with two views of his work - both his. Which is true? Or, is it again another reason why artists should recuse themselves in discussing art quality? Maybe at the least artists should differentiate between their personal tastes and knowing what good art is, as opposed to bad art.
A Nashville guitar player was asked if he could read music. "Not enough to hurt my pickin'," was his reply. He would seem to say being formally educated in music would disqualify him from playing the sort of music he played, presumably country music or another form of folk music. However, in that response is another more hidden view, which is also in what the producer said about Ms. Bow. "I know it when I see it," or "I know it when I hear it." Strangely enough this is what the U.S. Supreme Court Justices said about pornography and what appeals to the "prurient interests", sending them into frequent private viewings of film accused of being pornography in attempts to see it so they'd know it, and could therefore render a legal judgement about its Constitutionality. Its Constitutionality of course determines if it enjoys the protection of free speech under the law.
By its own existence the concept of "free speech under the law" declares that society has a right to make judgements about the nature and quality of items of expression. Not only has society granted itself the right to declare certain expressions illegal, and therefore not permissible, it also reserves the right to fine or imprison creators of some expressions. This certainly is evidence that humankind in the main doesn't accept all expression as art, regardless of the declared intent of the one expressing. However, does the commercial success of even items the Supreme Court would deny protection under the law circumvent that proscription, as it is evidence of a societal vote for acceptance? This then could be seen as the same as the author of a recent set of books dealing with a child's wizard's school realizing record monetary success, might use that success alone as justification for her entry into history as a "great author of literature."
What can be said is, to put it lightly, a lot of time and effort has gone into creating culture of stature when comparing it to the culture of old. Artists and humankind itself has occupied themselves with assuring this cultural development is alive and continuing. There must be a goal in mind. There must be a way to tell if a culture's spinning its wheels, rolling backward, or moving on down the line. Right?
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