Objectivity in aesthetics

by chaotarroo

I’m a pedant when it comes to philosophy of aesthetic appreciation and takes offense at anyone who claims that all works of art can only be subjectively appreciated. In other words, adamant claims that there is no inherent value in all artworks and their values can only be determined subjectively. (Eg, I love Transfomers because it is an awesome movie. My experience with it is a fantastic one and since this is my personal opinion it cannot be wrong because on whether a movie is good or bad, it is entirely subjective. To say that my personal opinion is wrong, you are a bigot.) These claims are not only ill informed but reductionistic. No matter the form of art, as long it can be appreciated aesthetically, there must be objective guidelines in determining it’s value. Although these guidelines may be yield arbitrarily, it does not defeat the function of it as a authoritative yardstick. In simple words, an artwork cannot be masterful simply because it’s enjoyed by many and it cannot be bad simply because it brings no enjoyment(although it does affect it’s overall aesthetic). More needs to be considered. From the paintings of Picasso to the music of Mozart to a plate of risotto spiced up by Wolfgang Puck, their works can only be valued subjectively through objective guidelines.

The guidelines can be streamlined into the areas of craft, creativity and experience, and their names alone should give you a pretty good idea on how they work. Depending on the form of artwork, these guidelines weigh differently in deciding the artwork’s aesthetic value and I will be exemplifying them herein, soon.

Craft – The skill-sets involved in making the art itself and the difficulty in executing it. Nothing too fancy about this point. On artworks such as movies and food, craft is often overlooked but it is the very essence of works like micro sculpting. The art is all in the difficulty of making the artwork itself and naturally dictates it’s aesthetic value. In this sense, works as such is artful mostly because their audience is able to understand the precision in making it, on whether it possess other aesthetic qualities like inherent beauty is irrelevant(or comes much later on). In surreal paintings and even orchestral classical music, craft is greatly emphasized as well.

Creativity – Or originality as some would put it to be. The tremendous creativity energy that’s needed in making the art. Creativity is most valued in Avant-garde works because well, as the name would suggest, that is the main pursuit of the Avant-garde “movement”. Or more relevantly to everyone, screen writing. The conception of every great movie depends on the script and the conception of every great script depends on one single idea, the craft of writing it can come later. Think about movies like “Moon”, “Inception” or “The sixth sense”, the brilliance of these movies does not come foremost from the craft of writing witty dialogues or memorable scenes but in one single idea that has never been discovered,(or discovered well enough) and this idea owes to the pails of creative juice that writers had sacrificed before the script’s conceptualization.

Experience – So here we are at the root of problem, the only criteria that most people use to measure the aesthetic value of an artwork. And since their experience with art are so vastly different, they dismiss the possibility of art having an objective value and claim that it can only be subjectively appreciated. I love movies, my knowledge of movies is deeper than all other forms of art and I will be using movies to support on how can our experience alone be an inaccurate representation of the artwork’s value.

Before the question can be answered it’s important to ask ourselves what exactly is art, how do we enjoy art? Most artwork(in fact, maybe all artworks, but I am just being conservative here) are enjoyed through reflections of ourselves. That is to say that we all experience art differently because we are all different. The things we’ve experienced in life is different and these “different things” will inevitably influence the way we look at a piece of art, in short, our relationship with the piece of art. And this “relationship” will invariably dictate our experience with it. (Eg. Guys love transformers and because guys being guys are testosterone driven oafishes that love explosions, giant robots and sexy girls and transformers happens to be one of their favourtie childhood cartoons. So with all these alluring things combined, their experience with the movie becomes a marvelous one and they think of it as the greatest thing ever flashed on screen. But girls having led a different life does not share the same sentiment, nurtured out of cartoons such as winx club or totally spies or god knows what do girls watch these days, giant robots saving the day is just most flavorless to them. Their “relationship” with the movie is a bland one resulting in a bad experience.)(Eg2. John loves rock music because he grew up listening to his Dad’s cassette of Queen, Joy Division and some other old bands that pretentious people claim they love. He’s familiar with the genre and it’s a rule of thumb in behavioral economics that familiarity breeds liking. John dislikes classical because the genre is wildly foreign to him. But as much as John’s experience with classical music is a tormenting one, he cannot ignore the craft and creative juice that Mozart bled in constructing Symphony 25(or something). And these are the objective, inherent and indispensable aesthetic value to Mozart’s art.) Having rant what I just did, since our experience is but a reflection of our relationship with the artwork, this alone cannot be used to determine how good or bad an artwork is. And if you stubbornly attempt to, in the face of patternless statistic, the conclusion of all artworks bearing no inherent aesthetic value will be reached.

But I am hardly saying that since our experience with art are all so different they must be erroneous, that’s just downright silly. Experience cannot be wrong or right. It is only “wrong” to use our experience alone in finding out the aesthetic value of an artwork. Besides, the beauty of art comes from it’s capabilities to elicit a certain emotion out of it’s audience. To completely ignore what we feel towards the artwork and apply the other two guidelines mentioned above is silly.

To summarize my hefty chunk of words, art isn’t completely subjective but at the same time, no definite value exist in all artworks since these guidelines can only be used arbitrarily(Eg. Who is to determine if the craft of surreal painting or micro sculpting is more technical since the skill-sets involved are entirely differently. But the craft in both needs to be considered and respected which strongly influences the aesthetic value of an artwork). But it is only when we conflate and consider the three objective guidelines cogently(and we should), can the value of art be more discernible and objective.