It’s all subjective.
See you in the next Meaningful Monday post!
Just kidding, but also not really because although this is how most conversations about art end up, I think it’s worth exploring the conversation killing statement that “art is subjective.” There is a cold hard truth to it that is way more objective than anybody’s subjective opinion could ever be on any piece of art.
Be it a painting, a film, a novel—hell, even video games—anything put out into the world for our consumption and entertainment is subject to being criticized by the masses, assuming it’s lucky enough to reach that wide of an audience. Otherwise, there will always be that dedicated minority who stumbles upon, and actively seeks out, the more obscure art out there to be subject to their criticism.
In today’s post we will explore what it means to criticize art, to converse about it, and to wrap it all up, what art means to all of us at the end of the day. With Your Write to Live being a proponent for fostering creative expression, I thought it would be a good idea to tackle the potentially darker side of creativity where you put your work out there for all to criticize.
First off, I should note that when I say “art,” it is an all encompassing term that refers to not only paintings, but also films, novels, video games, music, and everything in between. Simply put, art is the creative expression of human skill and imagination.
The function of art is to draw attention to certain aspects of the world and the human condition to its audience. Artists do this by being attentive to nuanced details that we may or may not be aware of in our day to day lives. In turn, they highlight these details in their artwork, thus making us hyperaware of these aspects of life that we may not have otherwise noticed, at least not consciously.
A painting can capture how beautifully the sunlight reflects off the surface of a lake, music can capture the sonic expression of human emotion, and a well told story can demonstrate the complexities of human relationships, as well as our unending drive to strive for what we want to achieve in life.
So then to criticize a piece of art is to criticize the world, the artist, and potentially ourselves because of all the thoughts and feelings it may evoke in us. Some pieces of art speak to us while others may not, and there is an endless amount of factors that can affect our experience with every piece out there.
Maybe the piece doesn’t offer anything new or exciting. Maybe it reveals to us that which we do not want to see. Or better yet, a piece itself has been put together so haphazardly that it is hard to tell what it is trying to convey in the first place.
Whatever the reasons are, every piece of art isn’t for everybody. And how can it be? Even when you try to appeal to a mass audience, there will always be those who prefer the more obscure stuff. And on the flipside, there are some pieces of art that—for better or for worse—are so esoteric that only a minority of people will appreciate, let alone understand it.
Depending on what kind of art appreciator you are, you can be veering off to one extreme to another or finding some kind of healthy balance between the both, but at the end of the day, the popularity of a piece does not reflect as a measure for its quality. And even if a small minority of people love a more obscure piece of art with way more passion combined than the masses simple acceptance of what’s in the mainstream, even that becomes a hard thing to measure.
Because how can you measure the value of art?
We’ve all had this happen before. We bring up a piece of art that we love and someone else agrees, and together you just go off stating all the reasons as to why that piece of art is “so good.” But then comes along some other person who disagrees and says that that piece of art is actually “bad.” Then maybe you all get a little heated and start arguing over the reasons as to why that piece is “good” or “bad.”
Depending on your debate style and skills, these kinds of conversations usually go in one or three possible ways:
- You and the other person endlessly defend your respective opinions and nobody learns anything from anybody.
- You and the other person defend your respective opinions and actually start to see the validity of each other’s opinions, while still maintaining your original stances.
- One of you actually changes the viewpoints of the other and the opposing party concedes to agree with some, if not all, counterarguments.
If you can achieve outcome number three, I definitely applaud you for your passion and logic because if it is so sound that someone else can finally open their eyes to the light, then hot damn is that a gratifying feeling to have.
And while that’s all well and good, you shouldn’t get too ahead of yourself because at the end of the day, these are nothing but subjective opinions that are barely, if at all, grounded in some kind of objective metric that can measure the value of art.
To beat the dead horse, art is still subjective and it I think I figured out the problem to how you can measure the value of art. It’s something you really can’t do, so the better question we should be asking ourselves is, “why does this person like or not like this piece of art?”
It took me a while to realize this, but basically when someone ever says anything is “good,” or “bad,” it’s just shorthand for “I like it,” and “I don’t like it.” Or to go even further if someone isn’t fully enamoured by a piece of art and they like some aspects, while not liking others, then that’s when you begin to develop a more nuanced understanding of art, and by extension life.
Because art and life are a beautiful cacophony of chaos and order, and a strange balancing act between the two. Not everything can be loved or hated to the most extreme level, or at least for not very long, because nothing is so perfect or so imperfect that there is absolutely no bad or good residing within it.
Art is Who We Are
We are perfectly imperfect beings with so many idiosyncrasies about ourselves that only we may ever truly understand within ourselves. Close friends, family members, or even extremely good therapists can definitely try to understand you as much as they can, but at the end of the day, only you know the true meaning of what any piece of art does for you because of your own unique lived experience.
Anyone who tells you that they know you more than you know yourself is really just getting too in love with their own genius in seeing some of your blind spots for you, but they don’t know the whole story or see the whole picture that is you. If anyone ever makes this claim about you, I would suggest you develop some skepticism and learn to know yourself better so you can learn how egregious that claim can be whenever anybody makes it.
You and only you can truly know yourself. It’s not up to anyone else, but you, and the way in which you relate to art is one of the best ways to get a better understanding of yourself. Begin to ask why you are drawn to certain genres, styles, and themes in art, and you’ll quickly learn what you truly value in life.
If you love horror, perhaps you enjoy confronting your fears head on.
If you love romance, perhaps you’re a romantic person in love with the concept of love itself.
If you love fantasy, perhaps you value the courage it takes to embark on an epic adventure.
Whatever your personal preferences are in art, they speak to you because in a way, they also speak for you, expressing all the inner workings of your being in visual, auditory, and conceptual fashion. You can tell a lot about somebody’s psychological make up based on what kind of art they consume, but again only they truly know themselves enough while you on the outside can only speculate so much about them.
And this is why a lot of conversations about art can devolve into petty debates about what’s good and bad, especially your taste in it. I was like this for a long time too where I mistook criticisms of my favourite art as a criticism of myself, just as much as it would be to have my own creative work criticized as well.
Art is Who We Are and it’s no wonder why we take our preferences seriously at times. I’m not in the business of telling you whether or not you should be offended if someone takes a jab at your favourite stuff, in fact there are some people out there who make it a point to make fun of their own favourite stuff, possibly because being full out positive about it might be seen as too fanboy-ish or fangirly.
But honestly, if you’re in love with a piece of art, paint the town with your love for it because art is what makes life more meaningful and definitely way more worth bearing with. It beautifies our lives with its attention to details we otherwise would not notice had artist not take the time to express themselves and embellish those details.