This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. A regular contributing writer for FineArtViews, Carolyn’s alter ego, This Woman Writes, publishes lifestyle articles in online and in print newspapers and on her blog site. The co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art with her painter husband Steve, Carolyn is the author of Grammar Despair: Quick simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” and the money saving book, Live Happily on Less.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I mean, the thing is big, it blunders about, and no matter how graciously you sit in your chair and sip your tea, you can’t avoid noticing the, um, smell, not to mention the sound of tinkling glass and breaking crockery:
1) Art is subjective, and yes, its beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
2) Just because art is subjective, does not mean that it does not have objective qualities that enable us to pass judgment upon it.
3) Because of these objective qualities, it is possible to call some art “good,” and some art “bad.” In other words, not all art is good.
I’d like to take that last sentence and embroider it, in five-inch high letters, and present a plaque of this to every person on the planet so that
1) We can break the stranglehold of the nebulous Art Establishment in dictating to the rest of the world what constitutes good art
2) We can encourage people to look at art in as much of an objective manner as a subjective, and if the painting’s central figure, a princess, has a face that looks like King Kong’s, we can say, “That artist needs to work a bit on his treatment of the human face,” as opposed to,
“That artist’s style incorporates a highly developed sensitivity to Simian features.”
Who am I to say what is good art or not?
I’ve heard that one before, more than once, and people say it about more than art:
Who am I to have any opinion about the Theory of Evolution?
Who am I to say anything about politics or economics?
Who am I to comment on theological issues? (You can read my take on that at Who are YOU, to speak for the LORD? a question I get asked on an itinerant basis; fair warning: the article has to do with Christianity)
So the first thing about getting the elephant out of the kitchen involves asking the right questions, or, in this case, not asking the wrong question -- which is, Who are YOU to have a thought or opinion about anything at all?
As far as art goes, and whether or not the piece you’re looking at is good, bad, ugly, or in between, the answer is this:
You are an artist.
You may not be a famous artist; you may not be an advanced artist; you may not be the artist you hope to become someday; you may or may not have a university degree telling you that you are an artist; you may not be able to draw a face that does not disturbingly look like King Kong. Whatever your medium, regardless of how long you’ve been doing it, irrespective of how much money you make at it,
So you have a right, as an artist, to look at a piece of art -- yours or somebody else’s, a master’s or an amateur’s, a dead person’s or a breathing one’s -- and pass objective judgment upon it based upon your knowledge, skill, background, analysis, and just plain like or dislike. As a mature person, you know this latter isn’t the reason why a piece is “good” or “bad,” because a skilled artist can look at various styles and interpretations and analyze them within the confines of their parameters.
This skilled artist can also be free to say things like, “I don’t like this style. I think that too many people do it poorly and pass it off as good art.”
or, “The perspective of this work is off. The artist can say that she intended to make it this way, but if so, it was poor judgment.”
When you feel tempted to stop yourself by saying, “Who am I to pass judgment on a work of art?” ask yourself, “Who are the people, after all, who pass all this judgment on art? Who are the critics? Who are the magazine editors? Who composes the jurying panel of the shows and art societies?”
Most of the time, you don’t know. And yet you accept that what they say is right, more right, say, than what you would think.
Why is this important? Join me next time for The Pride and Prejudice of the Arts