Is it possible to make objective judgements of art?

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jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 03:43 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;108720 wrote:
What are "non-objective criteria of truth"



I am thinking along the lines that in pre-modern times, 'The Truth' was by definition 'the Gospel' - as in 'Gospel truth'. So now that standard is no longer applicable in secular society. If you cast about for what might constitute a similar moral compass, it is quite difficult to find. People often use the term 'objective' to indicate 'what is really there'. Of course, in one sense, it is quite true that 'what is really there' is objective, but there are also all of the questions of judgement, about missing pieces of information, interpretation, and so on. Life is usually considerably more complicated than what is simply there in an objective sense.

I suppose philosophy is or should be concerned with this question however with many of the modern schools, there is really not much emphasis on criteria other than via propositional analysis. Perhaps one of the virtues of continental philosophy is to show how most notions of 'objectivity' are really quite subjective in important respects. Maybe that is the most we can hope for.

Perhaps the legal system could provide some examples. There are many cases where complex judgements are required on the basis of disputed facts, conflicting testimony, and so on. In many ways, that is much closer to life than the idea of 'objectivity.'

But I have more questions than answers in this subject. 'Objectivity' seems to me pretty weak, not least because it must be conditional, being one half of a pair of opposites. I would like to think there is a transcendent truth which is neither objective nor subjective, but even if there were, it would belong in a different 'universe of discourse' to that of Western modernism.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 08:23 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;108767 wrote:
I am thinking along the lines that in pre-modern times, 'The Truth' was by definition 'the Gospel' - as in 'Gospel truth'. So now that standard is no longer applicable in secular society. If you cast about for what might constitute a similar moral compass, it is quite difficult to find. People often use the term 'objective' to indicate 'what is really there'. Of course, in one sense, it is quite true that 'what is really there' is objective, but there are also all of the questions of judgement, about missing pieces of information, interpretation, and so on. Life is usually considerably more complicated than what is simply there in an objective sense.

I suppose philosophy is or should be concerned with this question however with many of the modern schools, there is really not much emphasis on criteria other than via propositional analysis. Perhaps one of the virtues of continental philosophy is to show how most notions of 'objectivity' are really quite subjective in important respects. Maybe that is the most we can hope for.

Perhaps the legal system could provide some examples. There are many cases where complex judgements are required on the basis of disputed facts, conflicting testimony, and so on. In many ways, that is much closer to life than the idea of 'objectivity.'

But I have more questions than answers in this subject. 'Objectivity' seems to me pretty weak, not least because it must be conditional, being one half of a pair of opposites. I would like to think there is a transcendent truth which is neither objective nor subjective, but even if there were, it would belong in a different 'universe of discourse' to that of Western modernism.



But the Bible offers objective criteria of the truth. If the Bible says so, then it is true. So the Sun stood still. I just don't think that is a good criterion of truth. But I am not sure about what you are saying.
 
xris
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 01:16 pm
@kennethamy,
An artist places his work for your appraisal. You have to do your best at this request. It does not inspire or have any emotional effect on you. It is well constructed and the formula for a landscape has been adhered to. The foreground is drawn through clever construction into the middle ground. Your eyes rest on a secondary subject and your eyes feel drawn to the distant horizon. The brush work and the palette is of the highest artistic value. Do you merely say i dont like it?
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 03:07 pm
@hue-man,
"Non-objective" criteria of truth are sense-date, consensus, persuasion....

We never touch an unmediated objectivity. See Kant. Also a cultural-conceptual lens "distorts" an already processed "thing-it-itself" and this "thing-in-itself" is just a mental model. We live in a jungle of sense-impressions, language, and mental-models.
 
xris
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 04:02 pm
@Reconstructo,
Objectivity is the ability to recognise art from an impersonal perspective. It does not require the observer or the critic to have a active part in its intrinsic value. Explaining to a blind man the shape of a statue, is acting as a mirror to the value he, the blind man, might imagine. Objective valuation may bring to another a different perspective to a work he previously cast aside as insignificant, it can educate.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 04:05 pm
@hue-man,
But perhaps you will admit that objectivity is an ideal. And an impersonal perspective is only a personal perspective that does its best to negate the idiosyncratic.

As much as we would sometimes like to, we do not escape the distorting lens of our own personality. Or perhaps we do, but this is difficult to prove and a matter of interpretation/ persuasion.
 
xris
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 04:14 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;108961 wrote:
But perhaps you will admit that objectivity is an ideal. And an impersonal perspective is only a personal perspective that does its best to negate the idiosyncratic.

As much as we would sometimes like to, we do not escape the distorting lens of our own personality. Or perhaps we do, but this is difficult to prove and a matter of interpretation/ persuasion.
If it stays within description and explaination, it fulfills the purpose of objectivity. It can still criticise within the bounds of acceptable objectivity. It can not give a definitive value, only explain it from an artisans or historical perspective. For example, explaining the reasoning why an artist might use certain colouring or the hidden meaning behind a symbolic image. Objectivity is essential in gathering the real value of art.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 04:22 pm
@hue-man,
I see what you mean, but I would call it an attempt at objectivity. For how can we see around our prejudices? Each of us are different. We may declare humility and /or objectivity a virtue and strive toward them, but I doubt they are perfectly attained.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 09:03 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;108810 wrote:
But the Bible offers objective criteria of the truth. If the Bible says so, then it is true. So the Sun stood still. I just don't think that is a good criterion of truth. But I am not sure about what you are saying.


Fair enough - I am not sure either, so no wonder it doesn't come across. It is just the difficulty I am having with the word 'objective'.

I think the most trustworthy basis for judgement of an aesthetic, cultural, or philosophical issue is by someone who is learned, critical but disinsterested. 'Disinterested' is almost the same as 'objective' in that, someone who is 'disinterested' by definition is not 'subjective'. Other words might be 'detached' or 'impartial'.

So I suppose that if a highly-respected critic of, say, classical music, about which I have limited knowledge, were to tell me that Mozart was superior to Brahms, and gave reasons for it on technical grounds, then I would say I would value that opinion and would thereafter be inclined to favour that view.

So in a sense, I am arguing for the affirmative - I think there is an objective measure in regards to art, (in some respects anyway - it is very difficult with modern art and popular culture) but I am not convinced that the term 'objective' is the best one to convey the meaning being sought.

Sorry for the circumlocution.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 09:24 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;109050 wrote:
Fair enough - I am not sure either, so no wonder it doesn't come across. It is just the difficulty I am having with the word 'objective'.

I think the most trustworthy basis for judgement of an aesthetic, cultural, or philosophical issue is by someone who is learned, critical but disinsterested. 'Disinterested' is almost the same as 'objective' in that, someone who is 'disinterested' by definition is not 'subjective'. Other words might be 'detached' or 'impartial'.

So I suppose that if a highly-respected critic of, say, classical music, about which I have limited knowledge, were to tell me that Mozart was superior to Brahms, and gave reasons for it on technical grounds, then I would say I would value that opinion and would thereafter be inclined to favour that view.

So in a sense, I am arguing for the affirmative - I think there is an objective measure in regards to art, (in some respects anyway - it is very difficult with modern art and popular culture) but I am not convinced that the term 'objective' is the best one to convey the meaning being sought.

Sorry for the circumlocution.


I suppose that it is possible to be objective about art, as you can about any other matter. That means trying not to be prejudiced, and try to learn as much as you can about the work of art before you make any judgment about it.
 
prothero
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 09:41 pm
@xris,
[QUOTE=xris;108916]An artist places his work for your appraisal. You have to do your best at this request. It does not inspire or have any emotional effect on you. It is well constructed and the formula for a landscape has been adhered to. The foreground is drawn through clever construction into the middle ground. Your eyes rest on a secondary subject and your eyes feel drawn to the distant horizon. The brush work and the palette is of the highest artistic value. Do you merely say i dont like it?[/QUOTE]I think in many ways the response to this is "yes, I do not like it".
A piece of art that has to be objectively analyzed to be appreciated is like a joke that has to be explained, it does not work.

Art is not truth by correspondence to some set of objective criteria.
Art is more truth by consensus, intuitive appeal, the "collective unconsciousness". Great art speaks to some common aspect or truth of human subjective experience.
Now, things that are perceived of as beautiful generally have some objectively measurable features such as symmetry, proportion, etc. but in general the perception is instant and intuitive not the result of objective analysis or measurement. "Blink".

The wider the aesthetic appeal the greater the work. The less objective analysis required for appreciation the greater the work. The value of a work of art is not linked to its objective features in the way that measurement is linked to science. Science is all about objective reality. Art is all about aesthetic appeal, beauty, and subjective experience.
 
xris
 
Reply Tue 8 Dec, 2009 06:15 am
@prothero,
prothero;109061 wrote:
I think in many ways the response to this is "yes, I do not like it".
A piece of art that has to be objectively analyzed to be appreciated is like a joke that has to be explained, it does not work.

Art is not truth by correspondence to some set of objective criteria.
Art is more truth by consensus, intuitive appeal, the "collective unconsciousness". Great art speaks to some common aspect or truth of human subjective experience.
Now, things that are perceived of as beautiful generally have some objectively measurable features such as symmetry, proportion, etc. but in general the perception is instant and intuitive not the result of objective analysis or measurement. "Blink".

The wider the aesthetic appeal the greater the work. The less objective analysis required for appreciation the greater the work. The value of a work of art is not linked to its objective features in the way that measurement is linked to science. Science is all about objective reality. Art is all about aesthetic appeal, beauty, and subjective experience.
You can still give an objective opinion without giving your true subjective feelings. If we all liked or disliked the same works of art then objectivity would be the same as subjective opinion.

I have very little time for most modern art but if someone gives me an objective explanation of its construction then their objective views can change my subjective opinions. Not all works of art need to make you have ecstatic feelings. It is an exercise , objectivity and it can be given.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 07:37 am
@xris,
The critic completes the work of art. (I can't remember where I heard that phrase and google isn't helping me find it.) Once the critic writes down his/her interpretation of a work of art (in a book lets say) that book becomes an objective fact. Other critics think or write down different things and those books also become objective facts. Or completed facts.

We talk about these books as we do other objective things. For example, I can say:
T.S. Eliot wrote that Hamlet was a flawed play because Hamlet had no apparent reason for not acting.
I can also say:
Coleridge wrote that Hamlet did not take action in external reality because his all his active energy was exhausted within his internal intellectual world. Coleridge wrote that Shakespeare intended this to be Hamlet's tragic flaw.
Two conflicting views but the views themselves insofar as they have been put down on paper are objective facts. Eliot did write that. Coleridge did write that.

So the work of art sort of gives birth to these various interpretations. The work of art sort of gives birth to multiple and often very different objective facts.

Whereas the interpretation qua interpretation does not give birth to further interpretations. An interpretation insofar as it completes the work of art closes the door on future interpretations. The interpretation does not give birth to multiple objective facts.

So I am answering hue-man's question in the negative but I am also adding a further observation.

Is it possible to make objective judgments of art? No.
Is it possible to make objective judgments of judgments of art? Yes.

prothero;109061 wrote:

The wider the aesthetic appeal the greater the work. The less objective analysis required for appreciation the greater the work. The value of a work of art is not linked to its objective features in the way that measurement is linked to science. Science is all about objective reality. Art is all about aesthetic appeal, beauty, and subjective experience.


I like this sort of inverse relationship between science and art you are presenting and I think it should be fruitful. To make it simpler I'll keep it to physical science. An analogy:

Physical scientists are to the physical world.
as
Critics are to a work of art

The difference is the work of art allows for more than one correct interpretation whereas (or so we assume) the physical world allows for only one.

However, if critics had critics these critics of the 2nd order would have much in common with scientists.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 08:02 am
@Deckard,
Deckard;109580 wrote:

Is it possible to make objective judgments of art? No.
Is it possible to make objective judgments of judgments of art? Yes.



.


Of course it is possible to report truly that Eliot held that Hamlet had no "objective correlative". But why could not have Eliot have attained that belief objectively too? Of course, that would depend on Eliot himself. Was he able to put aside prejudice, and bias, in his reading and assessment of Hamlet? I don't know. The trouble is that in science, and other fields, there are methods by which bias and prejudice can be eliminated or lessened. For instance, by the use of double-blind studies. But the requirement of replication. By the use of peer review. There is less of that in literary criticism. Perhaps peer review is the main technique. But that does not mean that Eliot's judgment cannot be objective. It means that we do not have the means for judging that it is. The objective means.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 10:14 am
@kennethamy,
I am making a statement about what makes a good work of art a good work of art.
And I really like contrasting this with what makes a good scientific experiment a good scientific experiment.

Works of art are all about playing on prejudice and biases and different levels of understanding. That is in their nature. That is what they do. It is not the job of a work of art to create the same subjective experience in every viewer but quite the opposite.

Works of art do result in objective facts (or better yet empirical evidence), namely the many different responses to the work of art. And what is so peculiar about these many responses is that they are all often, if not always, quite unique and different from each other.

I am using books about Hamlet instead of thoughts about Hamlet to emphasize the objective concrete reality of the instances of subjective judgment found in these books. They happened. Somebody had them. They were written down. Detailed brain scans of people watching Hamlet or Looking at a Van Gogh painting would work the same way.

The main reason I want to jump through these hoops is so I can make a comparison between the work of art and the scientific experiment.

Multiple "experiments" of different people viewing the same work of art result in multiple unique, objectively real instances of subjective experience (as evidenced by the many different books of criticism)... or at least that's what makes a good work of art.

In contrast:
Multiple scientific experiments result in the same objectively real instances of subjective experience each time (as evidenced by the results that the scientists record) ... or at least that's makes a good scientific experiment.


(But this is just one definition of what makes a good work of art. There are many. I just happen to like this one. It's a subjective judgment I guess.)
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 10:27 am
@Deckard,
Deckard;109606 wrote:
I am making a statement about what makes a good work of art a good work of art.
And I really like contrasting this with what makes a good scientific experiment a good scientific experiment.

Works of art are all about playing on prejudice and biases and different levels of understanding. That is in their nature. That is what they do. It is not the job of a work of art to create the same subjective experience in every viewer but quite the opposite.

Works of art do result in objective facts (or better yet empirical evidence), namely the many different responses to the work of art. And what is so peculiar about these many responses is that they are all often, if not always, quite unique and different from each other.

I am using books about Hamlet instead of thoughts about Hamlet to emphasize the objective concrete reality of the instances of subjective judgment found in these books. They happened. Somebody had them. They were written down. Detailed brain scans of people watching Hamlet or Looking at a Van Gogh painting would work the same way.

The main reason I want to jump through these hoops is so I can make a comparison between the work of art and the scientific experiment.

Multiple "experiments" of different people viewing the same work of art result in multiple unique, objectively real instances of subjective experience (as evidenced by the many different books of criticism)... or at least that's what makes a good work of art.

In contrast:
Multiple scientific experiments result in the same objectively real instances of subjective experience each time (as evidenced by the results that the scientists record) ... or at least that's makes a good scientific experiment.


(But this is just one definition of what makes a good work of art. There are many. I just happen to like this one. It's a subjective judgment I guess.)


Discussion about art is certainly not science. It doesn't have the safeguards science has against biased judgments. But that need not mean that art criticism is intrinsically subjective, and that anything goes. There are intelligent judgments and insights, and the opposite. A wonderful discussion of this is:

David Hume of the standard of taste
 
Deckard
 
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 10:39 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;109612 wrote:
Discussion about art is certainly not science. It doesn't have the safeguards science has against biased judgments. But that need not mean that art criticism is intrinsically subjective, and that anything goes. There are intelligent judgments and insights, and the opposite. A wonderful discussion of this is:


I do understand what you are saying. I have often argued for the other side. I enjoy this particular conception of a work of art. Its a strange almost magical object that means many different things depending on who you are and where you are in your life. A tear in objective reality that refuses to be tamed.

I've read the Hume before but I could definitely do with a second reading. Thanks for the suggestion.
 
xris
 
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 11:34 am
@Deckard,
It appears to me that refusing to believe any one can be objective is proclaiming ones own weaknesses. Can a contract killer kill without feelings for his victim? Can a musician play a piece of music without judging it personally.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sat 12 Dec, 2009 09:27 pm
@xris,
xris;109621 wrote:
It appears to me that refusing to believe any one can be objective is proclaiming ones own weaknesses. Can a contract killer kill without feelings for his victim? Can a musician play a piece of music without judging it personally.


"Objective" is a functional word. I agree with you there. But perfect objectivity is about as common in the real world as an ideal triangle.
 
xris
 
Reply Sun 13 Dec, 2009 11:50 am
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;110762 wrote:
"Objective" is a functional word. I agree with you there. But perfect objectivity is about as common in the real world as an ideal triangle.
Giving the reader the knowledge to decide for themselves the value of the piece, is an art in itself. Critical teachers when informing are performing an objective lesson in informing you, how to have a valued subjective opinion.
 
 

 
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