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Reply Sat 20 Mar, 2010 12:45 pm
I just wrote this in a thread on a BBC Radio 4 message board:

BBC - MESSAGE BOARDS - Radio 4 - Soul Music - Conversation

Message 45 - posted by angusrod (U4565027)**, 4 Minutes Ago

An attempt at artistic expression in any field is "good", in one sense, insofar as it comes from the heart, and it is "good", in a quite different sense, insofar as it demonstrates competent or even great technique.

Conversely, an aesthetic response, in any field, is "good", in one sense, insofar as it comes from the heart, and "good", in another sense, insofar as it demonstrates a knowledge (appreciative rather than performative, in this case) of technique.

Neither popularity nor elite respectability has anything to do with it.

Rather, the extent to which an artist is popular, and/or critically respected, has to be understood as a very complex (and completely secondary) social phenomenon, resulting from a number of accidents, such as sheer survival (how many works of genius have been lost to war, disease, or mental breakdown?), the vagaries of mass taste and academic prejudice, and the difficulty of the regions of the "heart" which the works in question explore.

(No, I will not define "heart"! You will have to do that for yourself.) Smile

On an individual level, how much you appreciate (or fail to appreciate, or actively detest) some work is the result of a complex and usually indescribable and unconscious interaction between whatever goes on in your heart and whatever went on in the heart or hearts of the person or persons who produced the work.

In that sense, but in that sense only, it is "subjective".

Ironically, there is no absolute sense in which it is "subjective": an insight might render a previously obscure and inexplicable "subjective" response absolutely clear and explicable.

If the world ends and you're stuck on your desert island with eight records, they won't cease to be good just because there are no longer masses of people around to poll, or any critics to give them the academic seal of approval.

There is good and bad in every field, whether the field as a whole is critically esteemed or not.

When my daughter was young, I used to spend a lot of time watching children's cartoons. Some of them were utter mass-produced mind-rotting bilge, with no "heart" at all; others were works of art, produced with love, and ought to be in a museum.

I hate it when discussion gets polarised between snobbery and relativism.

These are just my common sense opinions. But common sense seems to get lost sight of very quickly in such discussions (probably because of the background of scientism against which we must all live, but that's a whole other thread).
Does it stand up to examination?

(I'm "making it up as I go along". It's not academic philosophy. Does that matter? I'm still not clear what counts as respectable discussion here.)
Reply Sat 20 Mar, 2010 03:41 pm
I think this is a tough issue to work out, one I've thought about a fair bit. On the one hand, sometimes you watch a movie or listen to a song and hate it. On the other hand, you like a movie and people are snobbishly laughing at it. One is forced into hypocrisy if one isn't careful.

Technique I would downplay as far as overall quality, and I'm not exactly sure what you are getting at with the "heart" stuff.

The best conclusion that I can come up with is that it's pointless to try and describe something in absolute terms. For example, let's say you have a very mean spirited, racist joke. Racists find it hilarious. Is it a "good joke"? That's the question that's pointless. If you say "yes" you are lumping it in with a bunch of jokes that are much less objectionable. If you say "no" you are lumping it in with jokes that no one laughs at. So you should describe it simply by saying it is a racist joke that racists think is funny.

I pick a racist joke because it's an extreme example that I think is easy to get a handle on. You run into the same question when trying to decide if a depressing song is a "good song", for example. So if you are describing a particular work, I think giving a basic description is as accurate as you can be. Movie critics et al fail consistently because a) you can't criticize a movie that isn't the type you can appreciate or b) because they have some abstract idea about what makes a movie "good".

This is using good and bad in reference to quality. If a book were to incite people to hatred unjustifiably, then you might say it is a bad book, in the moral sense of bad.

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