Interpreting Art

Develop and defend what you think is the best theory of art evaluation.

I think we should somehow combine both subjectivism and emotivism. When criticizing art, it is not wise to go with what your gut instinct is, unless it is a piece of music. I think when it comes to music, emotivism is the only way to go, simply because certain notes and voices can get right into our skin and hearts, causing a surge of emotion that can be easily interpreted, allowing us to critique the work with definite answers. I would say that when it comes to criticizing literature, such as poetry or novels, it might be better to go with subjectivism, while only paying our heart a tiny bit of attention.

However, we run into a problem when we decide to evaluate art this way: we forget the power that words have when we look at them subjectively. I would argue that it would be better to critique art with both subjectivism and emotivism in mind. Emotivism is needed because the simplest word can evoke emotion from us and based on the emotion, we can decide if we like the piece or not. Laughing at a character’s dialogue can cause us to like the character even more, depending on the context. This can in turn make us like the piece of literature more as a whole, simply because one of the characters made us laugh.

We need subjectivism, but only in small doses, I would say. Subjectivism can lead to us critique the work to death, because we would rip the artwork to shreds trying to make sure we find every little thing that needs to be critiqued. This would be the same case of a painting as well, and I dare say that it would practically destroy the work. There wouldn’t be any room for interpretation at all, simply because we’re too busy discussing the quality of the line work in the painting or “the clouds don’t look like clouds”. We wouldn’t be able to dig any deeper because we would be stuck on the little things, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, depending on who you are. If you were an art critic and this part in particular was your job, then you could talk about the line work and colors forever, but if you were a simple viewer who wanted to see why the clouds were necessary in the piece, you wouldn’t be able to stand discussing only the clouds or why the grass would be red. You would want to dig deeper so you could find something in the work that you liked. 

I think that there should be a new theory when evaluating art, but within that theory, there should be one for paintings, poems, novels, and short stories. For the literature pieces, we can add a tiny hint of more subjectivism. My problem with subjectivism is that it takes out the fun of evaluating art, especially for visual compositions. For visual pieces, the art critic should be able to really dig deep and see what separates this piece from the others before deciding it is better than them. Art critics should also consider the value each work of art can have, such as paintings having therapeutic value or aesthetic value. I’m not suggesting that every piece of art should be aesthetically pleasing – in fact, there can be something beautiful about a visually disturbing piece – but when it comes to generally evaluating art (without getting into arguments with the art critic), there should be some sort of aesthetic quality that every artwork should have before we consider it good. The same should be the case for literature, only instead of aesthetically pleasing, the pieces should have some sort of ethical or therapeutic value. I feel like if we were to add religion into this, we would ostracize viewers who want to enjoy the art itself without bringing in Allah or Jesus Christ, just to avoid offending anyone if we don’t have to.

The new art theory should be broken down into the following. For visual pieces, they must have the tiniest possibility of being aesthetically pleasing to at least sixty percent of the viewers viewing them, regardless of any reason. The next qualification is that the artwork should induce some sort of emotion, preferably a positive one. If the emotion is negative, the piece isn’t disqualified, only analyzed further. Perhaps the viewers would enjoy themselves further if they could interpret the painting and have that count in their favor. For literature pieces, they must have cognitive value. The viewers have to learn something, even if it is a simple as a “lakes reflect the color of the sky. A cloudy sky equals a gray lake.” The second requirement is that the cognitive value must also have some ethical value within it. The work must be able to get the viewers thinking about their morality and to make any improvements necessary. 

Of course, this eliminates the idea of artists doing their thing just for fun. Often times, artists will usually create for themselves and revise (depending on what they are doing) with the audience in mind. This theory can be thrown out the window, simply due to the seemingly loose, but tight restrictions this would place on the artist. Sure, the viewers would be able to gain something out of it – that’s what we want – but we would limit the creative process for so many artists out there, but in the end, it wouldn’t be worth it. Beardsley’s theory can only include certain artists, if their work lives up to his expectations. This new theory is no better. Perhaps there is no solid way to evaluate art, because no matter how inclusive you try to be, someone will be left out.