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Objectivity in art

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Here’s a question that I’ve been wondering for some time. How objective or subjective is the quality of art? I’m particularly thinking in terms of stories here, but if you want to bring in music or art - which I’m about to now anyway - that’s very welcome.

I have a friend who says that while personal enjoyment is subjective, the quality of art can be measured more objectively. I can buy into this a little bit. An experienced artist could paint a massive photorealistic oil painting with many different elements, and a young child could draw their family members in a really simple way and colour them with crayons, and they would both be art. Someone could say, “I prefer the child’s art because it’s really sweet and innocent, and is devoid of ulterior motives like the desire for fame and respect”. That would be totally fair, but it doesn’t change the fact that the oil painting took way more time and effort.

Similarly, a film could have a troubled production or have contrived or lazy writing decisions, but a person can still love it immensely. Despite this, it’s still important not to expect half-hearted or badly-executed projects from companies like Disney, so the number of people who like the finished project will be greater.

However, regarding the painting analogy - the oil painting took more time and effort, but how does that make it objectively better than the child’s art? This all depends on an individual’s standards. And once again, in the same way, a plot device can be measured as contrived or not depending on how coincidental or implausible it is - but if a person can still enjoy the story anyway, does it actually matter in an objective sense?

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Everything is subjective. There is no objective perspective.

Well done. I will disengage self-destruct initiative.

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You can quantify things like quality screenwriting, acting, and cinematography versus poorly done hackwork. If you cannot tell the difference then what good is criticism in art. Of course there is some subjectivity in ones own background, experience likes and dislikes and personal views.

Is there one worldwide objective value for art i don’t think so but there are accepted standards, but every culture has differences.

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They are aggregates, approximations, analogues. Useful and valid enough, but nothing is truly objective; it’s an oxymoron. Without a viewer, there is no perspective.

Well done. I will disengage self-destruct initiative.

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I think art absolutely has an objective element. Mozart is objectively technically better than some randy small-time composer, regardless of who people enjoy more. I’m comfortable saying that Beethoven is objectively better than The Weeknd, while typically enjoying the latter more. In other words, I think the subjective element is “enjoyability”–i.e. the pleasure that a piece of art gives. Most of the other elements can be measured objectively, I think.

Of course, what makes art objectively good or bad depends on your defenition of art, which many would say is subjective. I would tend to disagree, while acknowledging that practically speaking, it’s not easy to come to an agreement on what makes art good.

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But like why is Beethoven better than the Weeknd, objectively?

JadedSkywalker said:

You can quantify things like quality screenwriting, acting, and cinematography versus poorly done hackwork. If you cannot tell the difference then what good is criticism in art. Of course there is some subjectivity in ones own background, experience likes and dislikes and personal views.

Is there one worldwide objective value for art i don’t think so but there are accepted standards, but every culture has differences.

I’ve always learned that criticism in art isn’t really about measuring against objective standards, but an ongoing dialogue wherein we’re analyzing the cultural moment; studies on what does and doesn’t resonate with audiences on average in the time a critique is conceived, each critic pooling their subjective perspective into a larger archive. And like science research, while we can compare things to the current Theories (from all this data averaged) and assess “quality”, there’s no guarantee those metrics won’t change over time with each new discovery or innovation in either craft, technology, culture shift, etc. Things “hold up” or “age poorly” and sometimes even go back and forth within those averages - how can there be an objective?

Things can be done with no budget, or with a bad crew, written in an hour, or shot by someone who’s barely held a camera, yeah - one would be able to tell - but not everyone, and maybe someone even likes those qualities. That’s all besides the point though, how many things being critiqued on a cultural level are actually in that space? Some kid’s soundcloud rap isn’t critiqued for the same purposes Kendrick Lamar would be, it’s for that kid. Past the threshold of technical craft meeting certain agreed upon criteria, the subjective perception of anything is honestly fair game. And like I said, even that criteria can vary from person to person.

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Whether or not objectivity exists in art is for all practical purposes a moot point. It makes me uncomfortable to admit that things exist beyond the quantifiable, but as soon as an authority posits an ‘objective’ judgement in an artistic discussion, the discussion is dead.

It can be compared to a discussion of free will. You could state that free will doesn’t exist because it’s all just deterministic quarks and charm, but even if that’s true you must put aside the objective fact and act as if the abstract awareness arising from this base matter is more than the sum of its parts.

Art has objective components, like the brain. But like the products of the brain, it also must ultimately be viewed as something which transcends its constituent parts to become more, unconstrained by judgments of the ugly bits of which it is comprised.

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 (Edited)

It’s likely objectively true that Williams’ music for the Skywalker Saga is better than Giacchino’s Rogue One score.

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This is definitely a yes and no question, in my opinion. Maybe I can try to give an example to illustrate my mindset.

Beauty is a lot like art, in the sense that it’s objectivity is often argued over. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and all.

Beauty Standards definitely exist, but what those standards are change with trends, countries and cultures. So, yes, someone could be objectively beautiful based on a certain set of beauty standards, and those standards may even have a psychological effect on our subjective tastes, but those standards aren’t some objective universal truth. There is really no such thing as objective truth when it comes to art and beauty.

Artists have learned techniques to manipulate our emotions through whatever medium they work with, and I believe you can judge art through the artist’s execution and/or subversion of those techniques. But I think our judgements are still bound by generalization and shifting standards. So I don’t think it is fair to say something is objectively better than something else unless you state by what standards you’re rating this thing by.

But I think a lot of times when a person tries to argue that something is objectively better than something else, they’re typically judging them by a set of unspoken standards. So I guess the question becomes whether or not they are aware of the standards they’re judging this thing by?

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I’ll go with Hal’s first post. Art is subjective. If it doesn’t move someone, it doesn’t matter how much work, time, technique, etc went into it.

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Art is both subjective and objective, in a sense. In fact, they’re two different, respective sides to art. Kinda like how there are the light and dark sides of the Force in Star Wars.

The subjective side is about how it makes the viewer feel, emotionally. For example, whether a certain character annoys you or not, or whether the soundtrack of a film makes you really emotional… those are subjective.

I can understand what people mean when they say that art is objective. They’re referring to things that actually happen in the movie, such as Rey defeating Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. Plot holes, inconsistencies, contrivances, and other related things are based on things that actually happen in the film, and thus are objective.

Obviously, whether plot holes and the other stuff I’ve listed aren’t “objectively bad”, they’re just things that exist in the movie. They’re “subjectively bad” in the sense that they tend to ruin people’s enjoyment of the movie, but it doesn’t change the fact that the movie is “objectively imperfect” or “objectively incoherent”.

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