Are all opinions of art equal?

Relaxing, from @Thanatologist on Instagram

When it comes to art and opinion, we are always reminded of the latin maxim: De gustibus non est disputandum (There’s no disputing taste). However, in the anime Hyouka (13th episode) the issue of art and subjectivity is raised by two high school girls, between Mayaka Ibara and her senpai, the president of the manga club.

Senpai utterly confident in her defense of subjectivity

Senpai: 100 manga reviews? No one‘s going to read something that boring. And there’s no point in reviewing manga anyway. It’s a total waste of time! Right? 

Mayaka in defense of aesthetic judgment

Mayaka: What do you mean by “a waste of time”, Senpai? 

Senpai: It’s all up to the reader. 

Mayaka: the reader? 

Senpai: That’s right. Any manga is just as entertaining as any other. 

Mayaka: No matter who writes it? 

Senpai: Yes. 

Mayaka: Then what makes one more interesting than another? 

Senpai: Don’t you understand, Ibara? That’s up to the reader. It all boils down to whether the reader has a tall or short antenna for what’s interesting. That’s all there is to it. 

Mayaka: So you’re saying that someone with a short antenna won’t find anything interesting? 

Senpai: That’s right. That’s why writing reviews is pointless. Everyone should just read what they like and laugh their hearts out. 

Mayaka: [to herself] All manga are the same? I won’t accept that. [to Senpai] According to your theory, there shouldn’t be such a thing as a masterpiece. 

Senpai: Of course there are masterpieces. 

Mayaka: What decides them?

Senpai: The works that get passed through the sieve over and over through the years and still survive. That’s a masterpiece. 

Mayaka: You’re wrong. A masterpiece is born a masterpiece. 

Senpai: Even one that hasn’t withstood the test of time? Then it’s just your personal opinion. 

Mayaka: You’re wrong! 

Senpai: About what? 

Mayaka: This is a matter of experience. You’ve just never been hit by something that made you say, “This is it!” 

Senpai: Oh? You’ve got some nerve. 

Mayaka: There are definite differences between writers’ technical abilities. Senpai, did you read a manga called “A Corpse by Evening” that was sold at the cultural festival last year? 

Senpai: [shocked expression, then turns her face away in disgust] Never heard of it. 

Mayaka: Then I’ll bring it tomorrow. If that doesn’t convince you then I have nothing more to say. 

Much like Senpai, the average person believes that aesthetic judgment consists of nothing but opinions, but I disagree, and in addition to Mayaka’s claim about masterpieces: there exist a criteria that determines competency for judgment, and most particularly in art.

In other words, not everyone is justified in their judgment whether some artwork is awesome or sucks the sweat off donkey balls.

When I declare something so amazing that causes me to sport a boner and a turd in my shorts simultaneously, I am declaring something concrete and meaningful about that artwork. My judgment is at least a recommendation to another that she may also find that artwork equally moving and judge it amazing as well.

If she challenges my judgment, I try to back it up and defend it with evidence or plausible interpretation. Therefore, my judgment that something is great means MORE than a mere expression of opinion.

In the Of the Standard of Taste, Hume is concerned about the evaluation of art and presents a set of rules for aesthetic judgment. They are based in the judgment of individuals, and are about those judgments. Hume cleverly focuses on the spectator who judges and seeks the patterns of the spectator’s sentiments. Since many of us are in agreement on what is beautiful and what is ugly, Hume claims that means there are qualities calculated to please and those that do not. But such agreements are neither solid nor permanent. Some of us may disagree on certain artwork — I may think Sam Francis’ Towards Disappearance is obviously awe-inspiring, while another person may think it’s far too abstract or empty to elicit any aesthetic emotion in her.

Sam Francis' Towards Disappearance
Hume’s solution to such disagreement is to locate a person who provides the best judgment on art. This true judge is an appropriately competent critic who has the following qualities: serenity of mind, delicacy of taste, well-practiced, well-versed in comparison of artworks, independent of prejudice, and possess good sense. Whoever have those qualities are true judges that we may appeal in order to decide which artwork is truly amazing, beautiful and qualifies as a masterpiece.
My judgments are partially subjective — in which they depend on several tastes that I always had — an inclination towards originality or bold, confident lines — but at the same time, they are also partially objective in which I have studied some formal art theories and taken art history classes. That mixture increases the possibility of my turning into a good judge, but since I am still a neophyte I have a ways to go: more museums to attend, more artwork to see in person, more people to share my perspective and experiment with my judgment. It doesn’t matter if I do finally become a true judge, partially because I am not in the business of offering professional views about art, but it does matter to me personally that my views do not fall back into prejudice and ignorance that I should continue to work at it.

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...a philosophisticator who utters heresies, thinks theothanatologically and draws like Kirby on steroids.

5 thoughts on “Are all opinions of art equal?”

  1. It's personal taste, I think a lot of 'modern' art is someone taking us for mugs. An unmade made covered in urine is just, well, an unmade bed covered in urine from my view and not $110,000's worth of ground-breaking art. If I see paint thrown at a canvas and someone rides a bike over it I just say that is not art. It doesn't provoke in me wonder at the tyre tracks I just thing this 'artist' needs to get a proper job and stop messing about.

  2. Art … an interesting term in and of itself as it invokes something different in the minds of everyone. Art is art, whether you like it or not. It exists … it can be termed nothing else. Certainly one may say "I like this." Or not as the case may be. However to deny that what is … IS … is self delusion.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Kirk 🙂

      Art is my gateway drug into philosophy – in both academia & personal senses – and the most interesting aspect is the metaphysical nature or the essence of art. I think I blog on this subject like once a year, from different vantage points.

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