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: 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: 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?
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.