05 December 2005

Can art be criticised?

Some say that art is the representation – albeit an external representation – of the artist’s experience. It’s the representation of the artist’s original emotion in a communicable form for all to see, hear, feel, sense, etc. Which would mean, the quality of a work of art ought to be a measure of the artist’s ability to loyally represent his/her unique emotion or experience to us.

Yet, we like some art; we criticise and throw away others. What gives us this authority to do so? If the origin – the source – of the art is an emotion or experience unique to the artist, and we have no access to it, how can we even judge a work of art? This, in fact, takes us to another question: If we can’t judge art, who can? Who can determine who is a good artist and who is not?

According to Dr Sam Vaknin’s article in authorsden.com, ‘The Basic Dilemma of the Artist’, traditionally, artists have used their own reference groups – their audience, so to speak – to measure their art. This audience is a defining part of the artist’s creation – the work of art itself – and inseparable from the artist’s reputation. This reference group, this audience, is expected to have in its possession some sort of a universal guidebook – a source of knowledge – which can be used to interpret the artist’s emotion and experience from his/her art. This reference group can aptly judge the representation for what it is.

If this is true, then the concept is unique in its challenge. For, if the artist happens to be too emotionally involved with his/her art, the reference group has a privileged status. This group is the only one which can judge art – or, has the capacity to pass judgement on art. For, only this group can interpret what transpired in the artist’s mind.

I admit this is not ‘the real thing’ – the creation called art from the artist’s original emotion or experience – but it’s a pretty good substitute. While we sit back making assumptions – guesswork really – about what the artist may have felt in creating a work of art, this reference group happily goes about voicing its views, advice and criticism.

Of course, there is an outside chance that these views, advice and criticism of the reference group may not be loyal – or even close – to the artist’s original emotion or experience. After all, the emotion, the experience, the creation all belong to the artist, who is the only person who can refute these. But then, the artist is too emotionally involved with his/her art to make a logical representation.

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