Musings on Photography

Good Art/Bad Art

Posted in aesthetics, art is a verb by Paul Butzi on February 25, 2007

George Barr writes on his response to rejection on his blog.  Paul Lester gives his thoughts on his blog.  Chantal Stone comments on her blog.

Those folks have commented cogently on the sting of rejection and the source of motivation, and I urge you to go read what they have to say.

What I wanted to comment on was the idea of art as competition.  Even when I cast aside my ‘Art is a Verb’ inclination, I don’t quite understand the entire concept of relative goodness of two works of art.

That’s because if we accept that it makes sense to look at two works of art and ask ‘which is better?’ we’re suddenly faced with difficult to answer questions, like “Which is better – Michelangelo’s Pieta, or Billy Strayhorn’s Mood Indigo?“, or perhaps “Which is better – Ed Weston’s Pepper #30, or Shakespeare’s The Tempest?  And, to me at least, those seem like meaningless questions.  Pepper #30 and The Tempest aren’t different in quality, they’re different in kind.  It’s like asking “Which is better – an ice cream sundae or a claw hammer?”  The only meaningful response to a question like that is to ask “are we discussing desserts, or tools?”

It brings to mind E. B. White’s comment that “There is no good art, or bad art.  There’s just Art… and damn little of it.”

2 Responses

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  1. Bryan Willman said, on February 25, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Of course, there exist “markets” in which ART *is* a competition. A competition for attention, permanent space in homes and galleries, and money. Having to make your living from ART forces you into this market.

    In another sense, if the artist thinks they have found or expressed something important, then there’s a kind of competition for people’s attention. So there’s a “goodness” function along the lines of “people payed attention to it long enough to experience it”. In the blogverse, “good art” may mean “people link to it, refer other people to it, and even view/read it”.

    None of this bears any close relationship to “scales” or “ratings” – it’s not a competition in that sense.

    Another side implication of this is that while there is “only art, and damn little of it” there is a fair amount of “stuff” that is not “art”, but since there’s no metric it’s hard to efficiently cast aside, which means a person trying to survey art will either find their examination too narrow, or come upon endless reams of junk.

  2. Scott said, on February 26, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Much of this discussion seems based on the fact that an artist will be rejected solely on the quality of their art. In my experience that is a very risky assumption that is often wrong. There are a lot of different factors that go into who is selected, and whether the art submitted is good or bad is only one factor.


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