By Erin Waks
How many times have you looked at a piece of art and thought I could have made it myself? Or examine a painting, only to be met with the brutal realization that it’s just a few aggressively splattered blobs of paint brazenly scattered across a clean, white canvas? Indeed, contemporary art often evokes a reaction of confusion or disbelief. But when we are told that such works are masterful, where are we then?
Can any art be valuable in its own right if it can illuminate meaningful interpretation? Or does valuable art have to prove the true skill of its creator, the artist? I like to think that we need to find a good middle ground between the two; after all, art judged only by both limits the very possibilities it seeks to unravel.
Consider the idea that art is judged solely on the basis of the artist’s technical ability. While this may be the case – take the nude drawing genre, for example, where realism and accuracy are a large part of the value of the artist’s work – it is an inherently limited approach to the art world. First, how do we define “skill” or “talent”? Different art schools use different techniques, meaning there is no one way to characterize an artistic technique.
Furthermore, it limits our interpretation of art to the artist’s intention. As is the case with literature and film, when we read a work within the parameters of what its creator intended, we are certainly left with a unique and complete understanding of the piece. Isn’t it perhaps much more valuable for society at large to analyze a piece considering multiple interpretations, regardless of what the artist meant by it? A drawing can mean multiple things to different people, so why limit its function, value and meaning to the artist’s understanding?
However, as many critics ask, is it feasible for us to judge art solely on the basis of personal reaction to it, effectively ignoring the artist’s skills and techniques? It seems harsh and selfish to ignore the many years of training and practice that artists go through. It’s true that not all artists graduate from top schools, but we shouldn’t discount the experience and hard work that often goes into their artwork.
If you step inside the Tate Modern, for example, you’ll be confronted with works that took months to complete, in stark contrast to others that look like blank canvases or blocks of color you could have created at home. But who are we to create a yardstick against which to measure the value of art? Who says more time and effort equals better quality?
We cannot create a set of characteristics by which to judge art, as too many works can defy these qualities and still be considered impressive. Assessing the aesthetic value is not easy. In fact, it brings to light the question of whether we can even “judge” the “value” of art. What does judgment even mean? Can art have value? Or is beauty in the eye of the beholder? The answer is unclear, but what we do know is that we are no closer to creating a rigid set of rules for art appreciation than we were hundreds of years ago.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova