Blog: Is Objectivity in Art Possible?

Christine Alfery

Posted on August 22 2019

Swing by Christine Alfery

Featured image: Swing

Can we eliminate all the senses and ever look at art objectively?  What is objective thought? Isn’t objective thought based on theoretical rules that have formed a truth?  Like 3-4=1? But then who makes up the rules? Who creates the theory that becomes a truth?  

While objectivity is something we have created, we have not created our senses.  They are something we are born with, something natural. We can govern art if it is objective, because we have created that objectivity.  But we cannot govern our senses and perceptions. The way each person perceives art is colored by every aspect of who they are; their life and sense of self.   And thus is the dilemma in art, art relies on the senses, and each individual’s perception. So much so that “It makes me feel (fill in the blank)”  is often a phrase spoken when we talk about art.  Art is subjective. The self is always part of what art is.  

But is subjectivity the only aspect?  Is there room for objectivity? I have frequently stated that if all art is subjective, then art is nothing. It has no truth. The same holds true if all art is objective then art can be nothing.  There can be no truth in art. The beauty of art, the aesthetic in art is that art is both subjective and objective and therefore is something. What that something is defines art.

The self if unique, how we sense things is unique to us.  Art should thus be unique. Art loses it’s uniqueness once objectivity overpowers the self in the work.  This can happen through context or content of the work. If our subjectivity is objectified then our work artist will be objectified.  That is ok as long as there is a balance between arts subjectivity and objectivity. A balance that causes the artist to think about the context and content and come up with his/her own unique way of understanding it.

There is freedom in the subjectivity of art, there is a release for the individual.   The power within art is this release that is expressed in the work. Objectivity cannot overpower the work. For example, technique is objective. If technique overpowers the work as it frequently does in representational art, then there is no power within the work.  How often have we heard the phrase when we listen to others talk about a piece of artwork; “but I don’t see the artist in the work.”? Often. Technique and objectivity have overtaken the artist in the work. Seeing a subjective style within the work be it representational or non-representational with the combination of objectivity illustrates and artist sophistication, knowledge and comfort levels with both subjectivity and objectivity.   And we as viewers can differentiate between the two.  

If one of the truths of art is that it if filled with discovery, exploration, and the creation of ideas, (all easily identifiable, objective criteria) then art can be more than just the senses and subjectivity.  

Art then if understood this way is the creation of an idea a concept from sense perception which is unique to the artist.  It belongs to no other. Expressing this idea objectively is what art is. Objective here is understood as the artist’s own stylistic elegance and sophisticated technique.  Technique is understood as having rules that can bend and are fluid to suit the artist’s uniqueness. 

Examples of technique can both be realistic and abstract.  Both require knowledge. For example, composition.  If an artist does not understand the rules that created a great composition and then in turn stylize that then the artwork will fall short of being a work of art.  

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