Blog: Subjectivity and Objectivity in Art

Christine Alfery

Posted on September 20 2021

Blog: Subjectivity and Objectivity in Art

Featured image: Azure Winged Dragonfly

When we say, "This artwork is good," whose good is it? It's an Important question, for it asks if there is an agenda tagged to this concept of good?
Is it the good of an individual? Then, we understand that it is subjective.
Is it the good of another? We also understand this but then the question changes. Is it subjective or objective? Is there an ideology attached to this concept of good?

Is the good based in the reasonable concept of reality or is it a good based on an individual’s subjectivity?

It is an important question because many who are involved in the arts believe that if the art is subjective, then the "good' is also subjective. As many know that art can change how we see and understand reality. It can change how we experience reality, how we categorize reality and how we feel about reality – and if reality is subjective. I just don’t see reality as subjective. It is a serious question and I choose that reality is objective, not subjective.

Because my opinion of how I think reality is understood as objective, – is it possible that art, both good art, and bad art, to be objective and not subjective. If it possible, then the classification of good art, and bad art is objective and not subjective, how does this work?

Well, reality as I understand it cannot be invented. Inventions tend to be subjective, whereas discovery, is based on objectivity and multiple observations of the same reality in different places – as the methods of science attest to.

So, can the value of art as good or bad also be objective? What would that look like? Art educators, for as long as I know, have been teaching the elements and principles of art. The 7 principles of art and design are balance, rhythm, pattern, emphasis, contrast, unity and movement. Use the elements of art and design – line, shape/form, space, value, color and texture – to create a composition as a whole. The elements of art and design are the tools of visual artists. These elements and principles can be objective. Good art and bad art can be objective.

I do not believe art should be objectively ruled by these elements and principles. For example, coloring outside of the lines has nothing to do with any of the elements and principles. Using a new media has nothing to do with using these elements and principles, good art or bad art, and even a work of art that perhaps enlists all the elements and principles, can be bad art. Or it can be labeled as good art even though no one likes it. For me, an excellent example of this is all of the techne artists, mainly realists who create photo realistic work that enlists all the elements and principles of art. It is, perhaps, bad art. Why? Well, along with all these objective rules, art needs to be original, unique one-of-a-kind. To do that, the uniqueness, originality and individuality comes from the artist's style, and how they make a mark. Art has never been simulacra. Art is never a copy of something else. Art has always been one-of-a-kind. That is the icing on the cake for me.

The objectivity here is to be able to recognize the uniqueness and the one-of-a-kindness in the work, while at the same time, recognizing that the composition has been objectively executed by using the elements and principles.

When you ask the question, "Is this good art or is this bad art?"– you can recognize who benefits from the statement – this is good or bad art? If the benefactor is subjective not objective, then I believe we must question the motives involved in these evaluations.

One last example, within the last couple of years I know an individual who feels very competitive towards me and my work. I have no idea why – but it is what it is. The story I want to share is this – he with a friend walked by me when I was setting a new exhibition at the Howard Young Art Gallery – and he loudly told his friend, I can’t stand abstract art, it was obvious to me that he identified my work as abstract. Who benefited from this comment? I dismissed it – but it made him feel good – and he there benefited. This isn’t what determines good or bad art – rather it was one person feeling powerful as he made the comment loudly as he passed me.

Good and bad art can be objective. Getting to that point will take a long time as the subjectivity in art of art has been taught and retaught for years in art education.

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