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Author Topic: What makes art "good"...or "bad"?
Babbler # 9972

posted 10 March 2006 02:14 AM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm not an artist but I know there are many artists and fellow lovers of art on babble and I've often wondered what makes art "good" or "bad"?

If a lot of people pay a lot of money for a particular artist's work and if no one will pay even a small sum for another artist's work, does that mean the the former's art is "good" and the latter's art is "bad" (or at least not "good")? If not, why not?

Does art have to be either "meaningful" or "asthetically pleasing" or both in order to be "good"? If it does, what is "meaningful" and what is "asthetically pleasing"...and to whom? If not, what qualities must art have in order to be "good"?

As a matter of public policy, whether art is good or bad is important in the context of government-funded art. It would seem to me, given limited resources, that government-funded art should only be "good" art and that advocates of government-funded art have a burden of defining what is "good" art (and thus deserving government support) and what is "bad" art (and thus not deserving of such support).

Because I can't get a handle on what is good or bad art (other than through very subjective evaluation), I don't like the idea of government-funded art. In other words, I haven't been convinced that there is a satisfactory definition of "good" art sufficient to justify spending scare government dollars on any art. The alternative, it would seem to me, is that art is left to be judged by the marketplace.

Can advocates of government-funded art give us a definition or guidelines of what is "good" art, and thus deserving of scarse government funds?

From: Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!!! | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 4020

posted 10 March 2006 05:38 AM      Profile for Merowe     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Sven, I think you have two related questions here. How do we judge whether a work of art is good or bad, and what role if any does the government have in the production of works of art.

As you note, the field is highly subjective; but that should not prevent us from attempting any judgements, it should simply caution us to be diligent. We make judgements of 'taste' all the time and rarely suffer elaborate fits of doubt or interrogation in the process. Should I have the pepperoni, goat cheese and sundried tomato, or the pesto and artichoke hearts? Would I even presume to judge the one superior to the other, is that even an appropriate question? Or is it more a matter of, some people prefer the pesto and artichoke hearts while others prefer the first choice; or I like the artichoke hearts some of the time but other times I go with the pepperoni.

Because I cannot produce an ‘objective’ answer to the question which is good and which is bad, does not mean I cannot make qualitative judgements about these two choices. I can say that the pastry seems dry or I can remark the exceptional sweetness of the dried tomatoes. While these observations may lack scientific rigour they are still invaluable guides to my choices.

If I want to get really serious about my pizza tasting I can study and read up on the subject, educate myself…and presumably make more informed judgements about the pizza in front of me.

So it is with art and its appreciation. Like poetry it deals with open associations, unquantifiable quantities….but that does not mean it is without quantities, that some art cannot be better than other art, or that we can sensitize ourselves to make such judgements. Indeed, tastes change, and what we find good one day we may spurn the next; but still, we can presume to judge, and properly so.

How we approach the second question depends on how much value we place on cultural production in general, the role we apportion it within the greater society, and whether a purely market driven art accomplishes this role.

If we take the case of Canada a good case can be made for a government role in the arts. Canadian art was backward, provincial and undistinguished in the seventies when the federal government created the Canada Council to foster cultural production. The best talent emigrated.

By the late nineties Canada was on the map internationally; a classmate of mine won top prize at the Venice Biennale a couple of years ago, the pinnacle of artistic accomplishment. This would NOT have happened without government support, the Canada Council, etc. Left to the marketplace ‘Canadian’ art would still be made with Concord grapes rather than the Shirazs and Zinfandels and Cabernets of the present day, if you can take a metaphor.

I have received occasional grants myself and the bottom line is this: the money from the grants allowed me time to paint. Without that money I would not have the time and the paintings would not exist. It is very very simple. The more money the Canada Council disburses, the greater the creative production. The more paintings I make, the better I get.

Obviously a lot of this production will be shit. It’s like any r and d department. All one can do is try to be sensible about which projects to support and be prepared to write off the inevitable losses. The Canada Council has practicing artists and professionals sitting on juries decide which artists to support and that seems sensible. Not perfect.

And on the r and d thing, consider all those other areas of society where seed government money goes on to create all sorts of vast marketplace activity. In pharmaceuticals, the internet, etc. Would this activity have happened left up to the market alone? Who can say; but if it aint broke don’t fix it; leave the government its role.

Also, I hate to trot this out, but the economic value of artistic production is not properly appreciated. People don’t come to Stratford Ontario to admire the turnip fields. The Stratford Festival produces currency every bit as hard as a Ford assembly line. The automobile industry is heavily subsidized. Why not the arts?

There are ample studies to demonstrate the knock on effect of thriving cultural production. Film festivals, readings, exhibitions play a large role in the tourist industry, affect the decisions of corporations as to where to have the annual convention, and so on. So government money spent there is enlightened self interest really.

Its funny. In my own work I really want to succeed in the marketplace. At the same time I see how painting for the market shapes the choices I make, not always for the best.

From: Dresden, Germany | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 10 March 2006 05:59 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Sven, judgements about art also get made over time. Contemporaries of good faith will do as Merowe describes, attuning their tastes ever more closely through experience, immersion, but then each passing generation will add something to the tuning. In a sense, the older works that have survived centuries of that process have won a numbers game: it isn't strictly true to say that they have been the most popular, but they have proved able to speak, generation after generation, to a variety of standards and perspectives, which counts for something and probably justifies calling them "great," although that judgement can always be challenged.

And there are also always example of "great works" that have gone ignored or scorned for generations and then suddenly resonate strongly with a new generation - that happened, eg, a century ago to the poetry of the C17 (immediately post-Shakespeare), which had been neglected almost since its own time but had a tremendous influence on C20 modernist writing.

Regarding the art of your own time: even with training, many of us remain uncertain about the stature of a lot of what we view or hear or read. It's easy to respond to those few works one likes instantly or hates instantly, but most art is never quite like that when it first appears. The best art often throws people, precisely because it is touching something new. Many people detested Impressionist painting when it was first exhibited because they literally could not see anything but blobs of paint on those canvases. Nowadays, everyone can look at an Impressionist canvas and put it together and love it, so much so that we advertise toilet paper with impressionist images.

Northrop Frye once advised people who care about grasping what is going on in literature - and the same will work with any of the arts - to imagine that they are walking into a room where an endless conversation is going on, and where they are welcome to sit down with any small group, listen in for a while, and then start to join in.

I think that that is how most artists think of new work. The writers I know, eg, are watching less for what is "great" at the moment than for anything fresh and new, even something minor. They are often interested in failures, experiments that were interesting but didn't quite come off. Or they are interested in watching someone accomplished do something small, as a technical exercise.

When you are seriously trying to make something, all those questions are much more intereting than flat judgements about what is "good" and what is "bad." You're much more likely to be wondering: how does it work? how can I make it work? make it work better? And like that.

Government funding in Canada, by comparison, is a no-brainer. Do it, or there will no Canadian art at all. The numbers just aren't there for original production.

From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged

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