Art with tradition is objective, that without one is subjective

Appreciation for art is meant to be, by today’s focus on accessibility, wholly subjective. Whatever your view of something can be defended as your experience with it.

Over drinks at a Gayborhood bar last month, a primatologist-turned-choreographer shared his view on trying to interject objective reality into art — incorporating technology, data and fact into ‘timed performance art.’ With no art history background or deep cultural experience, I deserve no voice in the conversation, but our chatter did result in me sharing with him something I’ve been mulling since.

My knowledge of the debate on whether art is subjective or objective seems incomplete. As I understand it, there are two very different types of art: that which aims to inspire through an existing tradition and that which aims to explore something new.

Of course there is objectivity in art, or at least in any art form that has matured enough to develop a tradition. I presume there are very clear factual aims that a performance of, say, the Nutcracker can be judged for having or not. When an orchestra attempts to play a movement by Beethoven, there is general agreement about what would make that successful or not.

But in newer art forms, one without an established set of traditions, that’s where the subjectivity reigns. This is when art is meant to challenge orthodoxy, define culture and inspire thought.

When I visited an art gallery in my neighborhood earlier this month, and I saw displays of paper-thin porcelain modeled to look like underwear, one piece of which was held up by a pick-axe leaning on a wall, it’s likely a little more challenging to decide its success.

Sure, there are art styles this follows, and someone better versed than I could describe whether it accurately follows or interestingly challenges that form, but I think I’d defend there is still greater subjectivity in that. Art in this space that is wholly unoriginal surely fails but aside from plagiarism, it matters more how a piece makes the viewer feel, more than, say, ballet or painting in impressionism. That is subjective.

Leave a Reply