OP: Art is not completely subjective

22 October 2019

Douglas Androsiglio

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Art is a tricky thing to define. It can mean something different for every person who observes a work of art – but how do you know what you are looking at is “really” art? Is anything and everything art if the viewer believes it to be so? If the observer sees meaning in an object or idea, then surely it must be art.

But what of the creator’s intentions? If someone makes a chair solely to be sat upon, is it still art if the buyer sees it as such? How about a painter that paints a canvas entirely one color? If they say it is art, then who is to argue? Is art 100 percent subjective? Or are there objective criteria to separate art from things and ideas that just… exist?

I cannot say that art is completely subjective. My definition of art consists of two criteria: it must have a message to communicate and it must illicit emotion from the observer. Content, or the message a piece of art communicates, is essential.

You can still argue something has artistic merit despite it not making you personally feel anything. This is because you may still understand what the work is communicating or, at least, that it is trying to say something at all.

My favorite thing that people who do not understand fine art say is that “you can just put a dot in the middle of a piece of paper and call it art.” Absolutely not. Art, again, communicates something. You are deliberately choosing not to communicate anything when you put the dot to paper.

However, if you made the same dot and said it represented personal isolation or our insignificance in comparison to the vastness of the universe, then we have something to work with. I would just say that your artwork is lazy and there are more effective ways to express those ideas.

That leads me to a similar, but different misconception about art. The idea that art cannot be bad; that all art is equally “good” and cannot fail in any way. Just like there is a distinction to be made between art and non-art, there is also a difference between good and bad art.

Once more, it boils down to content. What makes or breaks a piece is how well it gets across its message or whether it draws out the feeling/emotion the artist was going for Like in the last example, the dot with the message of isolation is definitely art. It’s just bad art. Why? Because it fails, at least in my opinion, to truly encapsulate the feeling of isolation.