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jfutral

What's so special about "objective"?

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Over at The Curator there is a recent article on music called "The Tyranny of Taste" It is another appeal to an objective quality and standard of beauty in art. While my opinion on this matter can be easily found here and on other forums (I personally think the cry for recognition and adherence to objective standards stems more from a fight for authority and control, and a bit of self-righteousness, than an actual search to understand beauty, beauty needs no defending), my question is why do so many people care?

Let's say it is possible to clearly define and explain beauty in a manner that has unquestionable universal application and does not rely on human interpretation. What happens if beauty, or art or taste or where ever the discussion occurs, is empirically shown to be objective? What happens if it is shown to be subjective? What happens if it is shown that it ultimately doesn't matter? Do we think art will change one way or the other? Will we be able to pass laws to make some (currently legal) art illegal and incarcerate the offenders? Will that make a better world? Does God stop being God? Is our faith for naught? Why this importance for objectivity (implicitly intellectual and quantifiable) on a human level? Will the world really go to hell in a handbasket one way or the other?

With this article in particular, there is an appeal to be open to things one might not like and finding value outside one's preferences that I am sympathetic to. Frankly, I find the disparaged perspective of "I like Bach, you like Bon Jovi, praise the Lord anyhow" to be more open than not to allowing value to something one might not like.

Just something I've been pondering lately,

Joe

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Good article, thanks. I'm of the opinion that objectivity is theoretically possible, and something to be pursued rather than just dismissal and praise on a whim. I don't think something is good or bad based on how much I, you, or anyone else likes it. Practically I'm not sure what a more objective approach looks like, though. I just know that I try.

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Over at The Curator there is a recent article on music called "The Tyranny of Taste" It is another appeal to an objective quality and standard of beauty in art. While my opinion on this matter can be easily found here and on other forums (I personally think the cry for recognition and adherence to objective standards stems more from a fight for authority and control, and a bit of self-righteousness, than an actual search to understand beauty, beauty needs no defending), my question is why do so many people care?

[A] Agreed.

I think people care for a number of reasons: a need/desire for certainty, for instance. Or a conviction that there just has to be a "right" way to do things.

[C] Funnily enough, I just started reading Terry Eagleton's new book The Event of Literature, which deals with a number of these questions w/r/t "literature." Eagleton [so far] seems to be arguing for a modified form of "family resemblance"--that it's possible to make general observations that are by necessity porous. I've not reached the end of his argument, so I can't say for sure, though.

With this article in particular, there is an appeal to be open to things one might not like and finding value outside one's preferences that I am sympathetic to. Frankly, I find the disparaged perspective of "I like Bach, you like Bon Jovi, praise the Lord anyhow" to be more open than not to allowing value to something one might not like.

This turn in the article strikes me as a bit strange. I mean, the author argues that [A] we are too ruled by our individual "tastes" [and our short attention spans] which leads us to miss out on "good" music--while at the same time arguing that we should listen to stuff we don't think we'll like--stuff, in short, we don't consider "good." If the person who likes Bon Jovi has to give Bach a try, in order to be consistent the person who likes Bach must also give Bon Jovi a try. So what we have here, in the end, is not a closer attention to "the Beautiful" [whatever that is] but a profligate attention to everything--Guernica and Lady Gaga and Gucci. In the end, we're not left with a closer attention to what is truly Beautiful, but a search for scraps of beauty in everything.

Which I'm down with. Indeed, I think that's the only valid form of objectivity. I tend to be skeptical of the other Tyranny of Taste: [viz. "it must be Beautiful, which means X, Y, Z"]. But I'm not sure it's what the author intended.

Edited by NBooth

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Ok, apparently no one else who values the objective has answered you yet, so:

Over at The Curator there is a recent article on music called "The Tyranny of Taste" It is another appeal to an objective quality and standard of beauty in art. While my opinion on this matter can be easily found here and on other forums (I personally think the cry for recognition and adherence to objective standards stems more from a fight for authority and control, and a bit of self-righteousness, than an actual search to understand beauty, beauty needs no defending), my question is why do so many people care?

Because mankind is fallen, because art affects me morally and spiritually, because a book or a film or a TV show can actually make me into a better or a worse person, because naturally left to myself I will pursue cheap thrills and emotional highs, because naturally I will let myself be satisfied/numbified by that which is easy and takes little to no effort and because there is a particular theology that teaches that the "natural law" contains principles, not just on how to live in the outer world, but also on how to cultivate a richer inner life.

Let's say it is possible to clearly define and explain beauty in a manner that has unquestionable universal application and does not rely on human interpretation. What happens if beauty, or art or taste or where ever the discussion occurs, is empirically shown to be objective? What happens if it is shown to be subjective? What happens if it is shown that it ultimately doesn't matter? Do we think art will change one way or the other? Will we be able to pass laws to make some (currently legal) art illegal and incarcerate the offenders? Will that make a better world? Does God stop being God? Is our faith for naught? Why this importance for objectivity (implicitly intellectual and quantifiable) on a human level? Will the world really go to hell in a handbasket one way or the other?

Your questions assume too many other presuppositions. If there are no objective standards, then God is certainly a different "kind of" God than Christianity holds Him to be. I think the problem lies perhaps in the economic assumption that art and beauty are amoral. But there is a whole theological and philosophical tradition that argues that the affect that art has on a human being is essentially moral in nature. There are works of art that desensitize us and works of art that increase our empathy for others. There are works of art that increase the ability of our minds to think deeply and works of art that help us wire our own brains into increased shallowness. The true, the good, and the beautiful are related to and point towards each other and towards the Divine. If you have really no understanding of this point of view, I'd recommend Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind. In the book, for example, he quotes Irving Babbit:

... In our pupilage to the humanitarians, we have lost sight of standards; upon the restoration of standards depends the preservation of our civilized life and our humanity.

“Commercialism is laying its great greasy paw upon everything (including the irresponsible quest of thrills); so that, whatever democracy may be theoretically, one is sometimes tempted to define it practically as standardized and commercialized melodrama ... One is inclinced, indeed, to ask, in certain moods, whether the net result of the movement ... may not be a huge mass of standardized mediocrity; and whether in this country in particular we are not in danger of producing in the name of democracy one of the most trifling brands of the human species the world has yet seen.” ... (pg. 428)

The desire for objective standards does NOT orginate from any desire for power, control, authority, or wanting to pass laws to impose one set of taste on everyone. Thinking in terms of objective standards in art relating in any way to government power is not thinking aesthetically at all (with the occasional exceptions of the protective city zoning ordinance or the preservation of a National Park).

With this article in particular, there is an appeal to be open to things one might not like and finding value outside one's preferences that I am sympathetic to. Frankly, I find the disparaged perspective of "I like Bach, you like Bon Jovi, praise the Lord anyhow" to be more open than not to allowing value to something one might not like.

The problem you are up against here is there is an entire theological debate over whether "value" is intrinsically something that man himself gets to decide whether or not to allow. Both Bach and Bon Jovi have value, but I don't think it is up to just anyone to determine how much value their work really possesses. Remember, we live in a society where it is believed that value is determined by consumer demand in the marketplace. Consumer demand is subjective. All value of works of art are assigned ever changing units of value in a mass-consumer society. But there are those of us who would argue that Bach would still be appealing to something within us that Bon Jovi could never touch, even if demand for Bon Jovi has driven his monetary value up higher than Bach's. Bach is certainly more difficult to cultivate a taste for or to listen to. But one is committing a sort of aesthetic suicide if one implies that his genius or talent was interchangeable with Bon Jovi's.

I think people care for a number of reasons: a need/desire for certainty, for instance. Or a conviction that there just has to be a "right" way to do things.

Or from an increased realization or conviction that I have been indulging myself and wasting my time with shallow cliched entertainment that was making me into a shallow, cliched and unthinking person. Or from the desire to find something more than my shoddy modern day education gave me and taught me. Or from the realization that there are far greater advantages to looking for value in the writings of Slavoj Zizek, Umberto Eco or Terry Eagleton rather than in the writings of Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer or Tom Clancy. You could, after all, be reading Clancy instead of Eagleton right now. Maybe you could even find some "scraps of beauty" there.

... the author argues that [A] we are too ruled by our individual "tastes" [and our short attention spans] which leads us to miss out on "good" music--while at the same time arguing that we should listen to stuff we don't think we'll like--stuff, in short, we don't consider "good." If the person who likes Bon Jovi has to give Bach a try, in order to be consistent the person who likes Bach must also give Bon Jovi a try. So what we have here, in the end, is not a closer attention to "the Beautiful" [whatever that is] but a profligate attention to everything--Guernica and Lady Gaga and Gucci. In the end, we're not left with a closer attention to what is truly Beautiful, but a search for scraps of beauty in everything. Which I'm down with.

Modern commercial advertising is "down with" this viewpoint as well.

Personally, I've read books and seen films in which "scraps of beauty" were frowned upon (by author or director) with great disapproval. For example, I think a couple scraps of beauty wandered innocently enough into Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon. But they were stomped on, poisoned with CGI, dragged into a large junkyard and, like Jimmy Hoffa, will never be seen ever again.

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Your questions assume too many other presuppositions. If there are no objective standards, then God is certainly a different "kind of" God than Christianity holds Him to be.

I was trying not to assume much of anything other than I don't understand the benefit of quantifiable objective standards for beauty. One thing I do think we find in the Christian understanding of God is his ability to find beauty and value where no one else did (and sometimes wanting to destroy what went against a defined objective standard) or would expect, especially with people.

I do think we are called to search for "scraps" of beauty in everything. I think that is an exhortation from Paul, is it not?

What of the affect the viewer has on the art? Is the viewer only ever at the mercy of the work? Does the viewer/listener not bring anything to the work?

Joe

Edited by jfutral

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I found this line problematic:

"First, I think it should remind us not to devalue the very thing that we enjoy. Treating music as just a means to an emotional end makes listening a utilitarian, rather than artistic, pursuit."

There are many artists, whole schools of art, who would say the primary reason for the existence of art is exactly that, emotion. So he might as well be saying "Using a hammer just to drive nails makes the hammer utilitarian".

Joe

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Apologies in advance for all the Eagleton-flogging; this discussion happened to come up right as I was starting The Event of Literature, and there's similar themes running throughout that book.

Ok, apparently no one else who values the objective has answered you yet, so:

I don't think that's entirely fair. You seem to be assuming that the only alternatives are "objective standards" and "freefalling relativism". And perhaps I invited that with my reference to "profligate attention." But the fact remains that it's a false binary--which I'll get in to below.

Your questions assume too many other presuppositions. If there are no objective standards, then God is certainly a different "kind of" God than Christianity holds Him to be. I think the problem lies perhaps in the economic assumption that art and beauty are amoral. But there is a whole theological and philosophical tradition that argues that the affect that art has on a human being is essentially moral in nature. There are works of art that desensitize us and works of art that increase our empathy for others. There are works of art that increase the ability of our minds to think deeply and works of art that help us wire our own brains into increased shallowness. The true, the good, and the beautiful are related to and point towards each other and towards the Divine.

Agree and disagree, here. Agreed: art is not amoral. I do think its morality is sometimes impossible to pin down, but insofar as nothing is amoral, art certainly isn't [then again--you have to define moral here. John Gardner and Terry Eagleton have very different understandings of what constitutes "moral fiction."] I'm not going to get in to the whole "If there are no objective standards" thing, but it's certainly possible to argue that there's a moral quality to art without arguing that it demands that you assent to an "Objective" standard of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Theoretically, you could take a pragmatic approach and go with "whatever works" [this isn't something I would want to defend, mind, but it's a theoretical possibility]. Or you could locate morality in enhanced imagination. In that case, morality is an instance of heightened empathy, etc etc etc, were morality is objective but not axiomatic. There's problems with that viewpoint, too. But rejecting a strong "Objective" view of art does not mean rejecting a moral reading of it. Keep an eye on the word "strong"--it's going to be important later.

The desire for objective standards does NOT orginate from any desire for power, control, authority, or wanting to pass laws to impose one set of taste on everyone. Thinking in terms of objective standards in art relating in any way to government power is not thinking aesthetically at all (with the occasional exceptions of the protective city zoning ordinance or the preservation of a National Park).

Well.... Standards of "taste" have certainly functioned in the past as class-markers, and [as Eagleton points out] the reason the Victorians wanted working-class people to read good novels was, in part, because they wanted to distract them from their reality. "[R]eading was an alternative to revolution" (63). Power doesn't always take the form of government coercion.

The problem you are up against here is there is an entire theological debate over whether "value" is intrinsically something that man himself gets to decide whether or not to allow.

Sure it is. I actually agree with the rest of this section, but there's a couple of issues with this bit. First, it presupposes that there is a Platonic Ideal of some sort to which we have access and with which we compare works of art. But since we only access the idea of art through art itself, I don't see how that's workable. And, second, you're speaking of Man as a monolithic thing with a mind of its own. Works of art don't come to be valued because the Mind of Man decides to value them, but because the discourse of humanity [well...the discourse of the West as it has historically taken place among men] finds these works somehow worthwhile [again, not through access to a Platonic Ideal, but through a much more messy sort of arrangement].

Or from an increased realization or conviction that I have been indulging myself and wasting my time with shallow cliched entertainment that was making me into a shallow, cliched and unthinking person. Or from the desire to find something more than my shoddy modern day education gave me and taught me. Or from the realization that there are far greater advantages to looking for value in the writings of Slavoj Zizek, Umberto Eco or Terry Eagleton rather than in the writings of Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer or Tom Clancy. You could, after all, be reading Clancy instead of Eagleton right now. Maybe you could even find some "scraps of beauty" there.

Yeah, I was in a hurry and figured that a proponent of strong Objective taste would come and fill those in. smile.png. But there's not really anything in Zizek, Eco, or Eagleton to prevent the reader from being shallow, cliched, or unthinking; I read Shakespeare when I was twelve, but I don't think I really got much out of it beyond the ability to recognize any play by its plot. Oh, and ramble off disjointed bits of dialogue. It's not wholly the works themselves that promote depth of inquiry; it's also the questions one asks. So yeah, if you're asking the right questions of Clancy [for instance, "what does this novel tell me about American militarism/military fantasy in the mid-nineties?"] it could be more rewarding than simply reading Eco because he's Objectively "good."

Here's the thing--there's strong Objectivity and weak Objectivity. I'll take literature as my example, since it's what I know. The "strong" view would hold that there are Objective Standards of Beauty which are independent of all works of art and which can be used to make value-judgements on any contender for "artfulness." The New Critics, the proponents of belles lettres, Aristotle.... All these writers contended that there was a "right" way to do things and a "wrong" way to do them. And, though there are points of commonality, they generally disagree on what, exactly, constitutes "good" literature.

The problem with strong Objectivity is that it actually fails to prescribe or proscribe any work. The academic establishment couldn't keep Finnegan's Wake out, nor could it keep hard-boiled novels out. Henry James famously argued that Dickens was a second-rate writer and that Whitman was a hack. He did this based on a strong-objective understanding of What Literature Is. Which is to say--for every Objective Rule you can lay down for "what good [art, literature, music] is," someone could point to a work--often an acknowledged masterpiece--that breaks that rule. So the rules can't be Objective in the strong sense.

The "weak" view acknowledges the basic fluidity of What Art Is. It recognizes certain works [say, the Sistine Chapel] as Great Works, but it also maintains an openness to other forms of art [say, street art] which might speak as readily to their own contexts as the Chapel spoke to its. We don't get the privilege of determining what goes down in history as Great Art (as Henry James--or Ben "would that he had blotted a thousand" Johnson--or Edmund Wilson--could attest]. The question is: why worry about trying to determine Objective Rules for what makes Great Art? Why not appreciate--and criticize--what is in front of us without demanding it fit a prearranged mold of Greatness?

The "weak" view also admits that it could be wrong, and that valuable works could be hiding anywhere. Which is important if, for instance, you find yourself concerned that the Canon is still made up mostly of dead white males.

Modern commercial advertising is "down with" this viewpoint as well.

See, this is why I think you're being unfair. Because commercial advertising is emphatically not down with this viewpoint precisely because it's a mode of paying attention. Mindlessly bobbing your head along with "Born this Way" before moving on to "Moves like Jagger" and then "Like a G-6"--never stopping to pause and reflect--that is what advertising is all about. I'm talking about a critical appraisal, which does take the form of a "weak" objective viewpoint. You don't have to hold that there are Ideal Standards to which All Art must Aspire in order to objectively criticize Ke$ha. You just need ears. I'm talking about seriously probing into pop artifacts rather than dismissing them because they don't fit an Objective Standard--and rather than harrumphing about the fact that some people like Bon Jovi and some people like Bach [keeping in mind--again--that Taste has always been a class-marker].

Personally, I've read books and seen films in which "scraps of beauty" were frowned upon (by author or director) with great disapproval. For example, I think a couple scraps of beauty wandered innocently enough into Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon. But they were stomped on, poisoned with CGI, dragged into a large junkyard and, like Jimmy Hoffa, will never be seen ever again.

Right. And I don't care to subject myself to those movies precisely because I have a "weak" objective view. I've got to protest here: bringing up Michael Bay is the filmic equivalent of Godwining, no? smile.png. But you know, if--a hundred years from now--some bright scholar finds hidden depths in Bay's work--and it's happened before with "bad" literature/film/art, and it will most assuredly happen again--I will--well, I'll do nothing, for obvious reasons, but if I could be unsurprised, I would be unsurprised.

jfutral said:

What of the affect the viewer has on the art? Is the viewer only ever at the mercy of the work? Does the viewer/listener not bring anything to the work?

This, I think, is a key observation. If we're really just mindlessly flipping through an iPod, the results could range anywhere from simply deadening [or non-awakening] to disastrous [meh, I doubt it, though]. I'm not in favor of mindlessly doing anything. I am in favor of mindfully attending to the mundane and the trashy. That's another question entirely.

Edited by NBooth

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The true, the good, and the beautiful are related to and point towards each other and towards the Divine. If you have really no understanding of this point of view, I'd recommend Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind. In the book, for example, he quotes Irving Babbit:

... In our pupilage to the humanitarians, we have lost sight of standards; upon the restoration of standards depends the preservation of our civilized life and our humanity.

“Commercialism is laying its great greasy paw upon everything (including the irresponsible quest of thrills); so that, whatever democracy may be theoretically, one is sometimes tempted to define it practically as standardized and commercialized melodrama ... One is inclinced, indeed, to ask, in certain moods, whether the net result of the movement ... may not be a huge mass of standardized mediocrity; and whether in this country in particular we are not in danger of producing in the name of democracy one of the most trifling brands of the human species the world has yet seen.” ... (pg. 428)

BTW, thanks for chiming in on the "pro-objective standards" side. Personally, I would alter that first sentence a bit and say the true, good, and beautiful point toward as they come from the Divine. And for myself, just as God is more than I can know, so, too, is beauty. Not that it is unknowable, but that there is always more to know than I can know.

But this quote seems to get to what I imagined, if there is no objective beauty or standards there is no civilized life or humanity. I actually kind of agree with that. But will we ever know enough to be able to define its borders, extrapolate the formula?

So there are two parts to this question—1) Is there such a thing as objective beauty? and 2) is this boundary something we can fully comprehend and apprehend? Or are we ever subject to our own limited understanding?

Joe

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I'm not in favor of mindlessly doing anything. I am in favor of mindfully attending to the mundane and the trashy. That's another question entirely.

Maybe. Or this may very well be the issue. There is a rationalist tendency to believe that if someone disagrees it is either because they misunderstood something along the way or they are not thinking it through thoroughly enough, otherwise everyone would reach the same conclusion. Particularly if objective standards do exist and are equally accessible and understandable by all. I just don't know how we can ever get outside our own subjective nature enough to be able to say "This is the objective beauty we were all striving for" with any kind of authority (there is that word again).

First, it presupposes that there is a Platonic Ideal of some sort to which we have access and with which we compare works of art. But since we only access the idea of art through art itself, I don't see how that's workable.

That's really the crux isn't it? There could be universals of just about anything. But we can only understand the universals through the particulars, which will never be the universal itself, therefore never a complete or exact representation. At least as far as we can know.

Joe

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I was trying not to assume much of anything other than I don't understand the benefit of quantifiable objective standards for beauty. One thing I do think we find in the Christian understanding of God is his ability to find beauty and value where no one else did (and sometimes wanting to destroy what went against a defined objective standard) or would expect, especially with people.

While I'd argue for the importance of objective standards in art, I wouldn't do anything as silly as using the word "quantifiable" in order to describe them. I don't even think morality is "quantifiable." I occasionally get the impression that those who question objective standards view "objective standards" as little finite limited things that, metaphorically speaking, can all be collected into a box. The natural law philosophers argued that it was more complex than that. While objective standards may never be fully understood, quantified or defined, a useful understanding of them may still be deduced. And yes, God sees value where we do not. And we ought to strive to see as He sees - there might not be anything much more wonderful than that. But I'd also suggest that God occasionally sees no value where we see value (e.g., white-washed sepulchres, etc.)

I do think we are called to search for "scraps" of beauty in everything. I think that is an exhortation from Paul, is it not?

Is it? You'd have to point the reference out. I do remember Paul exhorting us to focus on specific things (Philippians 4:8), not quite the same as all things.

What of the affect the viewer has on the art? Is the viewer only ever at the mercy of the work? Does the viewer/listener not bring anything to the work?

Of course the viewer brings something to a work of art - himself or herself. Some viewers will find far more value from a work of art than others. Some viewers will work much harder at finding value from a work of art than others. Let's just say that there are some works of art that will reward the hard work and there are other works of art that won't.

Ok, apparently no one else who values the objective has answered you yet, so:

I don't think that's entirely fair. You seem to be assuming that the only alternatives are "objective standards" and "freefalling relativism". And perhaps I invited that with my reference to "profligate attention." But the fact remains that it's a false binary--which I'll get in to below.

Actually, you are getting my "assumption" right there. Another simpler way of putting it would be to say that I am assuming that the ONLY two alternatives is that (1) there are objective standards or (2) there aren't objective standards.

I'm not going to get in to the whole "If there are no objective standards" thing, but it's certainly possible to argue that there's a moral quality to art without arguing that it demands that you assent to an "Objective" standard of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Theoretically, you could take a pragmatic approach and go with "whatever works" [this isn't something I would want to defend, mind, but it's a theoretical possibility]. Or you could locate morality in enhanced imagination. In that case, morality is an instance of heightened empathy, etc etc etc, were morality is objective but not axiomatic. There's problems with that viewpoint, too. But rejecting a strong "Objective" view of art does not mean rejecting a moral reading of it.

Actually, while it's possible to argue, it is the act of arguing itself that proves the need for some sort of objective standard. The pragmatics are appealing to a higher objective standard of what works being somehow superior to what does not work (and thus, their logic should lead them over to Jeremy Bentham). Whoever apeals to "heightened empathy" as somehow better than "lessened empathy" is still refering to this objective idea of one thing being "better" than the other. We simply are not able to discuss this without eventually appealing a higher standard of some sort.

I'm not sure I follow your distinction between a "weak" and "strong" objective view. I'll think it over for a bit before I continue.

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I'm not in favor of mindlessly doing anything. I am in favor of mindfully attending to the mundane and the trashy. That's another question entirely.

Maybe. Or this may very well be the issue. There is a rationalist tendency to believe that if someone disagrees it is either because they misunderstood something along the way or they are not thinking it through thoroughly enough, otherwise everyone would reach the same conclusion.

Right. Which is the obverse of the stereotypically Post- or Late-Modern assumption that differences of opinion are irreducible. Both stances are, I think, reactionary in their own way.

That's really the crux isn't it? There could be universals of just about anything. But we can only understand the universals through the particulars, which will never be the universal itself, therefore never a complete or exact representation. At least as far as we can know.

Yup. Getting back to Eagleton [who seems to be dominating my life right now], we could say that there are "family resemblances" among works of art, but it doesn't follow that they all hew to the same Objective Standard of the Good, the True, or the Beautiful. Paradise Lost is beautiful in a different way--and to a different end--than The Waste Land.

While I'd argue for the importance of objective standards in art, I wouldn't do anything as silly as using the word "quantifiable" in order to describe them. I don't even think morality is "quantifiable."

So would you say that, like pornography, you just know it when you see it? Because, if it's not quantifiable, it's not exactly useful as a Objective Standard in the "strong" sense. What, exactly, is "True"? Factually accurate? I doubt any of us here would admit that definition. Existentially justified? Metaphysically pure? What is "Good"? And--as in the post that started this thread--what is "Beautiful"? Is there not a sense to which we only know truth, goodness, or beauty by a kind of collage? In which case, it becomes less like a Standard and more like pornography--not in the sense alluded to in the article, but in the sense of being the kind of thing you know when you see. And if I see a strip-mined mountain as possessing its own kind of beauty [desolation, as a witness to the human's destructive greed, etc etc etc] where others see nothing but a wasteland, can we really say that one is truly seeing Beauty where the the other one fails? I think not. Again, it's about the questions you're asking.

I occasionally get the impression that those who question objective standards view "objective standards" as little finite limited things that, metaphorically speaking, can all be collected into a box.

Perhaps it's because that's how Objective Standards have typically been used. Cf. the New Critics, who honed literature down to a handful of elements ["symbolism," "irony," etc] and used it to define Literature [thus, a literary work is one that shows these qualities; if it does not show these qualities, it isn't "true" literature]. Or see Edmund Wilson's "Oooh, those Awful Orcs!" in which he manages to totally miss the point of LOTR because it's not a standard "realistic" novel.

Actually, you are getting my "assumption" right there. Another simpler way of putting it would be to say that I am assuming that the ONLY two alternatives is that (1) there are objective standards or (2) there aren't objective standards.

Right. And I maintain that it's a false binary because you're ignoring a third possible set of standards: ad hoc standards, "good enough" standards, provisional standards [subject to revision]. Again, let me point to the ways in which the Canon of Literature fluctuates: we're all the time adding authors who used to be considered less-than [Anna Katherine Greene is suddenly hot stuff], or else dropping authors who used to be considered exemplary [Thomas Wolfe is pretty neglected now. Not the man-in-full; the other guy]. What determines these fluctuations? Not strong-sense Objective Standards, certainly. If that were true, a book like Uncle Tom's Cabin wouldn't be in the Canon. Political considerations are important, perhaps [ACG is useful, in part, because she was a widely-regarded female author who somehow missed being roped into the American Canon]. Changing taste has an impact. Recognition of the importance of a work in its cultural moment [which is how Stowe gets in, and which is how even something as shoddily written as The Da Vinci Code could conceivably find itself in the 2077 Norton Anthology]. The truth is, we hold works of art in regard for a whole battery of reasons, many of which have little to do with Objective Standards. I'll try to dig in to this idea a little below.

Actually, while it's possible to argue, it is the act of arguing itself that proves the need for some sort of objective standard.

Ah, but these standards are qualitatively different. A pragmatic isn't appealing to the Order of Things; s/he is appealing to particularities, not general principles. Same with the proponent of "heightened empathy." These things might be objective in the "weak" sense I outlined above--and which I'll elaborate on a bit below--but the standard to which they appeal is certainly not "higher" in the same sense that an appeal to "the true, the good, and the beautiful" is. Not all objective standards are created equal.

Another distinction: "objective" has to be parsed. A standard can be objective because it's a thing in the world [as this chair or that ladder is objective as a part of material reality] or it can be objective in the sense that it is normative [which is how I take Objective Standards of Beauty in this conversation]. I'll admit the existence of objective standards in the former sense [that is, we have a standard for what a sonnet looks like, and anything that doesn't follow that pattern isn't a sonnet] but I deny it in the latter sense [the fact that it's not a sonnet tells me exactly nothing about how good it is; it might be a very good rondel or a very bad villanelle]. Similarly, the fact that Bon Jovi is not Bach tells me nothing about how good Bon Jovi is; it simply tells me that he isn't Bach. The question of whether a pop song is inferior to a Bach piece strikes me as a ludicrous one, and hardly worth asking. We don't worry about whether a sonnet is inferior to an epic; they're two different things. Asking such a question is rather like asking why the President is such a terrible bowler, as if being good at one thing demands being good at another.

Now, the question becomes--are there standards within that class which give us some sort of normative way to evaluate them? And, again, there may well be some qualities which all "good" members of that class share, and which we recognize as characteristic of a "good" sonnet or pop song or whatever. But these are hardly solid standards--they are not Objective in the "strong" sense. What, exactly, makes "She Loves You" superior to, I dunno, Justin Bieber's "Baby"? I would suggest that, if you break both songs down to their parts, it becomes impossible to make a qualitative assertion about them. Both are oppressively banal lyrically; both are catchy, but not much else. And yet one is a "classic" and one is destined--I think--to live eternally in a half-lit world with the collected output of Aaron Carter. Why? Part of it is age; "She Loves You" has proven to be consistently popular over several decades, and so has become canonized in the popular imagination; it's "good" because, in a tautological move, we say it's "good." Meanwhile, "Baby"--which displays exactly as much lyrical ingenuity--is unlikely to achieve the same status. Though I may be wrong. The point is that extra-normative considerations become just as important for qualifying a pop song as "good," given time and distance. [And now Andy Whitman can come and slap my wrist for dabbling in music criticism. I deserve it. :P]

Edited by NBooth

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Standards of "taste" have certainly functioned in the past as class-markers, and [as Eagleton points out] the reason the Victorians wanted working-class people to read good novels was, in part, because they wanted to distract them from their reality. "[R]eading was an alternative to revolution" (63). Power doesn't always take the form of government coercion.

"Standards of taste" has functioned as a "class-marker." So has education functioned as a class-marker, but that doesn't mean education isn't worthwhile. I know you aren't questioning the value of education, but the point of this thread seems to be to question the value of objective standards. Pointing out that something has been used to make distinctions between classes is ... well, I don't understand how that's an abuse of power or relevant to the question in this thread (even though Joe has mentioned it too).

In your first post, Joe, you said that you thought "the cry for recognition and adherence to objective standards stems more from a fight for authority and control, and a bit of self-righteousness." I don't understand where this is coming from. It would seem to me that objective standards could be used against any sort of oppressive authority or control. It was by focusing on natural law that Medieval to Enlightenment thinkers were able to challenge the authority of the king as not above the law. It was by focusing on human universals in works of art that many artists were able to speak to people about topics that were often banned from public discussion.

... there's a couple of issues with this bit. First, it presupposes that there is a Platonic Ideal of some sort to which we have access and with which we compare works of art. But since we only access the idea of art through art itself, I don't see how that's workable. And, second, you're speaking of Man as a monolithic thing with a mind of its own. Works of art don't come to be valued because the Mind of Man decides to value them, but because the discourse of humanity [well...the discourse of the West as it has historically taken place among men] finds these works somehow worthwhile [again, not through access to a Platonic Ideal, but through a much more messy sort of arrangement].

Not every theologian who argues that moral value is objective is going to presuppose or refer to the Platonic ideals. The idea is that truth, good or beauty is other - is outside of our own selves for us to discover - for us to be shaped, affected and built by. We have a moral law that we have access to. From the moral law is derived the idea, for example, that human life is valueable. Some works of art uphold the value of human life and some works of art disparage the value of human life. And this is something objective, not subjective, by which we can compare works of art.

But there's not really anything in Zizek, Eco, or Eagleton to prevent the reader from being shallow, cliched, or unthinking; I read Shakespeare when I was twelve, but I don't think I really got much out of it beyond the ability to recognize any play by its plot. Oh, and ramble off disjointed bits of dialogue. It's not wholly the works themselves that promote depth of inquiry; it's also the questions one asks. So yeah, if you're asking the right questions of Clancy [for instance, "what does this novel tell me about American militarism/military fantasy in the mid-nineties?"] it could be more rewarding than simply reading Eco because he's Objectively "good."

Obviously our subjective approaches to art can limit the value that we find in them. But that's our fault, not the fault of the work itself or the artist. Furthermore, you argue that a deep thinking reading of Tom Clancy could be far more worthwhile than a shallow reading of Umberto Eco. But you've left out the conclusion from those facts. Take it one step further, and a deep reading of Eco will be more worthwhile than a deep reading of Clancy.

Personally, I would alter that first sentence a bit and say the true, good, and beautiful point toward as they come from the Divine. And for myself, just as God is more than I can know, so, too, is beauty. Not that it is unknowable, but that there is always more to know than I can know.

But this quote seems to get to what I imagined, if there is no objective beauty or standards there is no civilized life or humanity. I actually kind of agree with that. But will we ever know enough to be able to define its borders, extrapolate the formula?

Right. So the fact that there is always more of truth, good and beauty than we can fully know means that it is always going to be a worthwhile pursuit. There is always a further place to which we can grow. We know enough to begin to deduce borders and formula, but there doesn't necessarly have to be an end to it. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why objective value is "so special."

So there are two parts to this question—1) Is there such a thing as objective beauty? and 2) is this boundary something we can fully comprehend and apprehend? Or are we ever subject to our own limited understanding?

1) Yes.

2) No. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it provides a powerful motivation to keep learning and cultivating and growing.

3) Yes. But this is a limit that we can work towards extending. Realizing this limit is important because it opens us up to the possibility that there is far more out there (outside of my own little self and my own limited personal tastes) to explore and appreciate.

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Standards of "taste" have certainly functioned in the past as class-markers, and [as Eagleton points out] the reason the Victorians wanted working-class people to read good novels was, in part, because they wanted to distract them from their reality. "[R]eading was an alternative to revolution" (63). Power doesn't always take the form of government coercion.

"Standards of taste" has functioned as a "class-marker." So has education functioned as a class-marker, but that doesn't mean education isn't worthwhile. I know you aren't questioning the value of education, but the point of this thread seems to be to question the value of objective standards. Pointing out that something has been used to make distinctions between classes is ... well, I don't understand how that's an abuse of power or relevant to the question in this thread (even though Joe has mentioned it too).

Not just "to make distinction between classes." That's a neutral move: rich people have money, poor people don't; rich people drive one kind of car, poor people drive another. The issue is: making a distinction to what end? Thus: "A civilized man appreciates fine wine [class marker--you have to be able to [A] afford fine wine, and have enough idle time to cultivate a discriminating palate] while a ruffian drinks only beer [working-class drink]". The unspoken assumption is that you can discriminate between "our kind" and "others" based on what they drink, or what books they read, or whether they prefer Mozart of Mantovani. It's this sort of thing that becomes an abuse of power--it's a way to keep the "bounders" off our turf.

EDIT: In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that the above is a move I make, as much as anyone else. If given a choice between a cheap canned beer and a more expensive, possibly micro-brewed, brand, I'll take the more expensive one--because I think it's better. Indeed, I think it could be demonstrated, and I would think that anyone who prefers the cheap beer must be wrong in some way. But it would be foolish to argue that there isn't an element of class-based assumptions here, tied in with my "objective" conclusion that the more expensive beer is better. The problem is that the weeds and the wheat grow together, so one must always be on guard against making a snap-judgment either of the product [which, for all I know, may be better than average] or the person drinking it, since those types of judgments serve to reinforce social barriers.

It occurs to me that possibly the most instructive example of this use of "good taste" as a class barrier would be The Beverly Hillbillies. In that show, most of the comedy arises from the fact that the Clampetts, with their rural habits, don't "fit in" with the high society of their neighbors. Even though they are just as rich as everyone else, their taste for bluegrass and country "vittles" serves as a mechanism to reinforce their Otherness, much as the gaudy clothing and manners of the nouveau riche middle class served to set them off from the (often impoverished themselves) aristocracy in Victorian England. Of course, being the show it is, TBH presents the class conflict as basically a triumph for the Clampetts, since they're better people than their snooty neighbors. See also: Ma and Pa Kettle in Waikiki: "Do you like Tchaikovsky?" "Why, no--I've never had a chance to try any of these Hawaiian dishes"--where, clearly, Ma Kettle (who is, again, as well-off as these well-bred women) is set off as Other by the fact that she doesn't recognize a cultural marker having nothing to do with whether Tchaikovsky is objectively good.

Not every theologian who argues that moral value is objective is going to presuppose or refer to the Platonic ideals. The idea is that truth, good or beauty is other - is outside of our own selves for us to discover - for us to be shaped, affected and built by. We have a moral law that we have access to. From the moral law is derived the idea, for example, that human life is valueable. Some works of art uphold the value of human life and some works of art disparage the value of human life. And this is something objective, not subjective, by which we can compare works of art.

I agree with this bit, actually. I'm still leery of putting a "strong" spin on it w/r/t art.

Obviously our subjective approaches to art can limit the value that we find in them. But that's our fault, not the fault of the work itself or the artist. Furthermore, you argue that a deep thinking reading of Tom Clancy could be far more worthwhile than a shallow reading of Umberto Eco. But you've left out the conclusion from those facts. Take it one step further, and a deep reading of Eco will be more worthwhile than a deep reading of Clancy.

Even so. Some works lend themselves more to a particular sort of reading, and these are the works we call "Great." But what happen if our type of reading changes? What if, one day, it becomes apparent that Shakespeare doesn't answer the questions we ask? I might feel that it's a net loss for humanity, but that's because I'm interested in asking the kinds of questions Shakespeare answers.

So there are two parts to this question—1) Is there such a thing as objective beauty? and 2) is this boundary something we can fully comprehend and apprehend? Or are we ever subject to our own limited understanding?

1) Yes.

2) No. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it provides a powerful motivation to keep learning and cultivating and growing.

3) Yes. But this is a limit that we can work towards extending. Realizing this limit is important because it opens us up to the possibility that there is far more out there (outside of my own little self and my own limited personal tastes) to explore and appreciate.

See, here's where I'm awfully close to your understanding. I would answer:

1) Perhaps, but it changes. To take a brutally banal example, one generation may consider a large nose a standard of beauty while another prefers a pert, up-turned nose; more to the point, one generation may find allegory to be the height of beauty in literature while the next abhors it as doing violence to Reality [whatever that is].

2) No

3) Yes

Edited by NBooth

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In your first post, Joe, you said that you thought "the cry for recognition and adherence to objective standards stems more from a fight for authority and control, and a bit of self-righteousness." I don't understand where this is coming from. It would seem to me that objective standards could be used against any sort of oppressive authority or control. It was by focusing on natural law that Medieval to Enlightenment thinkers were able to challenge the authority of the king as not above the law. It was by focusing on human universals in works of art that many artists were able to speak to people about topics that were often banned from public discussion.

Well, if you didn't just illustrate the struggle for authority and power inherent to the argument over objective standards, I don't know how much more I can. All the same, re:art, it is usually one of two perspectives—the ones arguing for objective standards in art are almost always speaking out against someone's or several someones' art and usually trying to subvert any positive recognition that art has received. Or from the other side (the anarchist, if you will) the artist trying to subvert a society's accepted norms of beauty.

There is a strong defense to be made that this kind of back and forth on the dynamic polarities is what serves to expand our understanding of beauty. But it is a struggle with the perceived stakes to be able to say what is and isn't beauty or art. It would be great if all objectivists had as humble a view on our ability to perceive the objective as you've so far articulated. But it seems to be that whenever someone grasps something of the objective it is almost always used as a weapon, rarely as a way to deeper understanding.

Standards by definition require measure. Whether you want to use a qualitative or a quantitative measure makes no difference to me. As an artist who is moving more and more into arts administration and curation, quantitative becomes even more important as we try to justify financial support. Cry all you want about the ill affects of consumerism, but until you can develop and disseminate a post-monetary economy (and I am all for that!) financial consideration is always going to be a measure. Should it be? Probably not. Should it be primary? Absolutely not. But I still need to put food on the table and a roof over the heads of my family and pay my debts and debtors.

But the question really becomes what measure? We say art has intrinsic value, but "value" really is an extremely subjective word. Sometimes I need my despair soothed. Sometimes I need my arrogance tamed. Not all works can affect both. So some art will have greater value than others, relative to any number of things.

And what is the nature of that measure? Is it linear? Is there a point above, even, and below that beauty can/should be compared to? Or if qualitative, what are the qualities that every thing of beauty must contain?

Obviously our subjective approaches to art can limit the value that we find in them. But that's our fault, not the fault of the work itself or the artist.

I say that is not a fault. That is humanity. That is the other half of art, not just a necessary evil for art to exist. Art requires the viewer. Art is the sound of a tree falling in the wilderness. If there is no one to hear, it makes no sound.

The viewer is so important, the viewer can alter the results of a work—turn a painting of a beautiful woman or man into pornography. I would say the viewer has the greater responsibility to beauty than any artist. Just as quantum physics has its observation affect, so, too, does art and beauty. In essence, beauty _is_ in the eye of the beholder because it is in the beholder that beauty will find its resulting definition. The eye is the light of the body. If the eye is good, your whole body is filled with light.

But is this affect objective or "freefall relativism"? What if it is both?

Joe

P.S. Paul says to the Thessalonians "...test all things, hold onto the good" (Futral's paraphrase).

Edited by jfutral

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[Our understanding] is a limit that we can work towards extending. Realizing this limit is important because it opens us up to the possibility that there is far more out there (outside of my own little self and my own limited personal tastes) to explore and appreciate.

Which is why I am far more appreciative of the disparaged sentiment "You like Bach, I like Bon Jovi, praise God anyway!"

Joe

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Which is why I am far more appreciative of the disparaged sentiment "You like Bach, I like Bon Jovi, praise God anyway!"

No one here here is going to disparage the sentiment that you ought to praise God. However, adding "praise God" to the end of a dismissive statement does not let anyone off the hook for making the statement in the first place.

"You're healthy, my arm just got cut off, praise God anyway!"

"You went to Yale, I dropped out of highschool, praise God anyway!"

"You believe this elevator is unsafe, I believe this elevator is perfectly safe, praise God anyway!"

Theologically, there are still problems to be dealt with at the end of all four of the above sentences.

Here's the thing--there's strong Objectivity and weak Objectivity. I'll take literature as my example, since it's what I know. The "strong" view would hold that there are Objective Standards of Beauty which are independent of all works of art and which can be used to make value-judgements on any contender for "artfulness." The New Critics, the proponents of belles lettres, Aristotle.... All these writers contended that there was a "right" way to do things and a "wrong" way to do them. And, though there are points of commonality, they generally disagree on what, exactly, constitutes "good" literature.

The problem with strong Objectivity is that it actually fails to prescribe or proscribe any work. The academic establishment couldn't keep Finnegan's Wake out, nor could it keep hard-boiled novels out. Henry James famously argued that Dickens was a second-rate writer and that Whitman was a hack. He did this based on a strong-objective understanding of What Literature Is. Which is to say--for every Objective Rule you can lay down for "what good [art, literature, music] is," someone could point to a work--often an acknowledged masterpiece--that breaks that rule. So the rules can't be Objective in the strong sense.

So, what you're saying is that if a work is really [objectively] good, then it will survive, last and transcend the flailings of those who try to use objective standards in the wrong way. If you believe in objective standards for art, then you will have no trouble at all in safely prescribing numerous works that a majority of people don't read anymore. Proscribing works is admittedly more difficult and requires humility, but it gets easier once you see what many of your friends actually are reading (on the rare occasions when they do). It is objective standards that allows you to tell your friend, "See here, don't read that ... that author's English vocabulary is stunted (and he/she hasn't even read Ernest Hemingway). Here, read this instead and I dare you to tell me that it isn't better."

The "weak" view acknowledges the basic fluidity of What Art Is. It recognizes certain works [say, the Sistine Chapel] as Great Works, but it also maintains an openness to other forms of art [say, street art] which might speak as readily to their own contexts as the Chapel spoke to its. We don't get the privilege of determining what goes down in history as Great Art (as Henry James--or Ben "would that he had blotted a thousand" Johnson--or Edmund Wilson--could attest]. The question is: why worry about trying to determine Objective Rules for what makes Great Art? Why not appreciate--and criticize--what is in front of us without demanding it fit a prearranged mold of Greatness?

The "weak" view also admits that it could be wrong, and that valuable works could be hiding anywhere. Which is important if, for instance, you find yourself concerned that the Canon is still made up mostly of dead white males.

The "weak" view sounds like objective agnosticism to me. You can strongly believe in the existence of objective standards without (1) being close-minded to other forms of art that you aren't familiar with, (2) declaring that you alone get to determine historical value, or (3) insisting on "prearranged molds." The value of objective standards does not rest on any of these things. Instead, it's objective standards that allow us to even say that something is valuable in the first place.

See, this is why I think you're being unfair. Because commercial advertising is emphatically not down with this viewpoint precisely because it's a mode of ... never stopping to pause and reflect--that is what advertising is all about ... I'm talking about seriously probing into pop artifacts rather than dismissing them because they don't fit an Objective Standard--and rather than harrumphing about the fact that some people like Bon Jovi and some people like Bach...

You can say that some works of art are valuable. This is because you have an idea of different things of which value consists of. You can, indeed, look for these things anywhere. In your looking, you will come across works of art that do not possess these things. Therefore, you are allowed to say that some works of art are not valuable. Dismissing the valuable for the sake of the not valuable is often a part of modern consumer society.

There is a rationalist tendency to believe that if someone disagrees it is either because they misunderstood something along the way or they are not thinking it through thoroughly enough, otherwise everyone would reach the same conclusion. Particularly if objective standards do exist and are equally accessible and understandable by all. I just don't know how we can ever get outside our own subjective nature enough to be able to say "This is the objective beauty we were all striving for" with any kind of authority (there is that word again).

Simple: (1) Get ahold of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. (2) Insert an aforesaid DVD into DVD player. (3) Turn on widescreen television. (4) Make sure DVD, television and soundsystem are all connected. (5) Watch the aforementioned film. (6) Then speak the words "This is the objective beauty we were all striving for." (7) Don't worry, you will have authority.

There are many other painters, sculptors, authors, poets, musicians and composers about whose work we can do the same thing. This is, in fact, called the study of aesthetics.

So would you say that, like pornography, you just know it when you see it? Because, if it's not quantifiable, it's not exactly useful as a Objective Standard in the "strong" sense.

As far as the field of aesthetics is concerned, it is "propositional" not "quantifiable."

Actually, you are getting my "assumption" right there. Another simpler way of putting it would be to say that I am assuming that the ONLY two alternatives is that (1) there are objective standards or (2) there aren't objective standards.

Right. And I maintain that it's a false binary because you're ignoring a third possible set of standards: ad hoc standards, "good enough" standards, provisional standards [subject to revision]. Again, let me point to the ways in which the Canon of Literature fluctuates: we're all the time adding authors who used to be considered less-than [Anna Katherine Greene is suddenly hot stuff], or else dropping authors who used to be considered exemplary [Thomas Wolfe is pretty neglected now. Not the man-in-full; the other guy]. What determines these fluctuations? Not strong-sense Objective Standards, certainly. If that were true, a book like Uncle Tom's Cabin wouldn't be in the Canon. Political considerations are important, perhaps [ACG is useful, in part, because she was a widely-regarded female author who somehow missed being roped into the American Canon]. Changing taste has an impact. Recognition of the importance of a work in its cultural moment [which is how Stowe gets in, and which is how even something as shoddily written as The Da Vinci Code could conceivably find itself in the 2077 Norton Anthology]. The truth is, we hold works of art in regard for a whole battery of reasons, many of which have little to do with Objective Standards.

Your explanation here is choosing #2 - there aren't objective standards. "Good enough" standards subject to revision are not objective.

Our understand of them may be limited. Past conclusions may be overthrown. Some critics who argued over objective standards have turned out to be right, some of them have turned out to be wrong. But if we impose our own human changing understanding in place of objective standards then we have lost what makes the whole pursuit meaningful and worthwhile. We cease to be able to make distinctions and to speak in terms of value. We lose the ability to call kitsch and cliche what it is. And we lose the authority to recommend great art to those who are living without it. It's alright that our historical understanding changes with time. But that doesn't mean that we have to disagree with the ancients over what really matters. The historical literary tradition that we now have to work with is rich and practically infinite in depth. It teaches that there are some things being rejected right now that ought not to be.

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The "weak" view sounds like objective agnosticism to me.

That's because it's what it is.

You can strongly believe in the existence of objective standards without (1) being close-minded to other forms of art that you aren't familiar with, (2) declaring that you alone get to determine historical value, or (3) insisting on "prearranged molds." The value of objective standards does not rest on any of these things. Instead, it's objective standards that allow us to even say that something is valuable in the first place.

But where do those objective standards come from? That's the question. If they descend from on high or are accessible from some meditation on the Nature of Things, then they can be held in a strong sense. If, however--as I'm arguing--objective standards only arise from the sedimentation of cultural discourse, then they can only be accessed through the texts themselves, and must therefore be held provisionally. Heck, even meditating on the Nature of Things is a matter of reasoning up from particulars to generalities, and as such those standards are by necessity dependent on particularities, and so subject to being overturned when new particularities or circumstances arise [as, for instance, when a new form like the novel is born and "objective" standards for evaluating literature don't work].

You can say that some works of art are valuable. This is because you have an idea of different things of which value consists of. You can, indeed, look for these things anywhere. In your looking, you will come across works of art that do not possess these things. Therefore, you are allowed to say that some works of art are not valuable. Dismissing the valuable for the sake of the not valuable is often a part of modern consumer society.

Since no one's doing that here, I doubt it's much of a problem.

[incidentally, I've been struck lately at how very similar a Conservative and a Leftist critique of "modern consumer society" sound. A Marxist could make exactly the same objections to consumerism that the article does, though of course the conclusion would be very different]

As far as the field of aesthetics is concerned, it is "propositional" not "quantifiable."

So lay me out some propositions for what makes up Beauty. "A thing is beautiful because of the consistency of the parts"? But what about those loose, baggy monsters like The Idiot? "A thing is beautiful because it is true"? But then you've pushed the question back and have to define "true"--factually accurate? Existentially verified? Divinely revealed? What if the book is Lolita, which is beautiful but [to some readings] morally repugnant [i would suggest that such a reading misses the point, but whatever]? Or what if there were a beautifully-written book [and what's beautiful writing? I find Hemingway's prose unbearably stilted, and much prefer Faulkner's fever-dream sentences, but can we really say that one is more beautifully-written than the other?] and that book was not only told from the point of view of an amoral reprobate, but actually written by an amoral reprobate? What if it's "true" to his understanding but not "true" to external reality? What if I read it as if it were a deconstruction of his belief-system even if he never intended it as such? Is it still true?

All of which means that you can talk about "objective Beauty" in some sort of abstract way, but when you come down to looking at actual works, it's pretty useless as an evaluative tool since, in order to encompass all theoretically valid approaches to Beauty, it has to be so general as to be essentially meaningless.

Your explanation here is choosing #2 - there aren't objective standards. "Good enough" standards subject to revision are not objective.

Actually, they are. See my discussion of "objective" above: a thing can be "objective" in the sense of being external to the work without being "objective" in the sense of being normative.

Our understand of them may be limited. Past conclusions may be overthrown. Some critics who argued over objective standards have turned out to be right, some of them have turned out to be wrong. But if we impose our own human changing understanding in place of objective standards then we have lost what makes the whole pursuit meaningful and worthwhile. We cease to be able to make distinctions and to speak in terms of value. We lose the ability to call kitsch and cliche what it is. And we lose the authority to recommend great art to those who are living without it.

Objective standards are the result of our human changing understanding. They couldn't exist without them because they couldn't exist without the works from which they draw their "objective" nature; if there were no such thing as a sonnet, we could not know what makes a "good" one. As such, they are tentative and evolving--and invariably confined and constituted by certain material-historical circumstances. That doesn't void art of meaning. It's a tautology, but withal a true one: art is useful because we find it useful. It's worthwhile because we find it worthwhile.

It's alright that our historical understanding changes with time. But that doesn't mean that we have to disagree with the ancients over what really matters. The historical literary tradition that we now have to work with is rich and practically infinite in depth. It teaches that there are some things being rejected right now that ought not to be.

The ancients disagreed with each other over what really matters. Plato wanted to kick poets out of the Republic, while Aristotle thought tragedy was an essential part of social life. The "historical literary tradition" is worthwhile, but it's by no means monolithic. Milton, Eliot, and Virgil might all be poets, and all believe in "beauty," but their projects are all radically different, as is their understanding of "what really matters." It can't be stated too bluntly: there is no firm agreement, even in the West, about "what really matters" beyond a few general statements ["human flourishing"] that come apart in your hands if you look too closely at them.

Incidentally, I resent [just a little bit] the implication that rejecting some Absolute Standard implies a wholesale rejection of everything before 1967. If anything, it opens the historical tradition up even more because one is free to plunder through the ancients without worrying about having to assent to everything they say or agree with them in exactly the way they mean to be agreed with. It's perfectly possible to appreciate the Sistine Chapel without feeling the need to agree with Michelangelo's theory of art, just as it's possible to appreciate Dali without growing a mustache. "Strong" objectivity doesn't hold a monopoly on the past; it's communal property. Furthermore--any viewpoint that wants to take seriously the "historical tradition" must also, by necessity, take seriously the multivocal attacks on that tradition. Just as the history of ideas didn't begin in the sixties [or seventies or eighties....] it didn't end there, either. Attacks on "historical literary tradition" are as much a part of that tradition as arguments in its defense. It's not like you can abstract yourself from an historical framework; we are always grounded in and reacting against something. Even a post-modernist can't exist unless there's a modern to be post- about.

Edited by NBooth

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Which is why I am far more appreciative of the disparaged sentiment "You like Bach, I like Bon Jovi, praise God anyway!"

No one here here is going to disparage the sentiment that you ought to praise God. However, adding "praise God" to the end of a dismissive statement does not let anyone off the hook for making the statement in the first place.

"You're healthy, my arm just got cut off, praise God anyway!"

"You went to Yale, I dropped out of highschool, praise God anyway!"

"You believe this elevator is unsafe, I believe this elevator is perfectly safe, praise God anyway!"

Theologically, there are still problems to be dealt with at the end of all four of the above sentences.

i can't even begin to see how you can seriously consider those comparable. My example at least remains open to finding value in the other as opposed to simply dismissing the other.

Simple: (1) Get ahold of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. (2) Insert an aforesaid DVD into DVD player. (3) Turn on widescreen television. (4) Make sure DVD, television and soundsystem are all connected. (5) Watch the aforementioned film. (6) Then speak the words "This is the objective beauty we were all striving for." (7) Don't worry, you will have authority.

There are many other painters, sculptors, authors, poets, musicians and composers about whose work we can do the same thing. This is, in fact, called the study of aesthetics.

Sure, as long as your subjective eye believes that work is objectively beautiful. How do you escape subjectivism again? Oh, you don't.

[edit to add] OK, in an attempt to not be as dismissive about beauty as the (strong) objectivists are always want to be, his work is beautiful, a fine _example and singular sample_ of beauty. But if this was all I had as an example of an objective beauty, if this is the objective all should be striving for, I'd rather be blind and deaf. And my authority would only extend as far as anyone agreed. It would have no authority, nor should it, beyond that. But if this guy floats your boat and a steady diet of his work is all you need to sustain you, good on you. Or in the words of the disparaged "Praise God anyway". You find value in this guys work beyond my own views. That's good enough for me.

Joe

Edited by jfutral

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Which is why I am far more appreciative of the disparaged sentiment "You like Bach, I like Bon Jovi, praise God anyway!"

No one here here is going to disparage the sentiment that you ought to praise God. However, adding "praise God" to the end of a dismissive statement does not let anyone off the hook for making the statement in the first place.

"You're healthy, my arm just got cut off, praise God anyway!"

"You went to Yale, I dropped out of highschool, praise God anyway!"

"You believe this elevator is unsafe, I believe this elevator is perfectly safe, praise God anyway!"

Theologically, there are still problems to be dealt with at the end of all four of the above sentences.

i can't even begin to see how you can seriously consider those comparable. My example at least remains open to finding value in the other as opposed to simply dismissing the other.

A more apt comparison would be, again, evoking the filmic Godwin: "I think Orson Welles is worthwhile; you think Michael Bay is worthwhile. Praise God anyway!"

But it's perfectly possible to say that without being a full-scale relativist. You could, for instance, be saying it to a loved one whose friendship you value more than your understanding of film. But let's make no mistake: what you are really saying in this case is:

"I find Orson Welles useful in ways that I do not find Michael Bay useful, but if you're able to ask useful questions and get useful answers out of Transformers, more power to you!"

Which, again, strikes me less as an absolute rejection of absolute standards and more as a recognition that how you approach a work is at least as important as the work itself.

Of course--again--comparing Michael Bay to Orson Welles--or Bach to Bon Jovi--is a category error. Citizen Kane is a very bad action movie.

Sure, as long as your subjective eye believes that work is objectively beautiful. How do you escape subjectivism again? Oh, you don't.

Right. The question is: authorized by whom? And in what context?

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Right. The question is: authorized by whom? And in what context?

Which brings us back to my original question. I apologize for allowing myself to get side tracked. I did not mean for my involvement in this discussion to be about "This, not that". That's fine if others want to tread those trails. I've never had a problem with a thread I start developing into other branches. I just accept it as the nature of human communication, especially as exercised on the internet.

Let's accept that first objective beauty as a natural basis shown to be real. the how may or may not be important, but we can work backwards for that a bit, I think. This unifying theory of beauty exists and we can either quantitatively or qualitatively (or both) use this as a real standard to measure other works to see where they fall on the "good, true, and beautiful scale". And anyone who would argue against it might as well be arguing that plants don't need water or that gravity doesn't have the effect it does. Or whatever other futile argument you find acceptable as an analogy.

What then? What is the result of this that makes arguing for this worth the effort? What is prevented? What is encouraged and progressed? What changes? Can things be more true, good, and beautiful than others? Does pain and suffering no longer exist? Or can those, too, fall within this measure? What of the ugly? What of the building block that was rejected? Is that no longer a potential? What of the things that, by this objective measure, should fall outside those bounds?

Joe

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i can't even begin to see how you can seriously consider those comparable. My example at least remains open to finding value in the other as opposed to simply dismissing the other.

But objective standards do not preclude finding value in the other or lesser work. Maybe I'm at fault for this, but I find the statement annoying in the satisfaction that it seems to be expressing. It's comparative to the sentiment that sees no relevant difference between enjoying Dante's Divine Comedy and enjoy Tom Clancy. So you like Shakespeare, and I like Stieg Larsson, so why bother with such a triviality as which author produces the greater works? This is an attitude that I find to be dismissive of art, itself. Rembrandt could paint, so can my five-year-old, why quibble over any standards? Because it is the very standards that allow us to discern value. One of the consequences of this sentiment is a disregard for art in modern Protestant churches. Another consequence of this sentiment is a poor education.

Sure, as long as your subjective eye believes that work is objectively beautiful. How do you escape subjectivism again? Oh, you don't.

[edit to add] OK, in an attempt to not be as dismissive about beauty as the (strong) objectivists are always want to be, his work is beautiful, a fine _example and singular sample_ of beauty. But if this was all I had as an example of an objective beauty, if this is the objective all should be striving for, I'd rather be blind and deaf. And my authority would only extend as far as anyone agreed. It would have no authority, nor should it, beyond that. But if this guy floats your boat and a steady diet of his work is all you need to sustain you, good on you. Or in the words of the disparaged "Praise God anyway". You find value in this guys work beyond my own views. That's good enough for me.

I'm not trying to escape subjectivism. I'm just proposing that there is something greater than our own subjective tastes. It is only by presupposing this that we can even allow for the idea that our own personal subjective tastes can be improved. Doesn't it make sense to say that, in holding a work of art up in order to say that "this is an example of the sort of thing we want to strive for," you are not excluding or dimissing everything else? Can't one suggest that Andrei Tarkovsky's films affirm certain objective truths about human nature without denying that other directors can do so as well? It's not offensive, is it, to then claim that some directors do this better than other directors?

A more apt comparison would be, again, evoking the filmic Godwin: "I think Orson Welles is worthwhile; you think Michael Bay is worthwhile. Praise God anyway!" But it's perfectly possible to say that without being a full-scale relativist ... But let's make no mistake: what you are really saying in this case is: "I find Orson Welles useful in ways that I do not find Michael Bay useful, but if you're able to ask useful questions and get useful answers out of Transformers, more power to you!" Which, again, strikes me less as an absolute rejection of absolute standards and more as a recognition that how you approach a work is at least as important as the work itself.

Take most reality TV shows for another example. I'm not even going to deny that someone somewhere can find value or worth in watching a typical narcissistic show like Jersey Shore. But, I'm also working under the following propositions. (1) There are objective standards of value. (2) There is more value to be found in other TV shows than is to be found in Jersey Shore. (3) Our time is limited. (4) There is point where time spent with something of low value equals time not spent with something of high value. (5) The type of art that you absorb affects who you are. If I want to find something redemptive or edifying out of watching the Transformers films, power to me. But that doesn't change the fact, thank God, that I can do better. I would derive part of this idea from Hebrews 5:12-14 and I would apply it to art as much as I would apply it to theology. Looking for what is true, good or beautiful in the works of Bruce Wilkinson or Tim LaHaye is time I could be spending looking for those same things in the works of Dante or St. Thomas Aquinas. This doesn't mean that reading Wilkinson or LaHaye is wrong. But the more time I spend reading them, the more they are going to affect me. And the idea here is that not all works of art affect us positively.

Which brings us back to my original question ... Let's accept that first objective beauty as a natural basis shown to be real. the how may or may not be important, but we can work backwards for that a bit, I think. This unifying theory of beauty exists and we can either quantitatively or qualitatively (or both) use this as a real standard to measure other works to see where they fall on the "good, true, and beautiful scale". And anyone who would argue against it might as well be arguing that plants don't need water or that gravity doesn't have the effect it does. Or whatever other futile argument you find acceptable as an analogy.

What then? What is the result of this that makes arguing for this worth the effort? What is prevented? What is encouraged and progressed? What changes? Can things be more true, good, and beautiful than others? Does pain and suffering no longer exist? Or can those, too, fall within this measure? What of the ugly? What of the building block that was rejected? Is that no longer a potential? What of the things that, by this objective measure, should fall outside those bounds?

Joe,

I cannot emphasize enough that accepting that there are objective standards does not require you to then quantitatively measure works of art by some rule to determine who is better than whom. In fact, you can even acknowledge the existence of objective standards without insisting that they all be precisely and finitely defined. It is possible to acknowledge that there are real standards of value and, at the same time, acknowledge the fallibility of man, the fact that we all do have prejudices and limited cultural backgrounds, and that we ought to be very careful in evaluating artistic worth. The belief in objective standards in art does not preclude this at all. You do not have to reject something you decide to be of lesser worth - it can still have a little worth, and that's better than nothing.

But you are asking why it matters. It matters because we make decisions every week and every day on how to spend our time. I have many friends who tell me that they don't have time to read anymore. But there are many people in history who had far less leisure time than we all have today and who read far more. If truth, goodness and beauty are not merely subjectively determined by our own personal whims, if they are truly other than our own selves, then we can really grow and mature in how we learn to spend our time. The fact is that there is a rich treasury that our cultural and historical traditions have given us - and it is already far more than we can digest in a single lifetime. So what then? What is the result of saying that objective standards matter? The result is that we are then able to begin pursuing quality in content. Yes, there is debate over what higher and lower quality consists of - but the debate is worth having because it allows us to cultivate what is of higher value.

I used to be a much more shallow and thoughtless person than I am today and this was because of how I spent my time. I am still persuaded that I am still shallower and more thoughtless than I ought to be. I have also become convinced that there are films and books that make me better and there are films and books that make me worse. There are forms of leisure that teach me to think more deeply and there are forms of entertainment that teach me to be apathetic to that which I shouldn't be apathetic towards. This doesn't mean you have to reject that which is of lesser value. I can still enjoy a good Mickey Spillane novel. But if all I ever read was Mickey Spillane, then there would be something wrong with me (I would literally think and act towards other people differently). So, what's so special about the "objective"? It is special because it is a principle that can make us better human beings. Without it, we lose the ability to cultivate how we spend our time towards higher ends.

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But objective standards do not preclude finding value in the other or lesser work. Maybe I'm at fault for this, but I find the statement annoying in the satisfaction that it seems to be expressing. It's comparative to the sentiment that sees no relevant difference between enjoying Dante's Divine Comedy and enjoy Tom Clancy. So you like Shakespeare, and I like Stieg Larsson, so why bother with such a triviality as which author produces the greater works? This is an attitude that I find to be dismissive of art, itself. Rembrandt could paint, so can my five-year-old, why quibble over any standards? Because it is the very standards that allow us to discern value. One of the consequences of this sentiment is a disregard for art in modern Protestant churches. Another consequence of this sentiment is a poor education.

Ok, I don't follow the Protestantism thing. My impression was that distrust of finery--and of image--not so much a lack of standards--is what evacuated Protestant churches of art. But here's the thing--why are we even trying to compare Shakespeare and Larsson? Why is it so important to say "Shakespeare is greater"? Shakespeare didn't write The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and probably couldn't if he tried. Larsson couldn't write King Lear. That to the side, what would you do with a society that suddenly valued Larsson over Shakespeare and found in him truths as immediate and transcendent as we find in Shakespeare?

Take most reality TV shows for another example. I'm not even going to deny that someone somewhere can find value or worth in watching a typical narcissistic show like Jersey Shore.

Well, we've already seen an example of this already, in an episode of Bones that, to be honest, was more than a little offensive:

But, I'm also working under the following propositions. (1) There are objective standards of value. (2) There is more value to be found in other TV shows than is to be found in Jersey Shore. (3) Our time is limited. (4) There is point where time spent with something of low value equals time not spent with something of high value. (5) The type of art that you absorb affects who you are. If I want to find something redemptive or edifying out of watching the Transformers films, power to me. But that doesn't change the fact, thank God, that I can do better.

So suppose, eight hundred years from now, a Future Archeologist digs up a hard-drive containing the complete run of Jersey Shore [a show I've never seen and never intend to--and I'll shamelessly cite your reasons for that even as I argue against them in the strong sense]. He plugs it in to his Eye Pod, watches it, and is shocked by the fantastic satire of early twenty-first century culture. He rushes to the nearest university, writes up a paper titled "J[filecorrupted]y Shore and the Limits of Post-Modernity," a paper which revolutionizes understanding of ancient American culture. The series is translated and reissued in holograph, taught as a text in schools. Snooki and the Sitch come to be seen as the great Ironic Couple [see, I have no idea if they're even a couple but it doesn't matter for the purposes of this thought-experiment]; their delicate handling of the unhappy rootlessness of living in their society--handling it, perhaps, through excessive displays of hubris [which is prophetic since, after all, only the hubristic and the cockroach will survive the apocalypse of 2025]. In due time, HWD [named for the ruins above it, perhaps a long-lost tribute to the god Ron Howard] decides to make an updated version called Snooki and the Sitch's Grand Adventure. The years pass and eventually the anonymous scribe of J[filecorrupted]y Shore is spoken of in the same breath as Homer, Shakespeare, and Vestor Phillpotts [author of Gardening with Human Waste and The Practical Rose-Grower's Guide, tenth edition--both classics of pre-apocalyptic irony].

Now, suppose you were transported to this future and forced to argue over the value of J[filecorrupted]y Shore. You point out, for instance, the shallowness of the people on it and these futurepeople respond, "Ah, but that's the point! This is the greatest satire produced before Norway dropped the bomb on us! It captures the uncertainty of a time when ancient America feared the Swedish alliance more than it feared the Peruvian Axis." And no matter how hard you argue, you can't convince them that Jersey Shore is "really" just an inexplicably popular reality show. Which is as it should be.

Now, if this little thought-experiment has had any point, it would be to modify your list:

(1) There are objective standards of value which derive from a specific context--that is, they are not objective in the sense of being normative. (2) There is more value to be found in other TV shows than is to be found in Jersey Shore as it currently functions in the discourse. (3) Our time is limited in both an historical and an existential sense. (4) "Low" and "high" value are relative to that time. (5) The type of artthat you absorb and the way you approach it affects who you are.

Incidentally, who said we "absorb" anything? We're not sponges.

I would derive part of this idea from Hebrews 5:12-14 and I would apply it to art as much as I would apply it to theology. Looking for what is true, good or beautiful in the works of Bruce Wilkinson or Tim LaHaye is time I could be spending looking for those same things in the works of Dante or St. Thomas Aquinas. This doesn't mean that reading Wilkinson or LaHaye is wrong. But the more time I spend reading them, the more they are going to affect me. And the idea here is that not all works of art affect us positively.

They mostly affect me by giving me ulcers. Which, I guess, isn't positive. But I still insist--and you've nodded at this a couple of times, but it needs to be put in big bold letters [though I won't do that because typographical frippery is not my bag]: works of art are not autonomous agents that work on the passive viewer/reader. They are discourses of one kind or another which the reader constructs in her mind as she reads. In that sense, neither reader nor work is passive--it's a dialectic. Which means I could spend an inordinate amount of time reading LaHaye, and his affect could be radically different from what the work intends because I'm deconstructing it or because I'm repurposing it as a black comedy of manners. We're not sponges and, contra Aristotle, our mind doesn't just form around an idea and hold its shape. Even a lazy reader is active; and an active reader is practically a creator in his own right.

I cannot emphasize enough that accepting that there are objective standards does not require you to then quantitatively measure works of art by some rule to determine who is better than whom. In fact, you can even acknowledge the existence of objective standards without insisting that they all be precisely and finitely defined.

Or even that they're normative.

What is the result of saying that objective standards matter? The result is that we are then able to begin pursuing quality in content. Yes, there is debate over what higher and lower quality consists of - but the debate is worth having because it allows us to cultivate what is of higher value.

Of course, you can dismiss normative values and still pursue quality. It's just a different kind of quality. For that matter, you could study art, not because you think it leads to some abstract Beauty, but [i dunno] because you want to study art. The action [again, here is Eagleton poking his hoary old head out] is its own telos.

what's so special about the "objective"? It is special because it is a principle that can make us better human beings. Without it, we lose the ability to cultivate how we spend our time towards higher ends.

Oh really? The vast majority of people waste their time, and have always wasted it in some sense [since, as Hawthorne observed, you can't actually be a poet-philosopher-farmer], whether or not they believe in "objective" value. And I suspect that at least a few members of the Historical Literary Tradition would disagree with you, arguing that art is not objective, that what matters is the subjective impact of the poem or painting or whatever. And, again, it's possible to hold a weak "objective" viewpoint, which is something you're still not admitting: "objective truths" could just be objects in the world with no normative or transcendental properties. It's objectively true that most chairs have four legs, but it tells me nothing about how good the chair I'm sitting in right now is. And these objective standards are not fixed; in some future society, chairs may have three legs, and that doesn't make them any less chairs.

Ok. So I'm going to back up and state the obvious: if given the chance between Shakespeare and Snooki, I take Shakespeare. I take him because I think he's more interesting. I take him because King Lear makes me feel [to purloin from the truly over-rated Emily Dickinson] as if the top of my head were physically removed. So obviously, on a functional level, I behave as if I believed objective standards were normative. Which we all do--even a thoroughgoing relativist does the same thing. It's kind of a condition of [as you say] how you parse up your time. But let us be clear-eyed about what we're doing: we find Shakespeare valuable in ways that, for instance, eighteenth-century people didn't, and in a way that, perhaps, an obscure tribe in New Guinea wouldn't, and we don't find that value because we're more attuned to some Transcendent Objective Standard. We find that value because of the questions we ask, and the context in which we ask them. And if either of those elements change, we shouldn't be surprised if--a hundred or two years from now--Shakespeare is considered mildly interesting at best and Marlowe is considered the Greatest Playwrite Ever.

The thing is--and the real point of my 'scraps of beauty' comment above--you don't have to start flinging around Objective Standard vs. Taste in order to encourage people to try out difficult works. The thing is--the telos of a work is the work itself, and you can appreciate that simply because it's the kind of work you prefer. You could even argue that a difficult work makes you a better person because it operates on your Being in certain ways. You could encourage folks to look closer at something you found valuable. But with that comes a quid pro quo--if you want to encourage others to find value in what you do, you have to be willing to look for value in what they do. If I show a friend Ordet, I had sure as heck better be willing to watch--and appreciate, on some level--even something I consider as worthless as Transformers. The demand to find value outside of your Taste cuts both ways.

Edited by NBooth

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Yes, there is debate over what higher and lower quality consists of - but the debate is worth having because it allows us to cultivate what is of higher value.

Thinking about this some more today. I also came across this article on NPR about Donna Summer, which I think is very relevant and right in line with something I was thinking about.

I was contemplating why current art, music for instance, reaches so many more people than the classics. Why would I like Bon Jovi more than Bach? A lot of us who give this kind of thing a lot of thought easily dismiss it as "it's mindless" or "it's easy" or whatever. And I think in pop music's defense, yes it is easy and that is an important point. It is more relatable. That guy or girl up on stage could have been (and might even have been) me or my neighbour. They are playing an instrument I have played or at least desired to play at some point in my life. They sing about things I know or dream about. The music they play is at the end of time as I am, that is, everything that has shaped that music to sound as it does is the same kind of things that have shaped me to be who I am today, living in the environment I live in today. I understand that music because i can easily understand that music. I don't have to learn Italian, it is speaking the english I know.

I had more here, but NBooth put it better.

I think the word that keeps troubling me is "standard" because it requires a measure. And Modernity loves to measure because there is power in measuring, particularly if I can be the one holding the tape. To say there is an "objective standard" is to say exactly as you keep saying, that some things are better. It means there is a particular something, an actual form or substance to compare to. But how can we say this is a standard when we can't actually fully see what we are comparing to? When we say better we really mean better at something or things in particular. You really can't say "better" without imposing a subjective/relative quality or quantity. In a sense "objective" does not have meaning on its own. Just like a read a statistician the other day say, data has no meaning on its own, it needs context to make sense. To say 2 feet is our standard measure means we have to know which direction from 2 feet we are deviating from in order to know if we are better at presenting 2 feet than something else.

So, is there a better word to use than "standard"? I can't figure out what it is. Maybe we can just say there is an objective beauty we all strive to understand, some in ways other than everyone else. I don't know what word means all that.

I also give humans a little more benefit of the doubt. I don't think taste is a direct (much less exhaustive) indicator of what people hold as valuable. I think taste is just that, taste. A green salad brimming with vegetables may be better for me, then a burger from Five Guys, but sometimes nothing satisfies like that burger. That doesn't mean I don't think the salad has value. Nor does it mean I won't beat myself up for not eating more salads.

As someone who makes his living as an artist this is _always_ a wrestling match for me. Why do some artists creating excellent, thoughtful work find the financial road so much more difficult? I actually struggle with both objectivists and subjectivists in power. The galleries and presenters who look to promulgate the latest, newest upstart artist are as bad as the objectivists critics who find their art reprehensible. They all want to say what is and isn't art, or, what is or isn't beautiful, while a world of art and beauty goes by the wayside. Occasionally I find the presenter who simply says "I found this beautiful or worthwhile, I hope you do, too." (and probably more so in dance than other art forms because there is so little money in dance to begin with, what power is there to have?)

Joe

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Another interesting article written by Mako. One of the questions asked talks about morality and art:

3. “Strict moralism has never produced good art.” referencing the paragraph about Mary and the perfumed oil being used on Jesus's feet.

Seemed relevant since the idea of art and morals has come up in this discussion.

Joe

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Forgive me for plunging back into this, but something was rattling around in my head while this discussion was going on, and I couldn't quite place it. I only recently realized that it's a quote from C.S. Lewis' collection God in the Dock:

I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered fifth rate poetry set to sixth rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots.

Now, I tremble to invoke Lewis because he's thoroughly over-used. But I think this quote just about nails the positive side of the whole "I like Bach, you like Bon Jovi; Praise God anyway!" stance.

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