Appreciating Art (It’s OK to [Dis]Like It.)

Among non-Objectivists, I’ve noticed in some an over-willingness to like works of art simply because they’re labeled “art.”  Among Objectivists, I’ve noticed in some an over-willingness to dislike works of art if they don’t transparently reflect Objectivist virtues. I’m going to focus on the bad habit among Objectivists with this post.

I just want to tell you all: it is perfectly acceptable to like or dislike something that is designed simply for display purposes.

According to Objectivist aesthetic philosophy, in order for a work to be classified as Art (big A) then it must be representational and it must present the world as it could and should be.  (That’s a gross simplification, so I highly recommend a compilation of essays from Ayn Rand and others called the Romantic Manifesto. It’s not a fully-developed philosophical treatise, but it’s a nice sketch of basic ideas.)

I regard Art much like I regard romantic relationships.  I think it is a mistake to over-think them. Update: I think it’s a mistake to over-think them when trying to decide whether or not you like them. It’s cliche, but you do have to follow your heart.  Nothing good will come of telling your heart what to feel.

If you like a work of art, then you should strive to figure out what it is you like about it.  It does not matter what other people think of it. Your goal is to understand what you value in art.  If you stop to think what you think you should value in art, it will only confuse and blind you to what it is you really, actually do like.

Look here.  This is a print I bought recently:

Yes, this is a representational painting, but it isn’t literal.  There are flowers flying all over and there is no ground upon which the tigers stand.  Perspective is absolutely non-existent.  By the strictest of what many Objectivist might call “Art,” it fails to qualify.

It’s not a very good illustration.  Technically speaking, there are only two aspects of this picture worth discussing at any length whatsoever.  First is color and second is composition.  The color is striking.  It just so happens that that color is what I’ve been looking for as an accent in my living room for the past 24 months.  The composition is a horizontal, lazy S shape.  I can’t say a whole lot about it except that this is unusual.  Sure, I could talk about how it matches the subject, etc., but there’s a limit.

But these two things in conjunction with the subject matter, tigers and tiger lilies, (by the way, tiger lilies are a symbol of joy, productivity, wealth, and pride) make it a painting that I just had to have.

We can talk all night about the technical aspects of this painting.  We can talk about the use of color, the composition, the line, the perspective.  We could even talk about the artist’s capability at rendering the subjects in the work.

Those are certainly relevant and important topics.  They do also weigh upon one’s aesthetic evaluations of a particular work. So, of what does one’s aesthetic evaluation consist?

This is where I believe one’s sense of life takes over. It’s where one must rely on one’s emotional response.  This is because aesthetic values consist of those things which one sees and enjoys in the universe as we live in it.  This is why the test of “Is this a picture of the world as I would like to live in it” is such a good test for a good painting regardless of everything else.

Put more directly, this is where I get frustrated with so many Objectivists.  Instead of thinking about what you should like, it is important — if only as an exercise in introspection — to figure out what it is that you do like.  And once you figure out what it is you do like, you are tasked with figuring out why you like what you like.  But why is far less important than the fact that you like what it is you like.

And this is what I want to emphasize with this post.  The first step in art appreciation is to figure out what it is you like.  Forget what anyone says you should like.  First figure out what you do like and then focus on figuring out what it is you like about it.

We can talk about all the other stuff later.

I am very willing to rant day and night about how you should not like the paintings of Thomas Kinkaide or even why I find most of the paintings of Bryan Larson a bit boring (You heard me.) but fuck what I think about those things.  What do YOU think about those things?  Why do you think that?  What do you like? Why do you like it?

It’s OK to like it.  It’s OK to dislike it.  That’s your business.  Figure it out.

%d bloggers like this: