Saturday, January 7, 2012

Art is subjective.

Sport evaluating a flower
     Mat Gleason wrote a Huffington Post article titled "12 Art World Habits to Ditch in 2012." It was a fun read, a critique of the contemporary gallery art world, probably as it relates to New York City but no doubt could apply to galleries and markets across the United States and beyond. Essentially, I took it to mean the current, contemporary art world, henceforth known as The Art World™. I liked the article enough to link to it on my Facebook feed. In the comments, a Facebook friend quoted from the article and commented thus:
 ‎"Art is subjective. There inherently cannot be experts."

In this context, this is a great statement. But in general, it is a stupid statement, as any art authenticator or restorer will legitimately tell you.

We had a back and forth about his comment, which I disagreed with, mostly because I thought he missed the point and point of view of the writer. In one context, I feel my friend is entirely correct. As far as restoring art or authenticating known works of art and antiquities, yes, experts are, in fact, necessary and valued. However, I believe the author was poking at a different "expert," the art critic, gallery owner or art collector of modern contemporary art that is made by living artists today, here and now. You know, art experts of The Art World™. I also think the comment refers to the aesthetics of the art itself and not the monetary value placed on art due to the opinions of the aesthetics of others.
     So, does the statement "Art is subjective" and the conclusion that there inherently cannot be experts hold up. Well, in this context, yes, I think it does. Each viewer and appreciator of art (and by appreciate, I do not necessarily imply "positive feelings towards") comes at any one piece or performance with their own background, experiences and set of values that inform whether or not this piece or performance has meaning to that particular viewer. What provokes meaning or an emotional response from one person may not do so for another. In that context, yes, art is subjective. More than that, art is inherently subjective and therefore there cannot be "experts."  But in terms of viewing art as a commodity and "if I buy this, will it have resale value for me?" well, that's another ball of wax entirely. 
     When you view art as a commodity — something that an artist like Jeff Koons comments on with his work (Yes, we got it the first time. You can stop with the enormous silver balloon rabbit sculptures, thanks)— then, I feel, by placing a monetary value on the art, you devalue it emotionally; you strip the art of its psychological value. You replace the emotional and psychological value of the work on its own merits with emotional and psychological value based on the perceived monetary value or worth. Two separate things that have become synonymous too often, in my view. I liken it to the change from the post-WWII era view of buying a house as a home where you planned to live your life to the post-modern view of the home as an investment, something you "flip." Perhaps that's the point of view that Mat Gleason was coming from.
     There is nothing wrong with checking in with the opinions of others when it comes to contemporary art. You can open up new perspectives for yourself if you stop to consider the aesthetisc of others. I think, however, the statement:  ‎"Art is subjective. There inherently cannot be experts" is meant more as push-back against dismissing certain kinds of art and performances simply on the opinion of a select few. If the experts told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge... 
     Small anecdotal example I ran into just after this thread on my Facebook page: I am subscribed to an art critic on Facebook, apparently. (an aside: Ignorant me had no idea who this person was, only that he was a friend of a friend and his statuses would show up on my ticker. The statements and discussions were interesting to me and funny. He had a large friend list. I didn't know him personally but he allowed subscriptions so I added myself to the list. Funny guy. Giants fan. New Yorker. I got a kick out of him. Turms out he's a major art critic when I searched his name on Google. So immersed in  The Art World™ am I (not) that I hadn't a clue who he was. Nice to be involved in a profession and be utterly void of knowledge of the major figures in the industry. But then, fame and fortune are not why I do what I do. I make art because I don't know how not to, and it's a form of communication that's socially accepted enough to keep me from being committed. There I said it.) So anyway, this critic, from what I've been able to gather, is... how should I put this? unimpressed with the latest "spot painting" art of Damien Hirst. If you don't know which Damien Hirst I'm speaking of, he's the one who makes large paintings of dotted wrapping paper. Okay, that was mean, but I, too, am unimpressed with, well, large paintings of dotted wrapping paper. However, the conventional wisdom of some "expert" out there in  The Art World™ has deemed that his shit don't stink and his art commands a lot of money. Go figure.
     And that, I think is the crux of the statement  ‎"Art is subjective. There inherently cannot be experts." Even other art "experts" dislike pieces that other "experts" love. So don't be afraid to go against the flow if your heart finds something meaningful and provocative that others dismiss. Love it if it speaks to you. And don't love it, and don't be afraid to say so, if the "experts" say yes and you, no matter how hard you try, just don't get it.


  1. Out here in Orygun we've been discussing Gleason's points about commission galleries and charity auctions. Good comments about our VERY subjective art world.

  2. Lots to think about!

    It used to frustrate me that as a writer, I'm inarticulate when it comes to art appreciation. I have so little art education that there's no real language or context for me to discuss art. It's just "I like this, I don't like that, I LOVE this, I HATE that." It's all visceral. These days, I'm more amused by that than frustrated. There's very little to get in between me and what thrills or repels me.

    I almost never can be made to dislike something based on someone else's opinion, but I've often come to better appreciate art I didn't "get" when I hear why it excites or pleases or impresses someone. That's when I'm grateful to hear others' insights and opinions. None of that has anything to do with the commerce of art, which is all beyond me.