Can there be such a thing as objectivity in art? I don't think so. Others disagree.
Can there be such a thing as objectivity in art? I don't think so. Others disagree.
Roland, when I think of objectivity, I think of something outside of the purview of the witness. When you use objectivity in art, obviously that can't be what you have in mind. Art without someone to appreciate it is meaningless. So, what do you mean by objective? I know you wrote some of it in the Goodkind thread with examples and such, but do you have a more succinct definition?
To me its fairly simple could anyone look at Michael Angelo's David and a picture done by a dog - we've all seen them right - and honestly say I feel the picture is the better work of art. I would say not without lying, now maybe a dog would feel differently - which I suppose might render my argument void.
Ok, I'm reposting my last comments from the SoT topic, with bold for the objectivity part. I am guessing it's as good a start for this discussion as any.
Ok, once more with feeling
However, if you DO know why you like or dislike something, you can also weigh it against other elements of the work in question, as well as its goals, the writer's historical background in terms of place and literature field (if he is from another age), etc. etc. In the end, you have a clear picture of the work which has almost nothing to do with your likes or dislikes. I've said this often - "good" and "bad" should not equal "like" and "don't like". I've disliked objectively good books, and I've loved some pretty crappy ones.
I can give you a solid argument which doesn't prove the existence of objectivity in art, but it does weigh in its favor. It is from my own field - professional music. No matter how many different schools in how many different ages you see, and if you take into consideration the general evolution of technique, the instruments and sensibility, it is astonishing how close opinions are on so many matters of style, phrasing and technique. No matter the personal quirks of the great musicians, there is a sh*tload of stuff they ALL agree on. And this area of "they all agree on" is what I call objectivity. It is not the same as scientific objectivity, nor could it be. But for the purpose of art, it is no less valid and stable. It's just harder to see, prove and accept, if you lack the apparatus.
Btw, the voice being what it is, the occasional lapse in intonation is not necessarily "singing out of tune". It has to be consistent to merit such a description, and to become really annoying. And neither Cobain, nor Dylan are in that group. But singing, like any music, is WAY beyond just basic intonation, and it is not being in or out of tune that wins audiences.
Even if we only stick to one single genre, it is still completely impossible to find anything "best" there. Ok, so Steven Erikson's magic systems are a lot more flashy than Sanderson's. But Sanderson's are way better structured and a lot more stable in terms of internal logic. So which one is better? Those are both objective facts, but in terms of "better" it only matters what YOU personally like as a reader in your magic - logic or flashiness. But then we find Scott Bakker's magic system. It is not as well structured as Sanderson's, but it is a LOT better structured than Erikson's, and arguably just as flahsy, if not more (even though it happens on rare occasions). What's more - it is a lot more poetically described, with not nearly so much pathos, instead opting for symbolic connotation ("unspeakable" words, "blasphemous" songs, etc.). That makes it more elegant and flowing, which amplifies the emotional effect it has - the flashiness. It is to Erikson's magic what a professional ice skater is to two kids playing at being ballerinas. So, if taken in isolation, it is "objectively" better. Of course, that means nothing in terms of likes or dislikes. For many people the pathos and LARGE APOCALYPSES OF MANY VARIETIES of Erikson would be much more appealing (as they are sometimes to me as well). That is why I say that popularity and/or personal feelings should not be the bigger part (as it is inevitable for them to be a part) of judging a work of art.
An essay of some length examining whether such things as "great novels" exist independent of individual subjective evaluation--which is essentially the same thing as this thread examines--can be found here. It originated (as it details internally) as a friendly opposing response to a min-essay on the literary blog The Grumpy Old Bookman, which acknowledged and commented on it. (Those interested should probably first read the original GOB post, which is linked atop the essay.)
First off, I'm not aware there has ever been a universally held definition of Objectivity even when it's applied to scientific pursuits, much less as it applies to Art. So we need to probably get away from Objectivity in its pure form, as a philosophical debate, and be a little more reasonable about what it means to judge a work of art and have that judgement be conclusive or mostly true.
I am not entirely sure, but I think this was in support of what I say, right?
Very difficult premise and argument... because IMO people from both camps, those who believe great art is objective and those who believe their is no objectivity in art, can give very persuasive points.
When I think of this I think of the Great Pyramids of Giza. No one person is going to downplay the remarkable physical achievement that is their structure and construction but if your pov is that of the slaves who died building them... just how "remarkable" are they?
I know thats not the same thing as pertains to this argument but I think my point is we as Human beings aren't objective in things that have no scientific basis. And without some sort of artificial indoctrination... I'm not sure we can.
The art is cool though if there is an author or what have you around to better help explain and build understanding but if that author isnt around and they are nowhere on record of having spoke on it.... well....
out of all the mediums... Poetry is the one that really makes this argument tough though. Its very function is almost totally built upon internal interpretations... and many say poetry is the most artistic.
Uhm, the pyramids are even more remarkable when you consider the lives lost into building them. Their greatness cares nothing for morality. But this is just semantics anyway. As for poetry - I am not too knowledgeable there, but I would think that it is actually easier to recognize bad poetry from good one, as it is a lot more limited than free prose (this is not condescension, it's what makes poetry work). Same as with older music - it's easier to analyze as it follows a lot stricter rules.
Sparrow, I'm not sure I got your last post. I do think that emotions, past experiences and outside influences (especially the last, as my favorite part of objectivity is recognizing authorities in the field) do play a part in judging a work of art. That said, it is the ability to recognize them in your opinion. That is, knowing the darkness that comes before the way you see a specific work of art, and being able to disregard it if it doesn't resonate with what "objective" elements you see (which are - again - partially subjective and vulnerable to the same darkness. It's all very relative and confusing in a charming way )
Last edited by Roland 85; August 29th, 2010 at 11:02 PM.
A discussion of this sort gets nowhere till there is some general agreement about what the words being used actually mean. Since the thread question is about "objectivity", the first step is to make sure everyone here agrees on what "objectivity" means with respect to art. And it wouldn't hurt to define "art" acceptably.
As a beginning, it is obvious that "art" has no meaning save what humans choose to give the term. Ideas like "mass" or "thought" or "infinity" or "vacuum" are not easy to define in words, however well we may feel our intuition grasps them; but in all cases, they refer to concepts that are independent of human judgement. Mass is mass, no matter how we choose to think about it; art is not art except in how we think about it. Is Andy Warhol's depiction of Campbell's soup cans "art"? There is no answer to that save as some group of humans who have more or less agreed on a definition for a human endeavor may answer. Note that "human endeavor" part: a glorious sunset is not, in any definition likely to gain even a modest subscription, "art", however much a depiction or description of it may be.
Once we accept that "art" is entirely a creation of human conception, even without getting to defining just what it is, the matter of "objectivity" passes from its meaning of being related to objects--that is, things and conditions in the world--to some function of the human mind.
I suggest as a starting point that "objectivity" with relation to "art" must signify qualities that a work of art in a given field can possess that will be recognized by a clear and convincing majority of informed critics of that art as hallmarks of excellence. Or, put more simply, "objectivity" with respect to "art" means separating evaluation of greatness (or meanness) from individual enjoyment. One making an objective evaluation of a given work of art must be able to say things such as "Though I don't myself like/enjoy it, it is clearly a great work" or "Though I like/enjoy it quite a bit, it is actually a rather poor work."
Discuss. (An imperative that is jaw-droppingly arrogant.)
I don't think we need to define "art" though, for the purposes of this topic. I think we can all agree that we use the most large definition of the term as it applies to literature, as we are talking about the structure of the writing process itself. So, for this particular discussion, I'd say that Terry Goodkind is as much "art" as John Updike.
Edit: Funny thing though. I just realized that if we accept your definition, then the topic is pointless, as what you describe clearly does exist. So if we accept it to be "objectivity", then objectivity in art is a fact, and not something debatable...
Last edited by Roland 85; August 30th, 2010 at 12:48 AM.
If I say that Line Segment A is shorter than Line Segment B, and you say "No it isn't," we can pull out a ruler and see who's right.
If I say "David Eddings is a better author than Terry Brooks," and you say "No he isn't," how shall we establish who is correct and who is incorrect?
I'm interested to hear your answer to this question.
OK...now it sounds like you agree with me...???A writer cannot intentionally write a "good" story, but that is mainly because "good" is just as general and meaningless as "best"
A) So "good" and "best" are meaningless terms, but "better" is meaningful? Strange argument.He could, however, intentionally write with precise language (that does not mean "simple" btw), he could intentionally go into detail in his character building. He could intentionally decide to put sensory perceptions and innuendos, instead of writing "IT WAS SO VERY SAD!!!" when trying to express emotions. There are a thousand different ways in which a writer can intentionally do something, which in the end would make his work better than others. Objectively.
B) You are right that precision of language can be objectively measured (let's work with this one example; the others are just as useful). So, does more precise language make a book "better" than one with less precise language?
And if your answer to (B) is "It depends on the situation," then I refer you to my question at the beginning of this post (the Eddings/Brooks one).
But who will judge the judges? Who decides who is a more qualified judge of quality?Not true. Because it does matter who is doing the judging
Well, I'd say this is true by definition...If you don't know why you like or dislike something, you are obviously not qualified to judge anything literature-related, outside of just stating your preferences.
Yes, but how is that "clear picture" useful in any way, to any human being?However, if you DO know why you like or dislike something, you can also weigh it against other elements of the work in question, as well as its goals, the writer's historical background in terms of place and literature field (if he is from another age), etc. etc. In the end, you have a clear picture of the work which has almost nothing to do with your likes or dislikes.
What does "validity" mean here?[B]I can give you a solid argument which doesn't prove the existence of objectivity in art, but it does weigh in its favor. It is from my own field - professional music. No matter how many different schools in how many different ages you see, and if you take into consideration the general evolution of technique, the instruments and sensibility, it is astonishing how close opinions are on so many matters of style, phrasing and technique. No matter the personal quirks of the great musicians, there is a sh*tload of stuff they ALL agree on. And this area of "they all agree on" is what I call objectivity. It is not the same as scientific objectivity, nor could it be. But for the purpose of art, it is no less valid and stable.
As for stability, what if aliens showed up and thought Terry Goodkind was Teh Shizznit?
Try biology, hoss. Physics doesn't say much about irritation.There is a rule, written in the laws of physics, that does say, in point of fact, that out of tune tone-producing IS irritating.
See, your descriptions of "objective quality" keep coming back to things like irritation, which is a purely subjective emotional reaction. I dislike Goodkind, in fact, because he irritates me.Btw, the voice being what it is, the occasional lapse in intonation is not necessarily "singing out of tune". It has to be consistent to merit such a description, and to become really annoying. And neither Cobain, nor Dylan are in that group. But singing, like any music, is WAY beyond just basic intonation, and it is not being in or out of tune that wins audiences.
The answer to this question is called the "norm" of the "vector space" of quality.Ok, so Steven Erikson's magic systems are a lot more flashy than Sanderson's. But Sanderson's are way better structured and a lot more stable in terms of internal logic. So which one is better?
...and here we have you making my argument for me again...Those are both objective facts, but in terms of "better" it only matters what YOU personally like as a reader in your magic - logic or flashiness.
The Dunning-Kruger effect may come into play here.
I think it all comes down to how the individual processes input and if when asked to, can they become objective for a short time... and this requires that a person have a certain level of knowledge both concerning the subject matter at hand, and a more global "worldly" knowledge at large.
I remember when our daughter was very young and we took her to her first circus performance... Cirque du Soleil, no less. She was sort of overwhelmed by the experience and as it turned out wasn't as thrilled as we might have expected. But when the American style circus rolled into town she loved it!.. there is no accounting for taste. When the tiny car raced out to center ring and clown after clown after clown gets out, she was mesmerized.
I remember one Saturday morning while I was washing my car I let our not quite three year old rinse off the soapy water. I went around the corner and kinked the hose off and on... and then off. She soon went around the corner to let me know the water had stopped, and whilst caught red-handed with kinked house in hand, I unkinked it and she was instantly soaking wet.
She had just gained some great practical knowledge of cause and effect. And soon she had mommy outside rinsing the car off so she could pull the same joke on her. Later that night when we were all sat down watching tv I wondered where our daughter had gotten to... she was in the dining room playing with the table lamp electrical cord, kinking and unkinking it!
Putting it lightly, I was horrified.
She had taken her experiences from earlier in the day and objectively applied them to something else in a totally inappropriate (and dangerous) manner. I think this is something that we all do without really understanding to what extent we do it.
But yes, I think we can be reasonably objective for very short periods of time, and only with considerable effort.
Last edited by Sparrow; August 30th, 2010 at 07:57 AM.