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Thread: Objectivity in Art
August 30th, 2010, 08:38 AM #16
I don't think you can judge art objectively in a macro sense, art more than anything is about perspective and with perspective comes each individual. You can, for yourself, judge something objectively, but the conclusions you draw will only really hold valid for yourself and those of like-mind. It doesn't set any universal truths, which truthfully is what objectivity is more or less about.
With that said, there are certain elements you can judge objectively to some extent, but judging the whole of what makes a book and by extension compare it to other books in a universal panel just can't be done. That there are disagreements, even among experts in the field, of X book being better than Y book, that W author is better than Z author, should automatically tell us that art is not something to be judged fully objectively. Just a portion of it, but when the whole is concerned, when intentions come into play, when intended audience comes into play, it's simply delusional to think that art can be honestly objectively judged other than for an individual or selective group of like-minded people. But even then, it doesn't set any universal truths, and without that, can one say it's really objective?
August 30th, 2010, 10:24 AM #17
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August 30th, 2010, 10:33 AM #18
I'd say that "objectivity" in art is something like "shared informed subjectivity". Because yes, you are right that even among experts there are arguments about specific books, but generally ALL experts agree on certain aspects of writing.
That is why I was trying to talk about elements, and not "books" in general, and I think this is where nquixote doesn't get my point.
August 30th, 2010, 12:33 PM #19
Of course, it goes right out the window when a new group of informed people shows up and tells the old group that the stuff they thought was crappity crap was actually dripping with "objective" quality. Informed people of Bach's day would not have loved Bob Dylan.
That is why I was trying to talk about elements, and not "books" in general
You miss my point. Like I said repeatedly, you can't judge with such generalizations when it comes to art. It is NOT science, and it is NOT one single solid object to be "better" or "worse" than another object in its entirity. So, if you told me that Eddings is better than Brooks, I'd ask you "in what regard, for which audience, and can you support your opinion with examples?"
A book can, of course, be better than another
If all other elements are equal, then yes, it would undoubtedly be better.
Who decides who is a more qualified politician?
Obviously professionals have a more clear understanding of the principles of writing, so someone who has studied writing - be it in academic environment, or as a hobby - would be more qualified than someone who hasn't. Of course, there can be any number of exceptions to this rule, but in general, people who are interested in the process (and knowing something about it, of course, not just vaguely interested) should be considered better judges than those who aren't. Like with everything else ever, yunno
How is any clear picture useful in any way, to any human being? Why do we seek to know and understand at all?
"Valid" here means "to be considered objective".
Yay for circular definitions!!
If this subjective reaction ocurs in nine out of ten people, than it becomes an objective fact
If yes: What about seventeen out of twenty?
If no: What about seven out of ten?
What is the exact number of people out of ten who are required to define an objective fact?
And what about this notion that informed/interested people should count for more? Wizard's First Rule has a 4.09/5 on Goodreads and a 4/5 on Amazon; does this mean it is high in objective quality?
And you do not dislike Goodkind, because he irritates you. You dislike Goodkind's writing because certain elements of it irritate you, while others are not satisfying enough, etc. etc. And you dislike the person because you disagree with him, because he is pretentious and obnoxious, and not a little demented.
And don't forget the definition I gave at the beginning of this post - really, "objectivity" in art is just a glorified shared subjectivity
But the question of "shared among whom?" is still a question...I find myself feeling strongly that the general public gets a great many things "wrong" (e.g. they like Goodkind), and that the mass of informed educated interested critics also tends to get many things "wrong" (e.g. they like Fahrenheit 451)...thus, either I've made some sort of mistake, or else quality is just something I make up. But I just can't find the mistake.
As a coda, last night my friends and I got together and read passages from Finnegan's Wake out loud to each other. What an amazingly awesome book! I'll leave it up in the air whether "Oh backed von dem zug! Make weg for their tug!" is an example of objectively skillful writing or pure alcohol-induced nonsense...
August 30th, 2010, 01:19 PM #20
Sorry to be blunt, but this is the second time you take sentences out of centext from my post and comment on them disregarding everything around them. In half the cases I have given the answers to your questions in my next sentence. I mean, I don't wanna have a quote-sparring with you. If you are going to argue with me, please take complete paragraphs, and not only out-of-context sentences that are easy to contradict. I have already talked about almost everything you are asking me in your last post.
Of course, we can go into a completely different argument - about "objectively" better ideas, themes, even genres - but I am not sure it is going to lead to anything meaningful, and people are calling me snobish and elitist as it is...
1. First level - you will read my opinion on my blog for example (notice the elegant and subtle way I inserted a shameless plug here), and you will try a book I recommend. You will either like it, or not. If you liked it, you will see if you liked it for the same reasons that I did, and if that is the case, you will trust me more next time I recommend something. If you did not like it, you will see whether you still enjoyed the things that I enjoyed, or whether you think I'm completely off-track. If it's the former, you might decide to try another recommendation of mine, or you might decide not to. If it's the latter, I am probably never going to be an authority to you.
2. Second level - when you've read a lot, when you've formed a solid system of opinions, and most importantly - when you've reached a certain understanding of the writing process itself (you keep talking about general appreciation of literature, while I continuously try to direct the topic toward the process of writing) - you will (and this is a fact, not a hypothesis) realize that your views - while maybe clashing with some authorities - bear a striking resemblance to many, many others. All of which will be considered fair judges of literature, both by their readers and their peers. Then you realize you are on to something, that you probably have deeper understanding of the field than most people. And by the time you reach this realization, you will long ago have been able to appreciate a lot more and subtler nuances in your books.
Yes, art is sucky this way - there is not one objectivity, and it is debatable whether the word itself is appropriate at all - but there is something greater than individual tastes. There is higher truth, even if it is multifaceted and self-contradicting at times. But we can't very well start calling it "better subjectivity", right? I mean, we'd get into Orwell territory, and knee-jerkers would start knee-jerking even more violently than they already do.
Cause I had this very interesting experience in my early teens. I'd grown up reading Terry Pratchett's earliest Discworld novels. And then, gradually, he stopped being as "funny" as before, and I stopped liking him. I lacked perspective. Then I read this article about him, explaining the ways he used his writing as a mirror to our own world, how his books were satirical in nature, etc. etc. It wasn't something particularly deep, but it gave me new perspective. Then I reread his later novels, and I was astonished how I could've missed all this before.
Same thing happened recently with Hal Duncan. I tried reading Vellum, and just stopped halfway through. The book made no kind of sense to me, and it was annoying the hell out of me. Then the Bulgarian fanzine I write for took an interview from him. And you know how much the guy likes to talk, so it was HUGE. And he explained a lot of his ideas there, a lot of his concepts for the structure of The Book of All Hours. I said to myself "o rly?", and tried Vellum again. This time it made perfect sense, and it was a glorious experience.
If it has happened to me, it can happen to anyone. It's how we grow as readers. Not everything is readily available for our effortless understanding.
Edit: That is not to say that Fahrenheit 451 is a great book. Critics are people too, they can follow the hype without thinking, they can be conformist, or they can be just plain irrational about it. It's this whole "subjective" thing yesee
Last edited by Roland 85; August 30th, 2010 at 01:34 PM.
August 30th, 2010, 02:36 PM #21
"objectivity" in art is something that changes through the ages. Not all of it, but parts.
Actually, our whole argument is really just about semantics. What you're calling "objective quality" with respect to art, I would just call "acclaim".
That pretty much settles that, as far as I'm concerned.
when you've reached a certain understanding of the writing process itself (you keep talking about general appreciation of literature, while I continuously try to direct the topic toward the process of writing) - you will (and this is a fact, not a hypothesis) realize that your views - while maybe clashing with some authorities - bear a striking resemblance to many, many others. All of which will be considered fair judges of literature, both by their readers and their peers. Then you realize you are on to something,
But in addition to commonality, there is consensus. Those two things are different. Exclusive sects of "authorities" on a subject - literature students who study the same books, for example - have the same pressure toward groupthink as any other group. As the Asch conformity experiments so famously showed, pressure to agree with others can distort judgments even when (scientifically) objective measures are available; how much more distortion must happen when no measurement is possible? My bet is that well-informed people - the "authorities," the critics, the "fair judges" - form such a relatively small community that they are highly susceptible to a consensus cascade.
This is why I often reject elitism. Yes, some people know a lot more about writing and art and music than others. This makes them potentially more reliable judges of quality (reliable = I am more likely to like what they recommend). But the pressure for groupthink among tight-knit elite communities acts in the opposite direction.
Also, many critics/experts/authorities in artistic fields are also creators of the types of art they criticize (musicians appreciate music, etc.). This means that critics/experts/authorities may be more appreciative of the creative process than I will be. For example, Citizen Kane was voted the best movie in history by the American Film Academy, largely on the basis of its pioneering and innovative filming techniques. And yet, I thought it was boring; as a non-filmmaker, I focused entirely on story and character and theme, and not at all on technique. Similarly, to a non-artist, Malevich's "Black Square" painting is just a black square (which may or may not be interesting), but to artists, it's a statement about artistic technique and process.
For example, I've read most of the Hugo- and Nebula-award winning novels. Although I tend to like both, I tend to like the Hugos (mass consensus) better than the Nebulas (elite consensus) more than 50% of the time, when the two differ.
So in summary: If you're looking for something good to read, you should probably look at both the elite consensus and the mass consensus. One is more informed and expert but is more likely to be biased by conformity pressures and focus on techniques, while the other is subject to the "long tail" problem. And it's never any use berating people for not respecting the elite consensus; if people like a hack like Goodkind, they like a hack like Goodkind, even if I personally think he's a disgusting barf-monster with marginally less writing talent than the average chinchilla.
August 30th, 2010, 11:15 PM #22
Yeah, that's a good point, although I wouldn't say it's only those two groups - "elite consensus" and "mass consensus". There are more levels than that, the middle ones merging into each other, I think, and besides, the "elite" group is not so tight that it would be that susceptible to a consensus cascade. But anyway, that is why we are thinking creatures and form our own opinions. To me, the most important thing is to realize that your momentary perception is NOT all there is to the process of appreciating art, that there are always other people who have better and deeper understanding than you, and that learning more about art will allow you to appreciate more of it. Most knee-jerkers don't get that, and it annoys the hell out of me.
As for the term "objectivity", I know it's not perfect, but it works better than "acclaim", as it can be used in describing technical stuff in art as well as generalizations.
August 31st, 2010, 01:20 AM #23
August 31st, 2010, 01:42 AM #24
And not through war of attrition too!
August 31st, 2010, 02:24 AM #25
Anyway, I think we've beaten this topic to death...well done!
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Last edited by Bond; August 31st, 2010 at 02:30 AM.
August 31st, 2010, 02:37 AM #26
August 31st, 2010, 02:39 AM #27
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That's a completely different issue, and it has a lot more to do with traditionalism and closed-mindedness on one side, and conformity and fashion on the other. Of course, quality does play a part, but it's a general rule that - where art and especially music (being the most abstract of the arts, and thus the most emotionallytiffany jewelry-tied) is concerned - true innovations,tiffany unless they are really pleasing (in which case they would hardly be true innovations as innovation requires a noticeable change, but I guess it has happened) are accepted long after their actual creation. tiffanysIt just takes time (and a few open-minded people promoting, building over and imitating it) for any new concept to take root. If it has what it takes to do that, of course. But anyway, this is hardly a matter of objectivity/subjectivity, as there are way too many elements outside the art itself, that play a part in situations such as these.