Dale's Soapbox Rants

Aesthetic Relativism, a Parabolic Manifesto

There exists a simple, basic, clichéd but true assertion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sadly, few people in the arts pay more than lip service to this concept. For most people there really exists an intangible absolute called "good taste".

Most people seem to believe a successful artist has this quality and can be trusted to administer it to other people's work. Most people seem to believe that unsuccessful artists - sometimes called art critics - also have this quality and also know how to administer it. Most people seem not to be puzzled by the fact that different artists and critics have wildly different opinions on what constitutes "good taste", and that the opinions of one pundit usually - rather than seldom - contradict that of another's. They may all unite in agreement that Aunt Flo's living room centre-piece featuring day-glo pink flamingos and green palms on black felt may lack "good taste". That doesn't make them correct.

In art education it is a truism that only a gifted teacher fosters aesthetic development without fostering little imitators of her own vision. But that's not even the worst damage an art educator can do. A student is usually extremely vulnerable to negative comments from anyone they perceive as being "great" or "accomplished". Many a budding artistic career or pastime has been abruptly terminated simply by the tone of an august one's comments. Young people may be especially vulnerable, but they certainly don't corner the market. The very word "critique" implies criticism implies negativity.

If you ever happen to be in a position to either give or receive art criticism, here are a few suggestions:

But for me, whether any given person "gets it" or "likes it" when she looks at one of my photographs says nothing more than that people are different. Strangely, I don't have any inkling that there is some Perfect Photographic Version of a given scene that my version stands or falls in comparison to.

All of which may sound excessively namby-pamby and bleeding-heart to many of you. Personally, I happen to feel that aggression and zero-sum games are better suited to the sports arena and battlefield than to the world of the arts ... but that's just my idea of good taste.