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Artist's intent and Aesthetic judgement

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*** Split from another topic. sN ***

A couple of comments about critiquing art in general and the discussion on Dali:

I think one does not need to be an artist to offer opinions on art. All one needs is well, vision and an opinion. The intent of the artist doesn't matter as much as the attributes of the finished product, which we are all free to comment on and discuss, forever, even if the artist is long dead.

An artist's intentions aren't relevant to the appreciation of art, and they're generally not much of a concern of mine. They usually only become important when people start to imply that their tastes in art are objectively superior to others', that their interpretations represent the "objective, observable nature" of art, and that others' differing opinions don't, or when they imply that we can't judge certain technical aspects as being errors because they might be intentional distortions.

Does this in any way dispute what Ayn Rand had to say about art?

As far as I know, Rand didn't specifically address the issue of when it might be necessary to discover an artist's intentions as a means of confirming or rejecting people's interpretations of art, but her comments on making "objective aesthetic judgments" imply that the artist's intentions would eventually have to be discovered (after one has attempted to find an artwork's meaning without reference to "outside considerations") -- artworks are usually open to many different interpretations, so following Rand's notion of identifying the "artist's theme" and evaluating how well he projected it would seem to require that the viewer must verify, by some means outside of the art, that he has correctly identified the artist's theme.

J

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so following Rand's notion of identifying the "artist's theme" and evaluating how well he projected it would seem to require that the viewer must verify, by some means outside of the art, that he has correctly identified the artist's theme.

I can't prove that it doesn't seem to, to you, but beyond that that's not true. Not even if you only mean paintings, not art in general.

You're implying that one cannot make "objective aesthetic judgements" of art, instead they should go looking for documentation some place else. That is the exact opposite of Objectivism's view of art.

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You're implying that one cannot make "objective aesthetic judgements" of art, instead they should go looking for documentation some place else.

One cannot make "objective aesthetic judgments" according to Rand's meaning of the term if one hasn't discovered the artist's intentions by some means outside of his art, just as one can't make an objective evaluation of any mission if one hasn't discovered what the mission plan was.

Say that you're observing a woman who decides to go out and try to accomplish a specific task. She doesn't tell you what she's planning on doing or why -- you have no "outside considerations" by which to judge her actions. She crosses the street and enters a grocery store. She walks through a couple of aisles, picks up a jar of nutmeg and a bag of sugar, and then purchases them. What's your objective evaluation of her mission? Has she succeeded? To paraphrase Rand's comments on aesthetic judgments, evaluate the means by which the woman performed her task — i.e, taking her purpose as criterion, evaluate the effectiveness of her actions, the technical mastery (or lack of it) with which she accomplished (or failed to accomplish) her goal.

That is the exact opposite of Objectivism's view of art.

No, my point is not necessarily in conflict with Objectivism. Rand didn't address the fact that aesthetic judgments involve not only the artist's competence but the competence of those doing the judging as well, or that people place different levels of importance on different elements within an artwork, thus arriving at different interpretations based on the same evidence. She didn't elaborate on how one would verify that one has identified the "artist's theme" or if one has misinterpreted it, either due to the artist's incompetence or the judge's.

J

[Edited to add:]

P.S. During the past decade, I've probably seen hundreds of examples of Objectivists claiming to have objectively identified the "artist's theme" in various artworks, and their interpretations quite often conflict with those of their fellow Objectivists. Often times they have opposite views of what the art means despite the fact that they've all based their opinions on what they've seen in the art. They all claim that their interpretations are the objective judgment of the art, that they've identified its meaning, and that anyone who disagees is mistaken. How do we determine which of them are objectively correct? How do we account for the fact that art can be very complex, that people place different levels of importance on different elements in a work of art, and that some people are aesthetically inept (tone-deaf, not sensitive to the nuances of form, body language or other non-verbal means of expression, literalists when it comes to metaphor or sacrasm, etc.)?

Edited by Jonathan13
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Judging art doesn't take into account the artist's *stated* intentions, although you may *infer* *some* of the artist's intentions from evidence contained in the artwork. If two people disagree on meaning, as in any other aspect of life, they must go back to the evidence--the artwork itself. Sometimes the evidence may be inconclusive, particularly if the disagreement is about a subtle nuance.

The fact that it's possible to evaluate art objectively doesn't mean that it's EASY.

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Are you questioning evaluation of non-art vs art, or good art vs bad art? To me, there is a distinct difference between the two topics. It does not matter what I, as an observer, thinks is valuable about the piece of art. It only matter's what the artist's values are (stated or otherwise). How it relates to your values determines how much you like it. That it shows good or bad values determines how good the piece of art is. That it shows values at all determines if it is art.

What values a piece of art is showing is difficult. To have a complete and thorough evaluation of a piece art, I would agree that it is necessary to seek the artist's explicit goal in their work. But you can figure out implicit values through analysis of technique, what is shown in the first place and colors used, etc. Rand didn't go extremely in-depth on how to evaluate artwork, but she was pretty clear that it can be done and gave some principles on which to judge art.

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Judging art doesn't take into account the artist's *stated* intentions...

It depends on what one means by "judging art." If a person wishes to claim that he has objectively identified the "artist's theme," then he has to verify that the artist has communicated his intended meaning. If we set out to judge how well an artist has projected his vision, we have to know which vision he intended to project.

Let's say that an artist wants to present mankind as heroic, but he's somewhat lacking in skill, and the figures that he paints look distorted, which makes us interpret them as sickly and unhappy, among other negative things. If we don't know the artist's intentions, our interpretation of "his theme" is likely to be that mankind is doomed to be sickly and unhappy. Since we think that he projected that vision very effectively, we come to the conclusion that even though we don't like his vision of existence, strictly aesthetically speaking he has done a tremendous job of expressing his horrible view of mankind (as Rand said, one need not like or agree with a painting in order to judge it as aesthetically great).

Well, the problem is that it's not his view of mankind, it's not "his theme," and he's obviously not the great artist that we've rated him to be. If we don't know his intentions via external means, we have no objective standard by which to decide if he failed or succeeded in presenting his theme.

...although you may *infer* *some* of the artist's intentions from evidence contained in the artwork.

But that's not Rand's concept of "objective esthetic judgment." She made it very clear that we can't merely "infer" "some" of the artist's intentions. She stated that we must identify his theme, his meaning, his view of existence. She stated that his art must communicate, and that if it doesn't do so, then it ceases to be art. That's significantly different from saying that a viewer "may infer some of the artist's intentions."

If two people disagree on meaning, as in any other aspect of life, they must go back to the evidence--the artwork itself. Sometimes the evidence may be inconclusive, particularly if the disagreement is about a subtle nuance.

The evidence often supports many different interpretations, and, lacking knowledge of the artist's intentions, errors can be seen as intentional distortions, and vice versa, lack of control can be interpreted as precise control, bad art can be mistakenly judged to be great art.

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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That's why I said it wasn't *easy*. Amateurs often get stuff wrong when they're discussing art, but professional artists and art critics can tell the difference between poor technique and intentional distortion. Heck, I can do it myself in my classes.

With a lot of art, you can't infer *all* of the artist's intentions because the art is sloppy and they may have some confused premises/ulterior motives/etc. This is why I HATE it when artists do not know when to stop talking about their work. If you can't pick up this or that from the actual work, talking about it just makes it worse.

With good art and a good professional critic, you can get everything.

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If a person wishes to claim that he has objectively identified the "artist's theme," then he has to verify that the artist has communicated his intended meaning.

No.

It is not artist's theme you are identifying but the painting's theme. Artist's intended meaning is irrelevant. What is relevant is what IS on the canvas.

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Amateurs often get stuff wrong when they're discussing art, but professional artists and art critics can tell the difference between poor technique and intentional distortion. Heck, I can do it myself in my classes.

I agree. As I said on this thread's parent thread, I think that I can generally tell the difference between Dali's perspective errors and his intentional distortions, but, then again, my judgments are informed by "outside considerations," such as comparing content and techniques in several paintings, reading about Dali's training, and having personally witnessed a lot of other artists in drafting classes, including very talented ones, and having seen the types of errors that they commonly make with perspective -- in fact, they're often being instructed to make the errors by teachers who themselves have been taught imprecise methods.

With a lot of art, you can't infer *all* of the artist's intentions because the art is sloppy and they may have some confused premises/ulterior motives/etc. This is why I HATE it when artists do not know when to stop talking about their work. If you can't pick up this or that from the actual work, talking about it just makes it worse.

I agree that it's annoying when artists over-explain their art. But I have no problem with a simple artist's statement in a brochure or on a gallery placard, or some brief details in a magazine interview, etc.

With good art and a good professional critic, you can get everything.

Yes, but an important part of what makes for a good professional critic is that she considers all of the available information when judging art, including such "outside considerations" as the artist's statements about his work, the history and content of his entire body of works, and any historical or mythical content to which his art might refer, etc. (visual art has a long history of making reference to such external content, and it really doesn't make much sense to try to glean meaning from a painting while consciously avoiding it).

J

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No.

It is not artist's theme you are identifying but the painting's theme. Artist's intended meaning is irrelevant. What is relevant is what IS on the canvas.

That may be your view, but it's not what Rand said. She was very clear about stating that a viewer must identify the artist's theme. If she wanted to say that one should judge the artwork's theme, then I think she would have said that. After all, she prided herself in using words very precisely, and in saying exactly what she meant.

J

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She was very clear about stating that a viewer must identify the artist's theme. If she wanted to say that one should judge the artwork's theme, then I think she would have said that.
Relying on that type of wording is pretty weak one way or the other. The "artist's theme" may easily enough not refer to the artist's intended theme but to the artist's actual theme. If the context was such that one is not focusing on a situation where actuality falls far from intent, there would be no need to make the distinction. Or, if the context is such that Rand is addressing an artist, rather than a critic, there may be no reason to focus on a mistake where they end up at variance.

One would have to examine any possible reference within its context to understand what she meant. Do you have some particular reference in mind?

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That may be your view, but it's not what Rand said. She was very clear about stating that a viewer must identify the artist's theme. If she wanted to say that one should judge the artwork's theme, then I think she would have said that. After all, she prided herself in using words very precisely, and in saying exactly what she meant.

J

From lexicon (bold mine):

In essence, an objective evaluation requires that one identify the artist’s theme, the abstract meaning of his work (exclusively by identifying the evidence contained in the work and allowing no other, outside considerations), then evaluate the means by which he conveys it—i.e., taking his theme as criterion, evaluate the purely esthetic elements of the work, the technical mastery (or lack of it) with which he projects (or fails to project) his view of life . . . .

Clearly she meant artwork's theme - what is actually on the canvas.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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Relying on that type of wording is pretty weak one way or the other. The "artist's theme" may easily enough not refer to the artist's intended theme but to the artist's actual theme.

And what do you mean by "actual theme"? Is an "artist's actual theme" the theme that you interpret to be the painting's theme?

If the context was such that one is not focusing on a situation where actuality falls far from intent, there would be no need to make the distinction. Or, if the context is such that Rand is addressing an artist, rather than a critic, there may be no reason to focus on a mistake where they end up at variance.

One would have to examine any possible reference within its context to understand what she meant. Do you have some particular reference in mind?

I'm thinking of her comments on "esthetic judgments" in which she focused on identifying the artist's theme and the technical mastery with which he projects his view of life, as well as her focus on the importance of art communicating -- to communicate is to convey information clearly enough that the person receiving it understands it as it was intended.

J

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Clearly she meant artwork's theme - what is actually on the canvas.

Clearly she meant that we must identify the artist's theme based on what we see on the canvas. As I've shown above, though, we can't assume that we've identified the "artist's theme" or that we've established how well he projected "his view of life" if we don't verify what his intended theme was by some means outside of the art.

J

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Clearly she meant that we must identify the artist's theme based on what we see on the canvas. As I've shown above, though, we can't assume that we've identified the "artist's theme" or that we've established how well he projected "his view of life" if we don't verify what his intended theme was by some means outside of the art.

Ok. So if I show you a portrait of my cat and then tell you "The theme of this painting is the interplay of light and shadow on a city view," you then must twist your mind into a pretzel trying to fit my stated theme into what is on canvas?

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And what do you mean by "actual theme"? Is an "artist's actual theme" the theme that you interpret to be the painting's theme?
The artist's actual theme, that he has created.

I assume you think this is problematic because two people can differ on what that theme is. However, that is a general problem in knowledge-acquisition. In many other contexts, the existence of such difference of opinion would not deter Rand from saying that there is an objective reality that needs to be identified. Secondly, that difference of opinion could be irrelevant in the context of some particular discussion.

In the specific reference that Sophia provided, Rand appears unambiguous about identifying the theme that is manifest in the art work itself, without taking extraneous considerations into account.

Again, I'm not saying that the particular reference you have in mind is one or the other, only that your interpretation is not obvious to me, from what has been thus presented. If you have a more specific reference, it could help. (If you don't have "the CD", but can provide some close-by reference, someone else might hunt down the details for you.)

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Clearly she meant that we must identify the artist's theme based on what we see on the canvas.

What actually IS on the canvas is the artwork's theme - which is the actual artist's theme - what he actually created. It may match artist's intended theme or it may not. The value is based on what IS.

As I've shown above, though, we can't assume that we've identified the "artist's theme" or that we've established how well he projected "his view of life" if we don't verify what his intended theme was by some means outside of the art.

I have highlighted a passage in bold in my previous post in which Rand clearly stated that no other considerations other than what is on the canvas take part in an objective aesthetic judgment.

If you want to judge someone's artistic skill then you may look at how well he was able to express his intended theme. That is a separate and different judgment.

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On re-reading the quote that Sophia provided, I'm even more convinced that it is unambiguous. By "theme" Rand is talking about "the abstract meaning of the work". Clearly, Rand thinks the work itself has meaning, and it is with that meaning that we should be concerned as viewers, readers, listeners, etc. A few paragraphs later, she speaks about how a critic has "to translate the meaning of an art work into objective terms". [Romantic Manifesto, Ch-3 Art and Sense of Life]

Earlier in the same anthology, she says this:

If, consciously or subconsciously, an artist holds the premise that man possesses the power of volition, it will lead his work to a value orientation (to Romanticism). If he holds the premise that man's fate is determined by forces beyond his control, it will lead his work to an anti-value orientation (to Naturalism).
She is saying that an artist can do certain things subconsciously. This is more evidence that her focus is not on artist's motivation as a primary.

She returns to the notion of unconscious motive, again:

Regardless of their creators' conscious or subconscious motives, such thrillers, in fact, carry a message or intention of their own, ...

Later she says this:

When the performance and the work (literary or musical) are perfectly integrated in meaning, style and intention, the result is a magnificent esthetic achievement and an unforgettable experience for the audience.
Clearly, she makes a distinction between "meaning" on the on hand, and "intention" on the other.
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Earlier in the same anthology, she says this:She is saying that an artist can do certain things subconsciously. This is more evidence that her focus is not on artist's motivation as a primary.

Given her intense admiration of Victor Hugo, this should be an obvious point incapable of being contested. Several of Hugo's works are motivated by causes and concerns which Rand would disagree with. Another example: Rand's admiration of Quo Vadis. Seinkiewicz imbued the novel with intense pro-Christian themes (his motivation for writing the work).

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No.

It is not artist's theme you are identifying but the painting's theme. Artist's intended meaning is irrelevant. What is relevant is what IS on the canvas.

Yes, bull's eye. That's exactly what I think as well. An artist can have a certain intention and fail to execute it, or he can have one intention but end up creating something different. For example, he can be a beginner and distort a human figure so badly that if interpreted as serious art (not as part of a study) would objectively be interpreted as presenting man as a distorted being.

It's not likely to create something good unintentionally, but I guess that's a possibility in rare cases.

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What actually IS on the canvas is the artwork's theme - which is the actual artist's theme - what he actually created. It may match artist's intended theme or it may not. The value is based on what IS.

Will you give me some examples of your notion of objective aesthetic judgment in action, in which you identify the artwork's "actual theme" exclusively by identifying the evidence contained in the work and allowing no other, outside considerations, and in which you identify the artist's view of life, and demonstrate how you've evaluated the technical mastery with which he projected his view of life?

Here's a painting. If you're familiar with its title, disregard it as an "outside consideration." If you're aware of the historical event to which the image refers, strike that knowledge from your mind and base your judgments only on the visual evidence. Visually, what does the evidence, and only the evidence, add up to? What is the "actual theme."

And here's a sculpture. What is its "actual theme"? What is its, and/or its creator's, "view of life"? What metaphysical value-judment and/or sense of life is being objectively conveyed?

J

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The artist's actual theme, that he has created.

Here's Rand's statement rewritten to reflect what I take to be your opinion of what she meant:

"In essence, an objective evaluation requires that one identify the [artwork's] theme, the abstract meaning of the work (exclusively by identifying the evidence contained in the work and allowing no other, outside considerations), then evaluate the means by which [the art] conveys it—i.e., taking [its] theme as criterion, evaluate the purely esthetic elements of the work, the technical mastery (or lack of it) with which [it] projects (or fails to project) [its] view of life..."

I don't think it represents Rand's view. As you say, she recognized that some subconscious content can influence a work of art, but she also had an expectation of communication -- as I said earlier, to communicate is to convey information so that it is understood as intended (and I think that she had other purposes for her comments on subconscious content in art, but I suspect that I probably wouldn't be allowed to discuss them freely here). You're right that she distinguished between meaning and intention, just as she distinguished between subject and theme, but she also expected art to be an integration of meaning, style and intention, just as she expected it to be an integration of subject and theme.

Part of her reasoning for rejecting abstract art was that she felt that its practitioners believed that what they were presenting could not be communicated (which is not true of all abstract artists; for example, Kandinsky, the father of abstract art, was very concerned with communication, and he felt that his theories were the first step toward establishing a universal conceptual vocabulary of visual abstraction, very much like what Rand expected would one day be discovered for music). In rejecting abstract art, Rand said that "all art is communication," and she clearly had the expectation that an artist would want his work to be a means of communicating with others, and that if he didn't, his work ceased to be art, and that he was even trying to destroy the very concept of art.

I assume you think this is problematic because two people can differ on what that theme is.

Yes and no. My reasoning is multifaceted, and more complex than that.

I think the issue of expecting to objectively identify an "actual theme" is problematic because two people can differ on what the theme is, and the evidence can support both of their views, as well as multiple other views.

I've seen it countless times. One viewer will say that the meaning of a painting of a fat, nude woman is that mankind is ugly, gluttonous, and lacking in self-control and self-respect; another viewer will say that the meaning is that beauty comes in different shapes and sizes, and that the painting is a confident, unconventional approach to beauty, and is very individualistic and even a bit rebellious; yet another viewer will say that the meaning is that the woman's bulk implies solid substance, abundance/economic success, and fertility, and that those things are more important than the vanity of surface beauty. Each viewer will be able to point to objective reality to support his interpretation. Nothing in the painting will allow for an objective refutation of any of the interpretations.

But there's also a larger problem, which is that Rand's proposed method of judgment asks the viewer to identify meaning as well as to evaluate how well the meaning was conveyed, which is like trying to test a transmitter and receiver by listening to a message that was sent between the two, but without being able to verify by outside means what was actually transmitted. If the receiver receives the transmission "beep, beep crackle, beep, pop," then that's the "actual transmission," and no negative evaluation is possible because the actual transmission was received and identified. Without verification by means outside of the transmitter and receiver, there's no way to establish whether or not both machines are functioning properly.

Similarly, once one claims to have identified the "actual meaning" of a work of art, there are no objective grounds on which to claim that the art is aesthetically bad. If a viewer thinks that he has discovered an aspect of an artwork that is poorly executed or in conflict with what he has determined to be the meaning, then it could be legitimately argued that he hasn't really discovered an error or poor quality, but that he has only discovered that he has erred in identifying the meaning, and that he needs to reconsider the evidence without presuming that the it must support his original faulty interpretation. Any, and every, negative appraisal could simply be an indication that the "actual meaning" hasn't yet been discovered by the person doing the judging.

In an earlier post I gave the example of trying to identify a woman's task by watching her buying items in a store, and then trying to evaluate how well the task was accomplished. In the scenario, we don't know that she went to the store with the purpose of sticking to a healthy diet and buying ingredients for a salad, but then quickly gave in to her craving for sweets and decided to bake and devour a large batch of her favorite high-calorie cookies, for which she realized that she needed to pick up some nutmeg and sugar. Without knowledge of her intentions, judging how well she performed her task is meaningless -- she did what we saw her do, therefore she appears to have accomplished her task rather than having abandoned it, and therefore only a positive appraisal is possible.

The same is true of trying to identify meaning in a painting and to then evaluate the technical mastery with which an artist projected it, without reference to outside verification.

Another facet is the problem of the viewer's qualifications to judge art. To use the transmitter/receiver analogy again, communication involves someone or something acting as a transmitter, and someone acting as a receiver. Evaluating the receiver's ability to receive is just as relevant as evaluating the transmitter's ability to transmit. When someone claims that a painting has no meaning, it might be nothing more than evidence of his failure to act as a competent receiver.

If a person attempts to read a novel which was written in several alternating languages, including some which he doesn't understand, the novel would largely be meaningless to him. Would he be making an objective judgment if he claimed that the novel had no "actual meaning"? Or, if he came to an interpretation of its meaning based on the few parts of the novel which were written in the language that he understands, would his interpretation be considered an objective identification of the novel's "actual theme"? I think the most accurate statement would be that the novel has no meaning to him, or that it has a different meaning to him than it does to others because he has lesser abilities as a "receiver" than they do.

The point of the above analogy is that the non-literary arts very frequently have similar problems, where viewers or listeners don't "speak the languages," and more often than not, they appear not to know that they don't speak them. How would a person determine whether a painting has no meaning or, instead, that he is rather inept at finding meaning through visual means of expression, especially when most people are very strongly emotionally attached to the belief that they are just as aesthetically sensitive as everyone else, or perhaps more sensitive (it's rare to find people who think that their tastes and responses to art are not superior to everyone else's)?

Also, there are other facets of my argument, which deal with Rand's notion of the importance of communication in art which I think strongly imply a focus on intention, and which are based on comparing her applications of her theories to different art forms, and based on trying to identify which principles and standards represent the actual Objectivist positions when questions of contradictions in definitions and criteria arise due to inconsistent applications of theory, but I get the distinct impression that those are addition issues that I'm not allowed to freely discuss here, so it seems that a presentation of the full context of my views may not be possible on OO.

However, that is a general problem in knowledge-acquisition. In many other contexts, the existence of such difference of opinion would not deter Rand from saying that there is an objective reality that needs to be identified. Secondly, that difference of opinion could be irrelevant in the context of some particular discussion.

In an earlier post I gave the hypothetical example of a painter who is somewhat lacking in skill, which makes some people interpret his figures as sickly and unhappy, even though the artist intended them to be heroic (let's say that he and a few others see his characters' expressions as serious and focused, and they don't understand how some people could see them otherwise).

If a viewer wasn't aware of the artist's intentions, and interpreted the artwork to mean that mankind is doomed to be sickly and unhappy, and the viewer decided that the painting very effectively projected that meaning, and concluded that the art is therefore aesthetically great, that would be an objective aesthetic evaluation according to your criteria, would it not? It would be what you're calling the "actual theme" of the painting since viewers would have no way of knowing that the figures were supposed to look heroically serious and focused, no?

See, the trouble that I'm having is in accepting the idea that a method of judging can be called "objective" according to Objectivism when it can lead one to conclude that bad art, which failed at conveying its creator's "view of life," is great art because it appears to have expertly conveyed the opposite view of life.

J

P.S. Sorry for the length of this post. I didn't have time to condense it.

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If you want to judge someone's artistic skill then you may look at how well he was able to express his intended theme. That is a separate and different judgment.

It's not a separate judgment according to Rand. In the quote that you provided, she states that part of an objective aesthetic judgment is to "evaluate the purely esthetic elements of the work, the technical mastery (or lack of it) with which he projects (or fails to project) his view of life..."

Evaluating "technical mastery" means evaluating artistic skill. She is telling us to judge the skills with which an artist expressed his view of life.

J

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See, the trouble that I'm having is in accepting the idea that a method of judging can be called "objective" according to Objectivism when it can lead one to conclude that bad art, which failed at conveying its creator's "view of life," is great art because it appears to have expertly conveyed the opposite view of life.
It's an odd hypothetical. Like Toohey sat down to write a novel about the smallness of man and the virtue of altruism, and ended up writing Atlas Shrugged? Any critic would judge Atlas just the same. Of course, if someone were to be judging Toohey's effort and giving him advice, or if someone were writing a history of Toohey's attempt, then the intent and motivation would be relevant in that context, and he would have to criticize Toohey for failing terribly. I don't see any contradiction in the two.

Of course that hypothetical is crazy because there is no way someone could actually start with that motivation and end up with the other result. So, I make it only to stress the point. If we're evaluating art, as such, then we have to look at the art. We could, separately, evaluate the artist's intent, relative to final result -- and that is a second type of evaluation, but strictly not art-criticism.

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In an earlier post I gave the hypothetical example of a painter who is somewhat lacking in skill, which makes some people interpret his figures as sickly and unhappy, even though the artist intended them to be heroic (let's say that he and a few others see his characters' expressions as serious and focused, and they don't understand how some people could see them otherwise).

If a viewer wasn't aware of the artist's intentions, and interpreted the artwork to mean that mankind is doomed to be sickly and unhappy, and the viewer decided that the painting very effectively projected that meaning, and concluded that the art is therefore aesthetically great, that would be an objective aesthetic evaluation according to your criteria, would it not? It would be what you're calling the "actual theme" of the painting since viewers would have no way of knowing that the figures were supposed to look heroically serious and focused, no?

If a painter is lacking in skill such that his figures look sickly, he should avoid making such figures. The theme is what it is. I do not think artist's intent is irrelevant to judging good or bad art, though. Yes, the artist's intent should not be considered when trying to identify a theme. Good artists get their ideas across well. Bad artists get their ideas across badly. However, what -IS- trumps what the artist -INTENDS-. If the theme IS man as heroic, and man appears heroic, it would be good art. If the theme IS man as weak and sickly, but the intent is man is heroic, it would be bad art. Clear communication is necessary for good art. Poor communication is a sign of bad art.

This is just as Rand was suggesting:

FIRST: identify the abstract meaning of the artwork by means of the work itself

SECOND: evaluate how this theme was conveyed

Would it not matter that an artist is trying to convey man as heroic, but only succeed in making man look weak? Even people with good intentions make bad drawing simply because they don't know how to draw. What reason would there to call technique bad besides "it doesn't communicate intended meaning, if any meaning at all"?

Edited by Eiuol
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