| ART CRITICISM|
“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” Although overused, such a comment remains a handle for art talk. This statement also reveals much about how we approach art criticism. It is something of a confession that the likes and dislikes defining criticism, however strongly felt, get in the way of new experiences and the development of aesthetic sensibilities. Aesthetic experience can be aided by knowing there is no relationship between our likes and quality in art. We can dislike a painting, for example, and decide that it is a good painting. Further, all of the following propositions are plausible (Ecker and Kaelin):
It is a good painting and I like it.
It is a bad painting and I like it.
It is a good painting and I don’t like it.
It is a bad painting and I don’t like it. Thoughtful criticism can determine aesthetic merit independent of our likes and dislikes. Further, thoughtful criticism can increase the quality of our experience with art.
Rather than dwell on our established likes and dislikes, we should experience the art; encounter it, see new things, see things differently, and experience its connections to other art forms and ideas. Experience in art is largely the result of perceptual dynamics in the image. These dynamics produce psychological energy (to the prepared spectator) through relationships of color, shape, line, and tone in space. Gestalt psychology explains much about these dynamics. Perceptual dynamics produce the phenomena that are avenues to the larger aesthetic meanings. Perceptual dynamics can tug, pull and twist our sensibilities and bring art to life–much as it was experienced in another time.
The spectator’s expectations for realism are often an obstacle to the perceptual language and the larger meanings. We can expect a realist painting to match our visual knowledge of the world around us–but not really. Actually, the translation of the three-dimensional world to photographic imagery is the default standard for realist imagery, realist painting being normally perceived in the context of the photograph, with a history of conditioning at work from our infancy. When we talk of realism, the photo is the cultural standard directing everyone’s perception, with the possible exception of those highly skilled and trained in realism. Realist imagery by itself is craft, technology, and science, but not necessarily art. The principles of linear perspective and light and shadow, as part of illusionism, are only tools that may or may not lead to the aesthetic. Having said that the photograph is the standard, there are great limitations for a two-dimensional image in representing the 3D world; the realistic image never becomes the thing represented. A realist image is a quite superficial record of a 3D subject.
The adjacent image, The Criticism Pyramid, shows a process by which art criticism can be more manageable, begining with an acknowledgement of our Predisposition (our biases) and describing the art in the descriptions–the phenomena. Theory and judgment are withheld until the phenomena has been accounted for. Lastly, our Personal Preferences, are separated from the critical process as they inform us about ourselves, not the art.
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