By Erin Waks
How many times have you looked at a piece of art and thought, I could have done that myself? Or examined a painting only to come face to face with the brutal realisation that it is all a couple of aggressively splattered paint marks strewn brazenly across a clean, white canvas? Indeed, contemporary art often evokes a response of confusion or disbelief. But when we are told that such works are masterful, where does that leave us?
Can any art be inherently valuable if it can elucidate meaningful interpretation? Or must valuable art display true skill on the part of, its creator, the artist? I like to think that we must find a happy medium between both; after all, art judged on either alone limits the very possibilities it aims to unravel.
Let us consider the idea that art is only judged based on the technical skill of the artist. Whilst this can be the case — take, for instance, the genre of life drawing, where realism and accuracy forms a huge part of the value of the artist’s work — it is an inherently limited approach to the art world. Firstly, how do we define ‘skill’ or ‘talent’? Different schools of art use different techniques, meaning there is no one way to characterise an artistic technique.
Additionally, it confines our interpretation of art to the intent of the artist. Surely, as is the case with Literature and Film, if we read a piece of work within the parameters of what its creator intended, we are left with a singular and closed-off understanding of the piece. Is it not, perhaps, far more valuable to wider society to analyse a piece considering multiple interpretations, irrespective of what the artist meant it to mean? A drawing could connote multiple things for different people, so why restrict its function, value, and significance to the artist’s understanding?
Yet, as many critics ask, is it feasible for us to judge art based solely on personal response to it, effectively ignoring the skill and technique of the artist? It seems harsh and selfish to ignore the many years of training and practice that artists undergo. True, not all artists train in top schools, but we should not devalue the experiences and hard work that often goes into their artworks.
If you take a step inside the Tate Modern, for example, you will be faced with works that took months to complete, in stark contrast with others that appear to be nothing but blank canvas, or blocks of colour you could have created at home. But who are we to create a standard by which we can judge the value of art? Who is to say that more time and effort equals better quality?
We cannot create a set of characteristics by which we judge Art, as too many works would defy these qualities and yet can still be considered awe-inspiring. Judging aesthetic value is not easy. In fact, it brings to light the question of whether we can actually ‘judge’ the ‘value’ of art. What does judging even mean? Can art have a value? Or is the beauty in the eye of the beholder? The answer is unclear, but what we do know is that we are no closer to creating a rigid set of rules for appreciating art than we were hundreds of years ago.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova