The evaluation of art wouldn’t carry much importance or a point if all art was the same or equal in quality. It would make even awarding merit to any piece of art something futile and arbitrary. Despite this, there are those who cry out that there isn’t good or bad art, that these concepts are constructed. To put it simply, my fart on tape is equal to any composition by J.S Bach. Hume would flip at the idea, but saying so wouldn’t be an argument against relativism. Although this idea is being wildly received and people think of it to be true, it is nothing more than a theory. There is a nice rebuttal of this idea in the Standford’s Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry Aesthetics, it goes:
“In the case of judgments of beauty, relativist theory is wildly out of step with common practice. As with moral relativism, one can virtually always catch the professed relativist about judgments of beauty making and acting on non-relative judgments of beauty — for example, in their judgments about music, nature and everyday household objects. Relativists do not practice what they preach. Secondly, one thing that drives people to this implausible relativism, which is so out of line with their practice, is a perceived connection with tolerance or anti-authoritarianism. This is what they see as attractive in it. But this is upside-down. For if “it’s all relative” and no judgment is better than any other, then relativists put their judgments wholly beyond criticism, and they cannot err. Only those who think that there is a right and wrong in judgment can modestly admit that they might be wrong. What looks like an ideology of tolerance is, in fact, the very opposite. Thus relativism is hypocritical and it is intolerant”
Just perfect, I could read that time and time again.
I couldn’t have said it better.
This post isn’t about the relativist argument vs normative argument. It is about the three things that I think get in the way of people truly appreciating/enjoying pieces of art as they should. These are practices I think impair our judgment of pieces of art or our ability to appreciate them. Often critics may fall trap to some of these mistakes, whether they are reviewing a piece of music or a movie, and I just think it’s a pity. But this isn’t just about the critics alone; it is also for anyone who consumes art.
Before consuming any type of art, whether it is music, movies, books or theater, don’t expect anything. Lower your expectations. This does not mean go in there completely ignorant, sure you should know something about the basics of the movie you are about to see or the album you are about to listen to for context more than anything. Once you have established your sense of context, like The Dark Knight is about a masked billionaire vigilantly who calls himself Batman in Gotham City , a city is riddled with corruption and crime and it based on comic book X, then you stop there. The reason is that all expectations do is to build you up for disappointment, and sometimes the marketing and trailers build false expectation to the point where your disappointment clouds you from seeing all the good stuff in the piece.
Trailers and marketing campaigns do their best to rake as much audience as possible, which often ends up in trailers that are better than the movie itself. So as a rule, I just don’t watch trailers or listen to singles much, because they can build a certain perception of what the whole body of work will be like which is largely misleading, making you expect to consume a completely different movie from the one being offered.
When people say they were disappointed by an album or a movie, what most of them mean is that their built up expectations weren’t satisfied. It doesn’t seem to be a comment about the nature of the art itself but how they felt about it. The movie, album or book might still be good. So as general practice try not expecting anything, from a book, movie, or an album, try not having specific, rigid or heightened perceptions of how things will be like. Just go into the book virtually “clueless”, lower expectations, and see yourself receive the piece of art as it is, see yourself being taken on a ride as intended by the content producers, not the marketing department. See yourself enjoy it.
With that said, there are some exceptions, you are allowed to have some expectations if the movie is a remake, or if it is based on a book. Or if the piece of art you are about to consume is part of a series or trilogy, you are supposed to have some expectations but don’t let those become informed by sources built to create hype instead of helpfully cultivating some realistic expectations.
There is also another sense in which people say they were disappointed which has nothing much to do with the hype built or expectation, this is when artists perform atrociously below their skills or talent, this type of disappointment has to more to do with the piece of art, as far as it pertains to how an artist’s input has affected it, and this is acceptable. Artists should be held to a certain standard within their capabilities.
This principle isn’t easy to practice at times, it is something we should strive towards though. Sometimes I watch a trailer for a field and I completely dismiss what I saw and lower my expectations to what I can reasonably expect. But sometimes that is tricky and sometimes you are too tempted to fantasize and you get too carried away and play into the advertisers’ hands. I think it is far easier to practice this with a television series, books and albums. It is worth it though, never will you enjoy consuming pieces of art more and appreciate them more than when you do this. You will be amazed of how raw, untainted, crisp and refreshing your experiences will be. That is the beauty of it, receiving a piece of art as intended. Then you will easily discern some aesthetic qualities about it and fairly judge it with by its innate features without the wall of disappointment or betrayal between you and the piece.
Thanks for reading
Now to leave you for a song lyric that may or may not have anything to do with the post:
“Only embers remain
Refusing to fade
There is still light to find our way” – Lamb of God ‘Embers’