New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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T HE second part of this book is not concerned with that elucidatory type of criticism which endeavors to classify and explain works of art, but solely with judicial criticism, which tries to answer the questions: what is good or bad, better or worse? and what is a great work of art? Toward these questions it is possible for the art critic to adopt one of the following three attitudes. First, claiming that the functions of criticism are analysis and interpretation, he can ignore judicial criticism as unimportant. Second, he can make judgments of good and bad, better and worse, without understanding or stating the grounds for these judgments. Or third, he can attempt to comprehend the meaning of value judgments, and then make them. This procedure, which is the most worth while and most difficult of the three, requires a satisfactory theoretical basis.
The difficulties in achieving such a basis are both verbal and real. How puzzling and important semantic considerations are for art criticism I have tried to explain. These considerations, I now suggest, bear directly upon the following discussion, in which it is essential not to be confused by terminology. For example, the various possible uses of the words "objectivism," "subjectivism," and "relativism" might easily produce serious ambiguities. "Objectivism" will sometimes stand for a Platonic absolutism, as it does throughout this essay; again it will symbolize a concept similar to my interpretation of "relativism." Therefore some will choose to substitute in what follows the term "absolutism" for "objectivism" and the term "objectivism" for "relativism." This would be a verbal quibble.
My present problem, however, of the correct theoretical foundation for value judgments is not primarily semantic, but ontological. Granted, that is to say, that much of the current confusion in writings upon art comes from linguistic