New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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beliefs. If I find, for instance, that he believes in automatic progress I shall no more trust him than I would trust a philosopher who liked Brahms or Shelley/'15
If one reflects, furthermore, upon competent critical opinions over a period of centuries, does the relative uniformity of evaluation accorded Phidias and Raphael seem more impressive than the violent fluctuations in the fate of Botticelli, Michelangelo, El Greco, Rembrandt, Velasquez?16 Even the very high praise, indeed, which most judicious critics have accorded Raphael has been recently questioned. For example, when comparing the expression of sentiment in the painting of Raphael and of Fra Bartolommeo, Roger Fry decides that, "being much more frankly and vulgarly sentimental, Raphael tends to be more trivial and, the word is hardly too strong, on occasions, silly." 17 Or again, contrast the unqualified praise of Vasari and his contemporaries with the present low estimate of Raphael's "Entombment." This striking change in the evaluation of Raphael's art is summed up by the following no doubt exaggerated statement: "Raphael was for three centuries the Prince of Painters. Then he became, for many, the Prince of Potboilers." 18
If one considers not merely the rating of artists and monuments but the varied kinds of evaluations they have received, it soon becomes evident that critics of different periods praise a given artist and his works for very different reasons. In a study of the criticism of the "Mona Lisa," 19 Boas describes and explains the striking contrast between the judgment of Vasari and the very different judgments of Gautier and Pater:
15.  "Criticism in a Mass Society," The Intent of the Critic, pp. 142-143.
16.  It does not seem to me necessary to prove the existence of these fluctuations. The history of criticism plainly shows that there have been periods when many artists who are today considered great were either ignored or disparaged.
17.  Transformations (New York, 1926), p. 84.
18.  Leo Stein, The A-B-C of Aesthetics (New York, 1927), p. 29.
19.  "The Mona Lisa in the History of Taste/' Journal of the History of Ideas, April, 1940.