New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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W HAT then are the alternative possibilities? Contrary to much current belief, there exist at least two further general positions, which differ markedly from one another but which agree in one essential doctrine: namely, that all values are empirical phenomena inextricably linked with human behavior and experience. This common denominator may be responsible for the loose employment of the terms "subjective" and "relative" interchangeably in philosophical and critical writings and for the fact that they are so seldom defined with accuracy. When it is realized, however, that major differences exist between two theories which are both opposed to absolute objectivism, the desirability of using these two terms in distinct, separate ways should become apparent.
Briefly, what meaning has subjectivism for value theory and for art criticism? Common to its slightly varied forms is the idea of value as an immediate emotional state which delights, as a "felt satisfaction," as a "feeling present to attention." Such definitions are clear, explicit, intelligible. For criticism they harmonize well with those facts which proclaim the extreme diversity of cultural values and tastes since, if value is a feeling in the subject, there should be no reason to expect or to require uniformity of opinion. Evaluations become a matter solely of individual personal preferences: what I like is good and what I prefer is better.
The task for the critic is then one of expressing in words the sensations communicated to him by the object: the detailing, as for Anatole France, of "adventures among masterpieces"; and the result, at best, is the sort of impressionistic autobiographical appreciation advocated by Pater: " 'The aim of all true criticism' ... is to inquire 'what is this song