New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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130                                PROBLEMS IN EVALUATION
works, Abell compares their associative form: he contrasts, for example, the dramatically intense action, the emphasis upon the spiritual characterization of Christ, and the appropriately "oppressive" setting of the El Greco, with the meditative tranquillity, the lack of emphasis upon the character of Christ, and the "inviting" setting of the Perugino. And he concludes from these and other comparisons that El Greco's is a finer painting because, by contrast with Perugino's, all its elements fuse into a single unified conception which reinforces "a visualization of the world as it would seem to one in the position of Christ." In challenging Abell's conclusion, Venturi argues that the relation of the elements in the painting to "the position of Christ" or to "the feeling of Christ" is artistically irrelevant in that the only legitimate point of reference for these elements is the personality or style of the artist. Since this point of reference, says Venturi, is the true measure of artistic judgment, many different, yet equally perfect versions of the "Agony in the Garden" exist; were AbelPs position tenable, however, El Greco's version would be the only perfect one.
The cause of these diverse appraisals in comparative value is now clear: the critics are judging by different standards. Abell rates the El Greco above the Perugino on the basis of a standard of artistic significance,77 whereas Venturi praises them equally in terms of artistic perfection. Abell considers, that is, not only the success with which the artist has achieved his aim, but the depth and profundity of his conception as well, whereas Venturi evaluates entirely according to the intent or purpose of the artist. Hence, as logical relativism
Venturi unjustifiably assumes that Abell has consulted only these four writers in the esthetic field, (b) With characteristic Crocean assurance, Venturi calls Abell's work "well-meant" and his esthetic conclusions absurd, distorted, and false. The effect of such dogmatism, which will be mentioned again in the discussion of "psychological" relativism, is anything but critically beneficial. 77. The standards of artistic significance and artistic perfection are discussed in this book on pp. 77-82.