New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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RELATIVISM                                         l4$
Daiches, I suggest that such principles may stimulate the creation of works of art which will be as valuable for certain sorts of good minds as will other art objects for those who, like Daiches and myself, subscribe to more normative standards. To be specific: since much evidence indicates that the best abstract art communicates intensely valuable artistic experiences to a number of highly sensitive individuals, it seems reasonable to hold that those critical principles which encourage the creation of such art are superior ones.
But if the competent critic should apply the principle of psychological relativism when judging all superior standards, he may pronounce definitive judgment upon those inferior ones which depend upon crude and untrained experience, hasty intuitions, and cultural ignorance. For irreducible relativity emphatically does not imply that one criterion is as good as the next. If the relativist assumes, as stated above, that there are a number of better kinds of people, he also assumes that some minds are finer than othersmore intelligent, subtle, sensitive, orderly. Thus, while the expert critic will admit the basic relativity of differing attitudes all of which are intelligible, sincere, intelligent, and the like, he can distinguish these from other attitudes which are unintelligible, insincere, and unintelligent. The irrelevancies, eccentricities, and fallacies of these latter can be explained by any skilled critic and the standards repudiated with assurance. For example, the relativist might assert or, if necessary, prove that artistic judgments which are based preponderantly upon what the observer conceives to be the importance of the subject matter are crude. Or again, the critic might justifiably insist and effectively argue that an esthetic system which evaluates paintings preponderantly according to resemblances of one sort or another to the visual world is an insensitive and uncultivated one. Or, to cite a specific case, some of the standards and evaluations so arrogantly presented by Mr. Thomas Craven in his volume Modern Art are inferior ones: