New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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144                            PROBLEMS IN EVALUATION
these standards implicitly identify artistic form with technique, process, or method; they reveal, consequently, a monumental inability to appreciate the artistic value of formal aspects of works of art and they render the wholesale condemnations of such distinguished painters as Matisse and Picasso worthless.
Even in regard to these inferior sorts of criteria, however, one might plausibly argue that the case for dogmatic judgments against them has been overstated. Granted that almost no judicious critic today would set up unqualified verisimilitude as a principal standard by which to judge painting, how are we to interpret and appraise the emphasis placed by Albert! and by Leonardo upon a complete and exact imitation of nature? Or what are we to think of William Hazlitt's axiom that "the value of any work of art or science depends chiefly on the quantity of originality contained in it"? 94 It is easiest and most natural (since one tends to consider his own opinions intrinsically superior) to believe either that such opinions of competent critics are intrinsically inferior, or that, possibly because of semantic difficulties, we have misinterpreted themby supposing, for example, that when any critic stresses the artistic importance of imitating nature, he is referring to an exact transcript of objects rather than, like Aristotle, to an ideal imitation of things "as they ought to be." But another solution to the problem seems more reasonable: namely, as suggested earlier, that certain evaluations differ primarily because of different "social dimensions": the evaluations are relative sociologically in that basic cultural changes effect basic changes in evaluation. Thus certain values which are correct for one society will be incorrect for another dissimilar society. There arises, consequently, a difficult and delicate problem of differentiating those standards which are produced by crude responses from those which were genuinely superior for one culture yet are
94. Essays on the Fine Arts, p. 127.