New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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RELATIVISM                                               147
say first, there is painting the value of which is partly derived from the value of the theme, e.g., Byzantine painting; second, though rarely, there is painting the value of which is independent of any "ulterior ends," e.g., abstract art; and third, there is painting the value of which is decreased when ends intrude in such a way that complete harmony between subject matter and content is lacking, e.g., much Renaissance painting: thus concerning the banquet scenes by Veronese, one might say either that the given religious subjects are an intrusion upon the contemporary social feasts or that the festive social atmosphere is an intrusion upon the prescribed subjects.
To illustrate further this concept of relevancy, consider the modern humanist who, while rejecting a priori values, nonetheless sets up ethical and critical standards which are as inflexible as any imagined by the absolutist. Everyone, he says, ought most highly to value classical forms of art, because these, in stressing reason and self-control, emphasize the most important realms of experience. Must we then agree that the art of Raphael, Poussin, and Ingres is in any definitive way superior to that of El Greco, Rembrandt, and Delacroix? Would we turn to a humanist critic for evaluations concerning the romantics? The relativist answer will be emphatically "no/' Or suppose that strikingly divergent types of Chinese and western art objects are being considered. In this case, the principle of relevancy teaches that one may successfully judge each type only on the basis of that criterion which is appropriate and applicable. To appraise the merits of Chinese art on the basis of western criteria, or to appraise the merits of western art on the basis of Chinese criteria, would be indeed unwise. Or again, is it not inevitable that Coomaraswamy and other critics who judge art primarily by whether the content is clearly expressed will be more expert in explaining and evaluating Far Eastern and medieval art but will less successfully understand and appreciate that of the Renais-