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UNIT 1: CULTURE AND SOCIETY
Evaluating the arts
Appreciation of the arts is based on building arguments for and against the appeal or qualities of an
art object or performance and making various aesthetic judgements. Often there are no absolutes
but there is a lot of ambiguity. The arts are emotive. Works and performances are evaluated and
reevaluated, often in a changing climate of artistic opinion, judgement and argument.
There are differing opinions about the 'quality' of art and how to evaluate the extent to which a work
of art possesses, or lacks, qualities such as 'beauty'. Beauty, it is often said, is in the eye of the
beholder. It is a personal judgement and, if pressed for reasons why something is deemed to be
beautiful, we may become vague and evasive. It is beautiful because, intuitively, we feel that it is --
or perhaps because we have been conditioned by our upbringing or environment to think in a
particular way. It might be equally difficult to decide why we consider something to be funny -- or
Aesthetic judgements in art are often about the 'beauty' or 'appeal' of an object. An aesthetic object
might be a piece of music, a painting or a sculpture. It might involve the appreciation of a piece of
the landscape such as a water feature or a mountain range. This will involve the impact an object
might have on the emotions, our capacity to experience pleasure and enjoyment, and how we
might discriminate at a sensory level.
These are all feelings, and feelings cannot be proved right or wrong. Sometimes we are moved
when we listen to a piece of music or watch a play because they arouse feelings in us. Yet
someone else may be unmoved by the same experience. Consequently, there maybe many
differing opinions regarding the qualities of the arts and how they can best be evaluated.
In a broader sense, the issue of cultural conditioning might be raised. We are all brought up in a
particular environment and we experience different forms of socialisation, all of which influence the
values that we develop and the judgements that we make. A wider area of social, political and moral
life is opened up by the arts. We have to think about what we are interpreting, perhaps within a
particular context, and what something means to us.
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This raises the central issue of whether aesthetic judgements are subjective or objective. Writing in
the 1740s, the eminent philosopher David Hume identified some of the difficulties in formulating
aesthetic judgements because they might be both partly subjective and partly objective. Many
writers and critics tend towards the view that such judgements are far more likely to be subjective.
Contemporary art, in particular, is problematic because it tends to emphasise process and concept
over the final product.…read more
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A strength of the arts is that they have the capacity to engage us directly and in different
ways -- perhaps producing a lifechanging experience.…read more