Are there objective criteria for judging whether or not artworks are good art? Should we at times appeal to moral values in assessing the quality of artwork? What major approaches are there for the purpose of evaluation of art?
How should we evaluate artworks?
This question has been a controversial question, and a number of approaches to this question have evolved. The approaches are borrowed from hermeneutical theory in general and literary criticism in particular.
- The Romantic Approach: evaluation of an artwork should be done by extracting the artist's intentions - the intentions of the artist are presumed to be reflected in the artwork and they are what give the work its meaning and thus - its artistic value.
- The Formalist or Structuralist Approach: evaluation of an artwork should be done by focusing merely on the artwork, ignoring anything that is external to it (namely - artist and viewer). Artworks get their meaning and thus - their artistic merit, from the composition, colors, etc.
- The Post-Structuralist or Postmodernist Approach: evaluation of an artwork should be done by focusing on the meaning which stems from the viewer at the moment of the viewer's encounter with the work. Thus, the focus is not on the artist's intentions nor on the physical and visual aspects of the work.
The three approaches hence agree that in order to evaluate an artwork one should extract its meaning. But they disagree as to the source of meaning - Romantic approach identifies the source of meaning with the artist's intentions; Structuralism - rather with the 'visual language' expressed in the work; and - Post-structuralism - with the viewer's response to the work. Of these three, the last presumes that the meaning of an artwork (and thus its value) is not constant: one may view the same artwork several times and each time produce different meaning to it.
Are there objective criteria for judging whether or not artworks are good art?
As implied by the above - there can be criteria by which to evaluate artworks. The question of whether any proposed criteria are objective is especially pressing (in particular when engaging in cross-cultural aesthetics), however - it is also a very difficult question to answer. If we, for example, take beauty as criterion by which to determine of any artwork whether it is a good artwork, we would be inclined to ask: Is beauty something objective? This is not trivial question and Kant was in pains to show that beauty (or taste) is not (entirely) subjective.
Should we at times appeal to moral values in assessing the quality of artwork?
Some reject the idea that morality should play a role in assessing artworks; they maintain that the two realms - the aesthetic and the moral should be kept distinct. However, many who are influenced directly or indirectly by Plato's criticism of art (Republic X), claim that if some artwork is immoral it is not a good art. (Plato, by the way, thought that every art is immoral - in his Ideal Republic there was no room to painters and poets).(The subject of course is too broad to cover here).