Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thoughts on Art Criticism

Jonathan Jones, a blogger for the Guardian, discussed in a recent post the effects of overanalyzing a work of art as opposed to intuitively rating it. He points out that great artists have often been known to list what or who they like as well as who or what they don’t like. This manner of passing judgment is not often favored by critics and academics, but could it be, as Jones states, that this overanalyzing can be problematic? The mind can convince itself of anything through study and sympathy. Jones therefore asserts that any good discussions about art must begin with statements of personal preference to resist the “lure of overintellectualism” and “catalogue-speak.”

Analyzing a work of art does obligate the viewer to reassess his or her opinion. Insights into the context in which a work is created, the artist’s history and intention and even the processes or techniques used can add a new dimension to the work without overintellectualizing it.

In my studies, I have found that art has different goals and messages and that people respond in different ways and to different things. There are many artists whose works I do not care for, but, after learning about their background, I respect what they have produced and find it interesting on some level.

It is also important to consider that a work of art’s merit does not always depend solely on its aesthetic qualities; sometimes it is important to know the background because something may seem mundane until you learn its associations and implications. However, critics and connoisseurs must be careful not to attribute qualities and significance definitively to what they perceive as an artist’s choices. It seems to me that this is the true danger, for these assumptions may lead to people trying to make a work of art mean more than it does, which can lead to an obligation to hold that work in higher esteem.

I believe Jones has made a valuable point by suggesting that discourse about art should include intuitive observations and opinions because initial responses and “gut reactions” are important and should be investigated in order to identify personal associations and interpretations, but the study of a work of art should never end there. Observers should still make an effort to analyze other aspects of works of art to gain a more complete experience and understanding.

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