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No, Art is Not Purely Subjective

I’m sorry, it isn’t.  I know it’s a golden little dream that feels warm and cuddly when we hold onto it, but it simply isn’t true.  Now, one’s reaction to art IS purely subjective.  But one’s opinion or enjoyment of something does not affect the work itself.  This isn’t going to be easy for me to write, as I (and many others) have gone over it repeatedly on various message boards.  Let me try to keep it succinct and to the point.

It is possible for art to be good or bad; even moreso it is possible for art to be better or worse.  And the more extreme the difference, the easier it is to tell.  If I draw a little cartoon, that cartoon is not as good as a Quitely piece.  Even if my mom looks at it and loves it, it isn’t better.  It is worse.  It’s OK for my mom to like it more; that is her subjective opinion.  But it would be silly of her to try to objectively claim it was better.  It isn’t.  That is a fact.  I don’t know how to draw.  Every technical aspect would be worse.  Every creative aspect would be worse.  And if I drew more panels I guarantee the storytelling would be in every way worse than a Quitely page.  Is my mom stupid for liking mine more?  No.  Do I look down on her?  No.  But is my page better?  Absolutely not.

Now, of course, it isn’t always that easy.  I am not advocating complete black-and-white thinking on this idea.  You get a Quitely page and stack it against a Williams III page, they are so similar in quality that it would be nearly impossible to objectively rate them against each other.  They clearly both are better than, say, a Greg Land tracey-porn page, a muddled teaser poster with inconsistent lighting and anatomy, or David Finch’s weird line-filled work.  And, once again, if someone likes any of those latter three more, that is perfectly fine.  Your taste is subjective, but has no bearing on the quality of the work.  Perhaps the quality of the work can affect your taste, but not vice versa.  No matter how much I love America’s Funniest Home Videos or Tron, they are terrible.  Do I care?  No.  If someone says they are terrible, do I get offended?  Of course not; they’re right.  But I don’t feel bad for liking them.  That’s the subjectivity of taste versus the objectivity of art critique.

And that word explains the problem I have with a lot of the reviewing at this site, especially Greg’s.  When we founded this blog, I wanted it to highlight the good and the great, no matter how we felt about it.  I can recommend a comic I don’t particularly like, because I can ascertain it is objectively good.  And there’s nothing inherently wrong with recommending a comic based purely on how much you like it.  But from time to time I see some objectively bad stuff being pushed forward while personal taste of a reviewer is pulling down Good Work.  And it bugs the shit out of me.  When a bunch of us left because of this sort of thing, Brian recruited a bunch of new reviewers singing the praises of Manhunter or Secret Six or whatever just because of personal taste.  In moderation, that’s fine.  I enjoy the hell out of the Goon Noir, and recognize it’s no Eightball.  We all like some stuff that isn’t so good.  But when the chaff drowns out the wheat, we’ve got a problem.  This is why I give Burgas a hard time.  He’s got a forum here that people obviously read, and that’s great.  But his critiques rarely go much beyond “I like Moon Knight” when he’s reviewing a book he’s got personal taste for.  And when you’re spending more time praising a middle-ground-at-best superhero monthly, you’re shortchanging a lot of work out there.

Now, see, I started on another tangent there.  The point is, art isn’t completely subjective.  That doesn’t mean it’s completely objective.  Of course taste comes into it.  But not every opinion is equally valid or even right.  If it’s someone’s opinion that Watchmen is poorly crafted, they’re wrong.  They’re free to be wrong, of course, but they shouldn’t expect people to treat that opinion as valid.  You can know more about comics, about art, about storytelling, about craft and your opinion can be more valid; HOWEVER, this doesn’t make it automatically right, either.  Scott McCloud can still be wrong about something like anyone else.  True, I’d probably give his opinion a bit more weight than, say, Greg’s.  But he could still be wrong and even Burgas is right about a book occasionally.

It bugs me when people say “It’s all subjective.”  No, it isn’t.  Your enjoyment is, obviously.  But I’d like to think this site is capable of a bit more than “I like this.”  I’d like to think that this site, and the minds behind it (even Brad-haw) are capable of “This works and this is why.”  Or “This doesn’t work and this is why.”  Or “I don’t like this, but here is why it’s great.”  I think it’s high time we raised our game.  There are smart people here.  We read a lot of comics.  Let’s still have fun, let’s still talk about what we like, but let’s try to look at the why’s.  Try to look at the larger scale, too:  what is this doing, what is it saying, etc.  It isn’t easy.  I fall into the same traps myself.  But this site gets a lot of hits, from what I understand.  That’s a lot of people we could turn on not just to good comics, but to better comics.  A lot of people we could get to think about craft, about higher quality, and about objective standards for art.  AND a lot of people we can joke around with and talk about the horrible things we love.  But enough pontification.  I want discussion.

180 Comments

I like a lot of what you’re saying and where you are coming from.
Holding out ‘Eightball’ as something that is objectively ‘good’ undermines almost every other sentence you posted though.

Not every issue of Eightball’s a masterpiece, clearly, but it’s hard to find a creator right now who’s more on his game, whose art and whose writing craft are both as good as Clowes.

I think there is a difference between “ART” and artwork. I think one of the main differences between the two is intention. Sure if you sketched a cartoon it wouldn’t look as pretty as a hot woman done by Quitely. However, what’s the context of the two pieces of artwork? Is yours intentionally drawn “poorly” to make a statement? Is Quitely’s done just to look pretty? Or is yours done poorly because you can’t do better and is Quitely’s done pretty to make a statement? …I think the “artists” intension is relevant. If the artist is trying to make “ART” then that’s different from a piece of “artwork” done for a paycheck.

Scott, I’m not really sure the point of what you’re saying.

I was referring to the statement that art isn’t subjective but one’s reaction to art is subjective.

My point was that sometimes it’s not up to just the reader/viewer to determine if something is art or not. Sometimes it’s the artist’s intentions that qualify something as “ART.”

Just because person A doesn’t feel something is art doesn’t mean it isn’t. Or if person B feels something is art, doesn’t mean it is. Classifying something as “art” also depends on the person who created it.

—does that get my point across better?

If you guys drew a clearer line between appreciating craftsmanship/technique and declaring something is capital-A ART that will last the ages when you use the word “good,”, I daresay a lot of these arguments would disappear.

Like someone else said, with “Art” intent counts for a lot. Honesty counts for a lot. Innovation counts for a lot. You do your best to assess those things along with craftsmanship when you write a review and that’s where good criticism comes from.

There’s also a great deal to be said for the kind of reviews where you know going in that the reviewer likes certain things; that’s his area of expertise, his opinion carries some weight there. There’s nobody to touch Mike Barr when he writes about mystery fiction. He knows it forward and backward. Something like that, the question of whether or not it’s ‘art’ isn’t even on the table — you want to know if the expert thinks it matches what he, in his expertise, knows is the best-crafted examples of that genre.

This is why I get peevish with many reviewers in the comics press — they don’t seem to have a clear grasp of the kind of reviews they are writing or what the criteria is for the genre they write ABOUT. You can always judge craft. Hell, you can even TEACH craft. A creator has to hit certain marks in commercial fiction — mystery, superhero, romance, whatever — and a reviewer can judge whether or not those were done well.

So, you know, there’s some of us that are more interested in THAT kind of review. “Is it well-crafted?’ That’s honestly where my interest lies, I have more fun talking about pulp adventure fiction with no lasting literary merit whatsoever. I know it’s kind of off-message for the blog. But my excuse is that I at least try to make it diverting. Personally, I kind of like the spectrum we have here — I don’t know that my taste matches ANYONE’s here, I’m really pretty stolidly mainstream. (Although it always surprises me that more weird little indie books cross my path than most of the rest of you.) But I enjoy reading both Joe’s AND Burgas’ reviews. I generally think that the wider a spectrum of taste represented, the better off we are. Whether that’s, you know, in keeping with the mission statement or not.

Ah, I got you now. Yeah, I agree pretty much. However, I also think that the artist’s intention isn’t paramount either. People can think very little of what they make and end up with something others recognize as great.

I haven’t completely shaken my dadaist roots so I still think it’s ALL art. Just, some of it is better art. And intention can play a role in that, yes.

Whether the standards used to judge art are objective or subjective or some combination of the two, if the only justification of why someone thinks a work of art is good is “I like it” that’s not particularly *interesting*. Its just an assertion of opinion folks can take it or leave it. When a critic explains what they like about something and relate it to how they feel about other works of art, readers can weigh the critics opinion against their own reactions and pass their own judgement. On a large scale, this sort of sets the bounds of consensus.

Its not like there is a God of Comic Books who can pass objective judgement on things as if it were a natural law. But that doesn’t mean that all opinions are equal, either. Or that people have to *like* something to see it as having merit or value. I do think that calling an opinion about art “right” or “wrong” is only useful in a humorous way. The issue isn’t whether something is right or wrong, but whether its arguable, just plain stupid, or merely a statement of personal enjoyment (ie useless).

William and Greg, I am with you entirely. It’s very good to read people who see this.

the point is there are brilliant artists working in the comic industry and there are also the mediocre ones who makes us cringe with their half-assed works.

The problem here is that the conversation about comics online has degenerated to the degree that any critique is immediately interpreted as attack by SOMEone.

I blame this on two equally to-blame parties: the extremists on both sides. those who HATE mainstream comics unconditionally, and those who LOVE mainstream comics unconditionally.

in the middle is where the conversation happens. it’s also where a lot of things ARE, in fact, subjective. because art may not be subjective, but OPINIONS are.

i’m glad you wrote this, joe. i was in on the ugly thread of last week re: the DC teaser image (DarthAstuart) and I really regretted a lot of what I posted, or rather, the tone of it. so it gives me an opportunity to apologise for that, to you and especially to Kid Omega on the boards, if he ever reads this.

the other piece to consider: it is possible to enjoy the dumbest of dumb comics for one reason, and the highest of highbrow comics for other reasons. high art, trash culture–everything can be enjoyed for some reason or another by someone, and as long as we’re talking about the whys and why nots instead of the “OH EM GEE YOU ARE DUM CAUSE YOU LIKE IT,” things stay interesting.

just my two cents.

I totally agree. I love some stuff that is awful, that is stupid, and such. But I try to make sure I don’t pretend they’re better than some very good things I don’t care for.

I don’t even see this as a mainstream/indie issue. This debate can be had internally in each.

Apology totally accepted, by the way. Thanks.

The way I see it is this- there can’t be a final word. There are objective standards, but our evaluation of how a work meets those standards will be subjective enough for two people to hold completely different evaluations without either being wrong. Take, say, dialogue. You can say dialogue is good because it’s realistic or it advances the story or it’s just well written in a stylized way, but what if the dialogue is realistic at the expense of advancing the story (like a lot of modern banter), or advances the story at the expense of realism (like a lot of Silver Age talk)? And what is realistic dialogue anyway? We all have slightly different senses of how people “actually” talk, based on our cultural backgrounds.

There’s also how standards go together- is a work with bad art but great writing better than a work with bad writing but great art? Can the strength of one area make up for deficiencies in the other?

Of course it’s not entirely subjective, otherwise there’d be nothing to talk about because the work wouldn’t exist outside of our perceptions. But I like to think, if only for the sake of allowing healthy debate and the retention of personal taste, that two people can construct equally valid and reasoned arguments supporting two entirely opposed opinions, and neither has to be right.

I agree, Evan. It’s when folks try the “all opnions are equal” crap that I’m bothered. Support your opinion with evidence and we can talk.

okay, I have a little more.

1) the problem with the “art is not subjective” statement is that we all have to come to some kind of consensus on WHAT the standards are by which we judge “good” or “bad” art. obviously, there are basic technical rules–if someone draws people without noses, that’s probably bad.

beyond the obvious amateur/awful mistakes, whose standards are we using to determine “good” art? and who got to pick them? and why?

I mean, if you want to make an intelligent argument to defend or condemn just about ANYTHING, that’s good reading and good writing. but to then say “well, here’s all this, and this is also just GOOD art,” it’s like, why do you need to make that supposedly “objective” statement in addition to your critique? does it need to have a place in the pantheon of art, or can it just stand on its own, good or great or bad, and be talked about for its own sake?

2) I can recommend a comic I don’t particularly like, because I can ascertain it is objectively good.

but WHY would you want to???

listen, if all this shit is about anything, it’s about getting jazzed on what you like, and ranting on what you don’t, and getting into the whys and the wherefores of it. hopefully the diversity of writers and voices here means that a fair amount of different perspectives are being represented.

but really, i don’t think a critic’s job is to recommend good stuff even if he/she hates it; it’s to discuss REACTION to the work, backed by KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE. and if you still hate something you recognize as being Great Art, then I guess it’s your choice to even write about it or not.

there’s critique in the mere choice of what to write about–do you bother bagging on a shitty comic? or writing crap about a middle of the road one?

anyway.

I completely disagree, but it’s especially strange to me that you use Quitely as your example, since I was just thinking about this topic in regards to him. There are several popular comics artists I don’t like, but I see why others like them. For some reason Quitely the only artist that I despise and strongly feel (though I know better) an urge to declare that his art is objectively bad.

As I try to read a Quitely book, my brain is screaming to me, “How could ANYBODY like this stuff??? Not only are his figures bloated, stiff and aesthetically repugnant, but the much-vaunted storytelling is atrocious, with most panels being 90% dead space! This is OBJECTIVELY bad! ANY sensible person who know anything about the tool of comics storytelling would feel the same way!!!”

Then, just to remind myself that there’s no such thing as objective standards in art, I hop on the internet where Quitely chi is considered to be like unto a thing a iron.

It’s a shame too, because I love Morrison, but I’ve never gotten to the last page of any issue of New X-Men, We3, or All-Star without fleeing in horror from (what I consider to be) the atrocious art and storytelling.

1. Centuries and centuries of studying art have refined what makes it good. And it runs the gamut from technical stuff (lighting, rendering, drawing the eye) to more ephemeral but noticable stuff (aesthetic, creativity, etc). Comics are just as relatable to art history as anything else, but they also have the added benefit/standard of storytelling, of which there’s even MORE study.

2. Just because I don’t like a great work doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be lauded. I can’t stand the movie 8 1/2, but it’s a great damn film, no ifs about it. It’s important both to keep perspective and to recommend what might be liked rather than what I like.

I generally try to avoid getting shitty comics just to rag on them. I used to do it when I started blogging, but there are much better places for my money. If I see something particularly dumb, I may comment, if only because it’s funny like that guy getting hit in the nuts on AFV.

I don’t even see this as a mainstream/indie issue. This debate can be had internally in each.

fair enough. i just feel like there is something gurgling at the heart of online comics discussion that affords a higher standard to be placed on even a bad indie comic than on a decent mainstream one.

i’m struggling with this, but there’s just an attitude I smell sometimes–and again, this is on both sides of the debate–where you either have to embrace one side or the other, the snobby indie side or the slurpy mainstream side, and it’s impossible to realistically have diverse taste.

one other thought: maybe we can all agree that the real issue on this stuff takes place in the great void of middle work–for the most part, we can agree on the classics, and we can agree on the absolute garbage. it’s in talking about the random good to great to okay stuff all along the spectrum that it gets harder to comment.

Wow, Mr. Bird, you’re pretty far off here. Quitely’s control of his “actors'” body language is sublime. His storytelling is almost a natural evolution of his pen. And he gets that “detail” doesn’t mean “over rendering.” You’re letting personal taste get in the way of objective viewing.

Matt: I TOTALLY agree with that. The extremes are easy to recognize and are more objective. The middle-ground, that’s where it’s tough, and, thus, interesting.

1. Centuries and centuries of studying art have refined what makes it good. And it runs the gamut from technical stuff (lighting, rendering, drawing the eye) to more ephemeral but noticable stuff (aesthetic, creativity, etc). Comics are just as relatable to art history as anything else, but they also have the added benefit/standard of storytelling, of which there’s even MORE study.

again, though, we can all SAY these things are true, but once we get inside it, what are the specifics? Where’s the irrefutable list of what makes, say, how to draw an eye Good versus Bad? Who wrote that list? Based on what? Realistic depiction against the true human eye?

I’m not trying to be argumentative–I just think the objective standards of what makes good Art of any kind are an elusive and maybe impossible goal. They may be there, I can agree on that, but once we start bringing them up, we have to wonder WHAT they are, and then I start saying I prefer large irises in my eyeballs, and you prefer large corneas, and then the whole thing’s shot to hell.

I can be a bit of a critic geek–if I like someone’s writing on film or music or comics or whatever, I will follow them around like a fool. What I think a good critic does, rather than aspiring to some general standard of Good Art in analyzing work, is to articulate THEIR view of what makes Good Art through what they write about, and how they write about it. Whether you realize it or not, Joe, you do that because you’re a good writer. The online comics writers/critics/posters/whatever who fail at that are the ones who can’t articulate their view through what they write, becaue they don’t have the knowledge and experience and interest in creating that level of analysis.

2. Just because I don’t like a great work doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be lauded. I can’t stand the movie 8 1/2, but it’s a great damn film, no ifs about it. It’s important both to keep perspective and to recommend what might be liked rather than what I like.

that first part is true…but the last part, you lose me. I guess it’s okay for you to say, “I didn’t like 8 1/2, but you might like it,” but I’m not sure I want to read why you think it’s great if you don’t yourself like it.

Maybe part of the distinction we’re running into here, too, is a more academic view of criticism versus a more popular mainstream view? You can write an academic analysis of 8 1/2 discussing why it’s a great film even if you yourself don’t like it–but why review it, unless there’s something of interest in the gulf between its greatness and your opinion of it?

On what basis would you say that Tron is terrible? It was pretty innovative for the time, and I think that as an adventure pic geared toward adolescents, it met its objectives pretty well.

Yeah, you’re wrong. Just plain wrong.

Art is entirely subjective. You know why? Because the determination of what is and isn’t art is entirely subjective. And I mean entirely.

Someone paints a picture of a can of soup? Art. Someone piles a bunch of junkyard refuse together and takes a photo? Art. Jackson Pollock splatters paint on a canvas all willy nilly? Art. I don’t personally care too much for any of that stuff, but I’m not arrogant enough to claim that it isn’t art. It’s just not my bag.

If someone, anyone, believes that something is art, it is. And there’s no argument. You can say you don’t like it, you can even hate it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not art, and it doesn’t mean it’s not good art. When the very definition of something is subjective, how can you try and impose objective standards of quality on it? The idea that one person’s opinion about something like this is somehow more valid than another’s is elitist and narrow minded.

Sure, you’re talking about comic art, specifically, but the same principles apply. I can’t remember who, but someone on CSBG really seems to dislike Humberto Ramos as an artist. Personally, I like him. The fact that someone doesn’t like his style, doesn’t make him bad, he’s just not to their taste. In fact, I can only assume that every working comic book artist has fans somewhere, or they wouldn’t be working.

The one area where your argument might have some validity is if you consider the artist’s purpose (which you touched on briefly). One drawing may tell a story better than another, but you can really only know that if you know for sure the story being told. Even that has a lot of subjectivity to it, though. Two people can easily get two completely different stories from the same picture.

I like this blog and its writers quite a bit, and I don’t want to seem too upset here (because, really, I’m not), but this column doesn’t read like you’re explaining any great truth about art, it mostly sounds like you’re just posting an articulate (not to be confused with accurate) argument as to why your opinions (and, presumably, those with whom you agree) should be held above those of others.

Er, by “drawing the eye” I meant “making the viewer look where you want them to look.” Not literally sketching or rendering an eyeball.

I don’t mean to say I think there’s this concrete list written somewhere that makes ART. But there are general things that can either add or subtract from the quality of a piece. If the lighting is inconsistent, that’s generally a bad sign. If there are huge plot holes, that’s generally a bad sign. If you do not follow the rules and logic you set up yourself for a story, that’s not good. Again, as you’re saying, the discussion of this is interesting and not everyone’s going to agree on every specific point. But there are general agreements mankind has had for centuries, literally, and they’re not about to change either.

Aside–I hope no one takes this as anti-experimental or -expressivist or anything. I actually prefer expressive renderings to “realistic” ones, but they have their own set of standards as well.

You yourself may not want to read why I think 8 1/2 is great, but there are folks that do. And I think it’s important for me, as a critic, to keep in mind that me liking something doesn’t mean it’s great, and vice versa. “The Final Countdown” won’t be passed down the ages like a Mozart opera, no matter how much I rock out to it. In this way, it is more of the critic’s responsibility than the reader’s desire.

As for Tron, hey, I think it’s fun, but it’s extremely derivative with some shoddy acting that hangs to much upon its (at the time great) effects. It’s fun and does something nice, but isn’t a great movie by any standard. “Terrible” might be a bit much.

Jim would almost have a point if I had ever questioned whethere something was art or not. I absolutely do not question it. Everything from the scribblings of my students to the paintings of Da Vinci to the ready-mades of the Dadaists is art. I will never deny anything it’s, uh, “art-hood.”

But just because it’s art doesn’t mean it is as good as every other piece of art. Those youngster scribblings, adorable as they are, do not match up with a Rembrandt. It is well within my rights to love them more, but my love for them does not alter what they are.

Sure, you’re talking about comic art, specifically, but the same principles apply. I can’t remember who, but someone on CSBG really seems to dislike Humberto Ramos as an artist. Personally, I like him. The fact that someone doesn’t like his style, doesn’t make him bad, he’s just not to their taste. In fact, I can only assume that every working comic book artist has fans somewhere, or they wouldn’t be working.

This is part of my point. Everyone’s free to like or dislike whatever they want. But at this site, I say, if we’re going to discuss it, let’s raise the game beyond “I like/dislike.” Give us some real critiques. What makes Ramos’ art work or not work? What is he going for? Does he accomplish it? Does he stay consistent to his own artistic logic? Liking something is great. To explain what about it you like enhances the depth of your feeling, draws out more, and helps you find more of what you like.

A while ago I had a discussion online with some people about the current run of (Supergirl and the) Legion of Super-Heroes, a frequent topic of mine. Among the people in the conversation were some who claimed that there was nothing good about the comic at all, that it was devoid of even attempts at doing anything good. Which was something I thought I could argue with, because it didn’t depend on the subjective question of who likes the book and who doesn’t.

The points I ended up making were that I could show actual examples of symbolism and subtle characterization in the comic book. That is, I could make the objective artistic statement that the comic book had certain characteristics. I don’t know if I convinced anybody of anything, but the point is that it’s possible to figure out objective things about art, even if we can’t always go on from there to put artworks in the Good or Bad categories. We can still discover interesting true things.

Well put, Matthew. I’m not a fan of the book in question, but I’d never say there was nothing good about it. It’s better than a lot of things out there.

Everyone’s free to like or dislike whatever they want. But at this site, I say, if we’re going to discuss it, let’s raise the game beyond “I like/dislike.” Give us some real critiques. What makes Ramos’ art work or not work? What is he going for? Does he accomplish it? Does he stay consistent to his own artistic logic? Liking something is great. To explain what about it you like enhances the depth of your feeling, draws out more, and helps you find more of what you like.

this is great, but I would guess most of us have no educated background in art. if someone has taken art classes, or has a masters in art appreciation, or has drawn comics professionally for thirty years, then maybe they could really analyze this in a way that relates to Art as a whole, from an objective perspective.

but if I say I like Humberto Ramos’ work because its exaggerated style exhibits a flamboyance that feels natural for superhero stories, is that a valid critique? i have no art training. i can’t talk about drawing the eye (or the eyeball), perspective, lighting, etc. does that make me ill-equipped to discuss my opinions?

Bravo, Joe. “It’s all subjective” is the last, desperate plea of the critically bankrupt before they start swearing at their betters.

I think, if you read enough comics and look at enough work, you know more than you think you know. And the more you think about it, the more you exercise your brain in this way, justifying opinions or critiques with technique, facts, etc., you get better at it. I’m far from an expert myself, but it’s something that I constantly try to improve.

Thanks, Alan. Who’d’ve thunk that I’d still be writing a variation on this all this time after that first piece I wrote for you?

You’re right, you didn’t question whether or not something was art, and I wasn’t saying that you did. Rather, I was simply saying that if the very definition of art is so completely subjective, how can you claim that the value of it can be objectively determined? Matthew E is right, you can determine objective things about it, but you can’t really draw lines directly from those objective facts to the “Good” and “Bad” buckets.

However, I’m with you that if someone is going to argue the value of something, they should bring reasoned and detailed arguments to the table. Without that, discussions would quickly degenerate into the realm of “You’re stupid.” “No, you’re stupid.” And what’s the point of that?

“Er, by “drawing the eye” I meant “making the viewer look where you want them to look.” Not literally sketching or rendering an eyeball.”

AWESOME.

Hey! I like Manhunter!

The point is determining who’s stupider, duh.

Kidding.

I reiterate that I don’t think all art is easily placed in black and white columns of good and bad. But SOME of it is. You look at a true masterpiece and you know it. It works. And you look at pure drek and, if you can separate yourself from some emotional tie it may have on you, you can see it.

But don’t you think that if you “separate yourself from some emotional tie it may have on you” you’re actually removing much of its value as art?

Why would anyone want to do that?

and ultimately, isn’t it just as impossible to create an objective standard of Good Art as it is to simply throw up one’s arms and say, “well, it’s all subjective, so we’re all right?” in other words, aren’t they both at extremes?

just enjoying the give and take here, by the way. :)

No, I don’t. By “emotional tie” (bad phrasing, I admit) I didn’t mean “how it makes you feel” as much as, like, someone’s nostalgiac attachment to Rob Liefeld or Robot Jox or something.

Actually, it still seems like we disagree, Joe. I don’t think even the extremes are obvious. As I said, there’s ALWAYS room for dissent.

I remain convinced that David Lynch’s version of DUNE is one of the finest science fiction films of all time. This is not a consensus opinion- it has a cult following, but is not held in esteem as a classic of genre cinema.

One could make a case against WATCHMEN. You could hang on to the loose thread of the work’s unusual ending or the apparent tonal incongruity of the fake alien tentacle monster. Any work has that kind of crack you can hang onto and argue as undermining the whole. Similarly, there’s no work that doesn’t have ANY potentially redeeming feature to it whatsoever.

Like I said, it’s not a black and white issue. It’s not completely either, but (on the internet at least) I see more denials of objectivity entirely than vice versa. In fact, I’ve never seen ANYone say that it’s completely objective.

But don’t you think that if you “separate yourself from some emotional tie it may have on you” you’re actually removing much of its value as art?

Why would anyone want to do that?

For the purpose of coming up with some kind of cogent evaluation. Which is not to say that you’re forbidding yourself from experiencing the emotions the artwork inspires in you; of course you wouldn’t do that. But you can recognize that the emotional tie is only of interest to you.

“Genre” cinema is a bit tougher than actual cinema criticism. Different standards, and usually kind of inbred, nerdy ones.

I think “Dune” is a better movie than a “sci fi movie” if that makes sense. It certainly reaches further.

I’ve never read a critique of Watchmen that adequately put aside the complete mastery of craft displayed by the creators. You can critique bits–it’s not perfect, nothing is–but as a whole, it works.

For the purpose of coming up with some kind of cogent evaluation. Which is not to say that you’re forbidding yourself from experiencing the emotions the artwork inspires in you; of course you wouldn’t do that. But you can recognize that the emotional tie is only of interest to you.

Thanks, exactly. I still rock out to “Final Countdown” even if I know it’s terrible.

“In fact, I’ve never seen ANYone say that it’s completely objective.”

You’re right, and I’ve probably approached this as though you did say it was completely objective, and that’s not really fair. I honestly believe, though, that it is entirely subjective, so I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this.

I really enjoyed the discussion.

Thanks.

No problem, Jim. Discussion is why I posted this. Not just to discuss this, though, but to discuss comics better.

I’ve never read a critique of Watchmen that adequately put aside the complete mastery of craft displayed by the creators. You can critique bits–it’s not perfect, nothing is–but as a whole, it works.

But my point is, “bits” can be seen as much more important by some than by others. They’re part of the craft, too, so if they don’t work, that’s a flaw in the craft.

That’s stretching it, I think. I mean, no, nothing is perfect. But saying Watchmen isn’t great work because the ending is wonky TO YOU isn’t that substantial.

Yeah, that was me who doesn’t like Ramos. Exaggerated figures, weird anatomy, poor use of panel space. But that’s just me.

I figured I would weigh in since this is directed at me. Of course you’re right, Joe, when you say ART isn’t subjective, but our reaction to it is, but those two things are so interconnected that it’s almost pointless to try and make a distinction. We can discuss lofty principles all we want, and Alan can chime in and call people critically bankrupt, but ultimately it comes down to: “Do I like it?” That’s just the way it is.

To address some of your specific complaints: the weekly posts I do aren’t supposed to great critical readings of the fine comics art that is out there. That’s why they’re called “What I bought.” It’s simply a list of comics I purchased and what I thought of them. Sometimes I don’t even do that and focus on a specific point about them. I’m not holding up any of the books as high art – maybe I should, because as you put it, that ought to be the point of the blog, but I don’t. I try to explain what the book is about and let people make up their own minds. You can pick on the selections all you want, but so far the only one you’ve bashed is Moon Knight, and I freely admit that I enjoy it more than it probably deserves. (I’m sure you hate a lot of other books I read, so I don’t need a list.) Part of the point of the weekly post is to give people an idea about what’s out there that they might have missed – I don’t give a rat’s ass whether it’s ART or not. A lot of people on-line have been flogging Mouse Guard, and if that gets more people to buy it, all the better. People who read this blog regularly know what kind of books I like, and I hope that they pick up some comics they might have missed but would still enjoy because of my posts (or someone else’s, too – I’m not singling myself out). I’m not about to go into a grand dissertation on why this book works or this book doesn’t. Maybe that means I should stop posting my weekly haul. I’m not going to, but maybe that’s what it means.

The contention that how we judge ART is objective is flawed because of our human emotions, which we cannot separate out. You talk about people with more experience than I have and respecting their opinions more, which I agree with. I have read very good art critics who think, say, Guernica by Picasso is crap, and they can prove it. I have also read very good art critics who think Guernica is a masterpiece, and they can prove it. How do I choose? I look at the damned painting and respond emotionally. It’s the same thing with comic books. Of course I can’t defend some of my purchases. I don’t try to. I say why I like them, I don’t claim they’re the greatest thing in the world, and I let the reader decide.

I can’t judge art as well as I can judge writing, because I’m not an artist. I get ripped for not reading The Spirit, and my credentials as a reviewer questioned. That’s fine. I will say that I’ve read a very small selection from Eisner, and I didn’t like it. If I look at it objectively, I will say that his art is fine, but his writing is heavy-handed, far too expository, overly pedantic in places, and lacking in narrative tension. But I come to those conclusions because viscerally, I just didn’t like the writing. Is Eisner OBJECTIVELY a bad writer because I don’t like him and see the flaws in his work? I don’t know. I imagine I’m in the minority about that opinion. Maybe I have to read more of his work. My point is that I can explain WHY I don’t like the writing, but is it because I reacted poorly to it or because, in a world of Platonic ideals, it’s bad writing?

I do try to look at certain comics objectively, and that’s why I do longer posts about Comics (I Think) You Should Own. I explain WHY Elektra: Assassin works as a comic book. I think I did a pretty good job, but you may disagree. If you have read Elektra: Assassin and hate it, nothing I say will convince you otherwise. But at least I tried.

To paraphrase Alan, saying “it’s objective” is the last, desperate plea of the elitist who can’t understand why Infinite Crisis sells so well and [insert their favorite book] doesn’t. Why don’t all you people read All Star Superman? Can’t you tell it’s OBJECTIVELY better than Civil War?

Lots of good points being made here, and so far it’s a lot more rational a discussion than some of the threads I’ve seen lately on this topic.

But yeah, the objective standards are there to help give us a common language to discuss art in a way that has some meaning beyond the immediately personal.

Not that the immediately personal isn’t of value – speaking as an artist, I’m quite interested in the emotional impact that art has on people. But if everyone’s speaking ENTIRELY from within the realm of their personal opinions, it’s like the Tower of Babel.

Wow, this has generated alot of reaction. Here’s my twopence:

I actually disagree that a Comic can be seen (in toto) as objectively good or bad. It is only legitimate to talk in terms of objective quality with regard to technical aspects of Comics.

For example, it would be correct to say that Rob Liefeld has a poor grasp of anatomy, but it would not be correct to say that this makes his comics objectively bad. Now, in fact, I think that most of his comics ARE bad, but that is my subjective opinion, and it would be just as legitimate to take the opposite view.

Likewise, although I often find Grant Morrison’s writing somewhat disjointed I still enjoy his writing a great deal.

If we are honest with ourselves technical considerations have only a small infuluence on our artistic opinions. Whether we like somthing or not is largly a visceral reaction, that is to say it’s subjective.

My thinking, though (and I think WATCHMEN’s great, and just picked that out as an example so I can’t do the best job arguing it) is that the degree to which imperfections matter is one area that is subjective. It’s like how my enjoyment of MATCH POINT was ruined by the last few scenes, wherein Woody Allen tells us exactly what the correct reading of the film’s philosophy is.

i think, as much as it pains me to say it, we need to draw a line between a Critic and a Reviewer.

It’s the job of a Critic to analyze art and examine why it is good or bad based on his/her best understanding of the objective goodness or badness of it, and by doing so, to attempt to place it inside some kind of larger context of an artform, the artists practicing that artform, etc.

It’s the job of a Reviewer to talk about why they like or dislike art, which may or may not employ objective standards.

at the end of the day, I think I’m more in line with Greg’s way of thinking. I’m a huge Roger Ebert fan, and he’s a great movie critic, but first and foremost he’s a reviewer–he believes that what readers want isn’t a cold, clinical analysis of a film, but his reaction to it, and his attempt to reconcile that reaction to his standards for film and objective standards for film. He will say he enjoys a big dumb movie, or that he dislikes a small smart movie, and will say why. Fundamentally, it comes back to the personal reaction for him, a big part of the reason why I love him.

I think it’s easy to look at something and take out our emotional reaction, or at least look at what is causing it and taking that into consideration. And I HAVE had my mind changed about works after discussing them. A lot, I think it’s important as a reader/viewer to let that happen. This is the kind of discussion I’m craving here. Any guy with a blog can just list what they like every week. As one with a bit more prominence, I think the onus is on us to do a bit more.

Not to say there’s no place for that ever, but we CAN raise our game, including me.

A lot of Liefeld’s comics ARE objectively bad. Enjoy them all you want, that’s great, but it doesn’t make them good. If the story is disjointed, the art is inconsistent, and it fails to make some sort of meaningful point, it is bad.

I approach criticism as an ongoing conversation about comics in general. “I like it” isn’t a criticism about something and is leaving the reviewer/critic and easy out. “I didn’t say it was good. I just said that I liked it.”

But for those who are really good at writing about comics, it’s not necessarily about the particular comic that they’re reviewing but about its place along the comics continuum and, however sublimely, it relates to other books and stories. When we’re writing about comics, we’re hopefully writing about what works and what doesn’t work. We’re working toward definitions of what is good and what isn’t. And just maybe we’re contributing to a much larger conversation about comics, one that will make them better. Then again, this may just me me being overly optimistic about it.

Some point in the past couple of years, Chris Butcher at Comics212.net had a post about what his ideal comic website would be. In that post, he talked about the authoritative voice of the critic. To much criticism is wishy-washy, leaving both the reader and the writer too many outs for disagreement without engagement. Maybe all comic reviewers need to take refresher courses in writing argumentative essays.

How is Liefeld NOT objectively bad? Even within the specific confines of sequential art, he still has a poor grasp on anatomy, perspective, composition and mood. His storytelling is always a mishmash of techniques he’s “borrowing” from whoever he’s been reading lately, and even then he’s obviously just picking up on the most superficial aspects of those techniques, rather than understanding what’s happening below the surface.

A good critic strives to be as objective as possible, using standards that everyone can use as a basis for discussion. Personal opinion shouldn’t enter into it. That’s why the “look at what I like!” school of bullshit Burgas bloggery “criticism” is boring and inane.

To wit…

The discussion of art is a discussion of Subjective Interpretations of Objective Standards, and how an Object Itself achieves certain objective goals.

The Subjective interpretation is the simply a matter of being human. it happens in Science, it happens in math, Individual pereceptions color the way you perceive information.

But the objective Standards still exist. This is why talking about art, as divorced from opinion, is important. Two people can look at a comic, and using the same Objective Critical Criteria, can come up with differing ideas and interpretations. This does not mean that “everything is sunjective”. It means that objective criteria have allowed a common ground for discussion. the converstation and analysis of those two people is going to be Far More interesting, informed, and constructive than two people saying “I liked it” and “I hated it”.

The goal of any critic is to divorce personal taste from analysis. This is difficult. It is not a thing we, as humans, can do easily. But the furtherance of Art, and how we eductae ourselves about art, and even a fundamental understanding of how humans relate to creative acts… this comes from Objective Study.

For example:
Book A has a plot.
Does the plot make sense?
If not, where does it fail?
Does the failure of the plot hinder the narrative?
Is the narraitve informed by a wayward plot?
Did the author intend the confusing plot to show something about the characters through their interaction?
Is the character informed by the wayward plot?
Is this even the point of the novel?

And on and on, using subjective perception to analyze Objective Criteria to come up with an Objective Conclusion based on Objective Discussion. Whether or not I enjoyed the novel never comes into play. The only subjective element is my understanding of plot mechanics, which is really only a fraction of the discussion, and one that could easily become Objective as my understanding grows, through Objective analysis.

This is why two critics will disagree on the success of certain things. But the discussion is the important part of the equation, and that is wholly based on Objectivity in Analysis. Without it, we’re only learning about the personal leanings of the critics, and nothing about the Art Itself.

So GUERNICA can be crap to one critic and gold to another, but all that proves is that art is an interesting thing to discuss, with a lot of variable reactions, as long as you have the right objective tools to start with.

I just find the whole idea of objectivity to be a bit of a chimera. What does it matter? Our subjective opinions are what really matter because that is what we FEEL.

It’s only reviewers who get anxious about objectivity because they like to feel that they are doing more that giving their own subjective opinion, but at the end of the day that’s all you can do. Some people will agree with you others will not.

What we FEEL is important, but objective standards can help you see WHY you feel something. What about art is working and not working.

Meh. I think a lot of the praise lavished on Quitely is worship-by-association due to the huge stamp of approval the man receives from Grant Morrison. Morrison’s treated as a god around these parts, and if the god you worship holds another guy in high esteem how can you not worship that guy too.

That being said, I don’t see him being as great as he’s made out to be. When he’s on, he’s REALLY on, you can isolate some panels of his work that are sheer brilliance. I remember a battle scene in We3 and a chase scene in New X-Men Riot at Xaviers (Xorn, Beast and Cyclops chasing down a car) that were awe-inspiring. But his work falls flat quite often too. Oddball expressions, inconsistent faces and sizes, deformed bodies like his White Queen rendition, ugly chins and puffy bloated looking scrunched up faces, dull panels, unclear storytelling…he’s not as “objectively good” as people here would like to say.

I went to the comic shop with a friend and he picked up Ultimate Power. He’s not as well-versed in comics as I am. He asked “What’s this?” and proceeded to flip through it. He was wowed by the Greg Land art. In my knee-jerk comics snobbery mode, I proceeded to say that the art was bad. He asked why. I said that the guy just traces photos and the stuff is stiff and unnatural and all photoreferenced, etc., etc. He just responded, “Why should that bother me? It looks cool.” And it hit me: if it pleases people, how can I say it’s objectively bad? If something displeases people, how can I say it’s objectively good? Who am I to tell someone that they’re wrong for enjoying something? Now if he said something specific like “This Greg Land artwork is incredibly original and drawn freehand,” then I could disagree about those specific claims. But as far as the general claim of “good,” that just means too many different things to too many people for anyone to say what’s a right and wrong opinion. Different people judge things by different standards.

For example I bash Jeph Loeb a lot here, I think he’s the worst writer in comics save for Ben Raab. I do this because I think he’s along the lines of Greg Land, he does the writing equivalent of “tracing.” He takes whole scenes, plot elements and chunks of dialogue from Godfather I and II, Presumed Innocent and Silence of the Lambs, sticks in a bunch of gratuitous fight scenes to please fans and gives us Long Halloween. Hardly a bit of it isn’t lifted directly from somewhere else. But the more I think about it, does that make it bad? How does the fact that it’s all compiled from other works mean that it’s wrong for people to enjoy it and find it good, especially if they aren’t aware of the works it lifts from? Just because I care about the writer’s individual voice and originality doesn’t mean I should demand other fans judge on those same standards. If people actually find Loeb’s work good, then his stuff is good and I have to accept that.

Chuck Austen is a person that most people seem to hate. I personally don’t think that he’s so bad because although his execution is horrid, he does seem to have some unique ideas and takes risks. So who’s right, the guy that judges based on originality more than execution or the guy that judges on execution more than originality? What’s more worthy of reward, aiming low and hitting the mark or aiming high and missing entirely? Too many grey areas out there to call anything objectively good, you risk entering the realm of snobbery to even try.

Nobody’s saying subjective opinions are irrelevant. And nobody’s getting anxious.

“If something displeases people, how can I say it’s objectively good? Who am I to tell someone that they’re wrong for enjoying something?”

Nobody’s saying they’re wrong to ENJOY it.

Nobody’s saying they’re wrong to ENJOY it.

In fact, I’ve repeatedly said the opposite.

A lot of the problem here comes from people putting words in my mouth, and inferring untrue reasons behind beliefs or statements. One man doesn’t like Quitely for his own reasons, thus those that think he’s great at what he does are merely dupes of a hivemind system.

Objective standards help get past this kind of rhetorical bullshit.

Wait a minute, here. Are you saying that objective standards aren’t merely a way of picking on the people we don’t think are cool?

Let he that is without back issues cast the first stone.

I’ve still got sealed copies of YOUNGBLOOD #1.

Which is objectively bad, by the way.

I’m with Joe here but I’d spin it a little bit differently. I’ve been noticing that in the comics blogosphere there has been the sort of thing where a comic is praised because it’s someone’s favorite character. Yet there are an equal number of reviewers who condemn books out of hand because they are “avoiding Civil War” or crossovers in general, or they dislike spandex, or feel that the sociological treatment of teenage girls in Supergirl comics sucks. It’s the anti-Supergirl crowd who spell out their complaints most clearly, and half the time they do it in the context of valid genre criticisms. They critique Supergirl as a superhero comic and as a treatment of the way teenage girls are represented. For the most part, however, dismissals are wholesale because people write from their guts.

I’m actually enjoying the way certain comics have been sucking lately and I wish people would be more specific about their complaints. Marvel editorial, for example, is now being dominated by a cadre of talented writers who are devolving into a set of cliches (at the level of dialogue, one example is overuse of the word “wow.” And Bendis isn’t the only perpetrator who gets lost in his own sense of “wonderment” at a completely contrived moment… generally these cliches are thematic, though). It’s interesting to see what cliches are dominating the entire line now and how those cliches have had the privilege of being repeated into comic book truths. The same goes for the major DC publications these days, and, naturally, Fantagraphics has its own set of truly annoying cliches. Naturally, these outnumber real innovation but those become hard to pin down when people are murkily general about their commentary. Doesn’t mean people can’t be witty; it just means people need to write less elliptically.

It is not possible for Art to be intrinsically, objectively good or bad because good and bad are subjective concepts.

You can make up whatever “objective” standards for good that you wish but all those standards are subjective. If the “objective” standard for good is fewer lines then I conclude your little cartoon is far better then the Quitely piece.

Good and bad are merely common standards for evaluation and are not objective concepts. Civilizations usually agree on common standards for evaluation but these are entirely subjective and could easily be changed. In my made-up civilization I believe fewer lines is the pinnacle of holy perfection and conclude your little cartoon is far “more good” (better) then the Quitely piece.

Since all man made things reflect personal biases, art in particular, then it is impossible that art could be objective in the sense that it is “undistorted by emotion or personal bias.” Everyone agrees Art is distorted by personal bias and usually by emotion so therefore it is not objective. I conclude that Art itself is purely subjective along with its standards of judgment.

“If the “objective” standard for good is fewer lines then I conclude your little cartoon is far better then the Quitely piece.”

Right. But that ISN’T the objective standard.

Ugh.

No, not everything is made up of personal biases. Communal understandings are possible. And you liking a doodle by me, who can’t draw, is nice, but doesn’t change it into something better. If you make up your own standards, then, yes it is personal bias. The point is to use communal standards that rise above that.

With Apologies to Joe Rice:

How is Charles Schultz NOT objectively bad? Even within the specific confines of sequential art, he still has a poor grasp on anatomy, perspective, composition and mood.

Damn, I still love Peanuts though.

“What we FEEL is important, but objective standards can help you see WHY you feel something. What about art is working and not working.”

I think that the problem with using the term ‘objective’ rather than ‘technical’ to describe such considerations, is that it suggests that they are somehow truer or more important than subjective considerations. I reality the reasons why we like or dislike a particular comic is probably as much due to with personal or subconscious considerations as it is to technical ones.

For example, I doubt that I would like Mike Allred’s art as much as I do if it was not for the fact that it is reminiscent of 1960’s comic art. For me, it conjures up a nostalgic, emotional response but that would not be the case for someone who does not like or does not know about 60’s comics.

howyadoin said …

““If the “objective” standard for good is fewer lines then I conclude your little cartoon is far better then the Quitely piece.”

Right. But that ISN’T the objective standard.”

My point is that there is no objective standard. If there is an objective standard you can tell me what it is but I can disagree and say the objective standard is something else. All standards are man-made and a reflection of personal (whether one or one billion) biases.

How is Charles Schultz NOT objectively bad? Even within the specific confines of sequential art, he still has a poor grasp on anatomy, perspective, composition and mood.

Damn, I still love Peanuts though.

He is internally consistent to the last, though. Like I said, I prefer less representational art for my comics. Schulz set up his own rules and followed them to the very last day. And if you’ve ever seen his sketches, if the man wanted to he could draw lifelike portraits of anything. He chose his style, and a beautiful style it is.

“With Apologies to Joe Rice:

How is Charles Schultz NOT objectively bad? Even within the specific confines of sequential art, he still has a poor grasp on anatomy, perspective, composition and mood.”

Must be a different Charles Schulz than the one I grew up reading.

But surely you must see there is a difference between one person’s taste and time-tested-and-honored standards of art!

Yes, further on Schulz, his perspective, composition and mood are hard to beat in any medium.

““If the “objective” standard for good is fewer lines then I conclude your little cartoon is far better then the Quitely piece.”

Right. But that ISN’T the objective standard. ”

Right. But he’s saying (and he’s right) that there is no universally agreed upon objective standard.

Oh, and, if he’d said “minimalist” instead of “fewer lines” would you have been so quick to dismiss the argument? Because I’ve definitely seen that among so called objective standards.

I’m still loving this conversation, by the way.

Minimalism is fine and great when done well. A shitty doodle from a twit like me isn’t minimalism. It’s just shitty.

There are nearly-universally agreed-upon standards for art and storytelling. Never going to get everyone to agree, but there is a common ground out there.

“There are nearly-universally agreed-upon standards for art and storytelling.”

Really?

Yes, Dan, really. Some people dedicate their lives to studying literary and art theory. Again, not every detail is agreed upon (that would be ridiculous) but things like internal consistency are pretty much accepted.

Hey Joe. I like the topic you bring up here and I think there are a lot of good things to be said for keeping an eye toward objectively evaluating the craft of comics creation (I use “craft” here because I believe it fits the broader application of comics creation than art does). But though I believe that there are objective standards by which we can judge the craft, those standards seem to be so highly nuanced and interdisciplinary that judging anything but the most extreme cases becomes exceedingly difficult to do. This becomes entirely evident to me when you point to Quitely as a reference to a creator whose product is objectively good.

I happen to disagree. I do not think his work is objectively wonderful, despite the fact that some of it appeals to me. And my opinion is not entirely without authority. My father was a professional artist, working both in crafts and fine arts. I am a professional artist, working mostly in multimedia arts. I understand design and anatomy and storytelling and the use of space and visual movement and a number of things related to the field particular to comics. I’ve been reading comics across the creative spectrum for over twenty-five years. This is not to say that I am The Authority, but only to offer credentials for myself when I say that I believe my opinion that Quitely is a comics illustrator of moderate talent (not nearly approaching the talents of, let’s say off-hand, Mike Mignola, Bill Sienkiewicz, or Andi Watson) is a valid one – whether you agree or not.

We don’t need to go into the reasons I believe this so. What’s important is that those reasons do exist and are founded upon my understanding and training in the realm we’re critiquing. And my evaluation is nearly opposite of yours. And we’re both pointing to the objectivity of our critique.

So the question is, how close can we get to The Truth of the Matter? And how do we know that the objective standards we’re using are right? Some people believe Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock to have created good art. By the objective standards to which I hold, it’s questionable whether or not they even created art – let alone good art. So, how do we know who is correct and by whose standard do we judge?

“Right. But he’s saying (and he’s right) that there is no universally agreed upon objective standard.

Oh, and, if he’d said “minimalist” instead of “fewer lines” would you have been so quick to dismiss the argument? Because I’ve definitely seen that among so called objective standards.”

Minimalism is a style (or maybe a genre), not a standard. It’s one thing to compare works within that style, and something else altogether – something subjective – to say that one style is inherently better than another.

I know that some people dedicate their lives to artistic and literary theory, but these fields are often incredibly contentious. Some critics consider Damien Hirst to be the world’s greatest living artist, other think that he’s a talentless hack. In such a context ‘objectivity’ is pretty much meaningless.

“Minimalism is a style (or maybe a genre), not a standard. It’s one thing to compare works within that style, and something else altogether – something subjective – to say that one style is inherently better than another.”

And he’s not saying that one style should be elevated over another. Sometimes, though, an attempt at style fails or turns out to be bad repetition.

Yeah, it’s not minimalism if it’s all you CAN do. That’s only if it’s all you WANT to do.

Here’s a question:

What’s the point of reviewing something that’s just entertainment, as opposed to “ART”? Isn’t the distinction that one is a work of substance and one is a more superflous thing to be appreciated temporarily? You don’t want to have to think, so you read something with little depth.

So, why bother analyzing it? There is nothing to talk about besides your personal opinion of it. That’s why we really run into so many problems. There are too many people out there, trying to pass off their opinions as reviews.

“I liked Little Miss Sunshine.”
“But the characters are one-dimensional, there are major plot inconsistencies, and it doesn’t even have an ending.”
“Yeah, but I LIKED it.”

That discussion is just a huge waste of time. You’re not talking about the movie/comic/whatever, you’re talking about your opinion of it. It’s really egotistical, is what it is.

But then, Man always has been.

I think it’s time for name-calling and hurt feelings.

“I believe my opinion that Quitely is a comics illustrator of moderate talent (not nearly approaching the talents of, let’s say off-hand, Mike Mignola, Bill Sienkiewicz, or Andi Watson) is a valid one – whether you agree or not.

We don’t need to go into the reasons I believe this so.”

I’d be quite interested in hearing those reasons, actually. I’m not necessarily arguing; I’m just curious what you see as his shortcomings.

“Minimalism is a style (or maybe a genre), not a standard. It’s one thing to compare works within that style, and something else altogether – something subjective – to say that one style is inherently better than another.”

Fair point.

“I think that the problem with using the term ‘objective’ rather than ‘technical’ to describe such considerations, is that it suggests that they are somehow truer or more important than subjective considerations.”

They are more important than subjective considerations. A subjective consideration is something that every person has, but an objective one is something that a group of people have. It’s all part of society, which is demonstrably more powerful than a single person. Not to mention how the idea of a society is one of the main foundations in the internet discussion we’re involved in, as well as blogging and message board posting.

I have things in mind, but I’d like to look at his work again so I can speak more definitively. How about I post my reasons later tonight.

“[objective considerations] are more important than subjective considerations. A subjective consideration is something that every person has, but an objective one is something that a group of people have. It’s all part of society, which is demonstrably more powerful than a single person. Not to mention how the idea of a society is one of the main foundations in the internet discussion we’re involved in, as well as blogging and message board posting.”

I have to disagree. Just because a large group of people share the same opinion, doesn’ mean that that opinion is objective, it simply means that there is a group of people who share the same subjective opinion. Is Civil War objectively better than Nextwave? Society may be “demonstably more powerful than a single person” but what does power have to do with artistic merit?

“I have to disagree. Just because a large group of people share the same opinion, doesn’ mean that that opinion is objective, it simply means that there is a group of people who share the same subjective opinion. Is Civil War objectively better than Nextwave? Society may be “demonstably more powerful than a single person” but what does power have to do with artistic merit?”

No, you’re mixing fields again. It’s not a shared opinion, it’s a shared idea.

Objective considerations and subjective ones are totally different and do not combat each other. They run parallel to each other. That’s part of the problem. Lots of people think that their subjective opinions are objective ideas, or that someone else’s objective idea is a subjective opinion.

The societal power of an objective idea shows that it is more influencial, affecting, and overall important than the subjective one, which is only as strong as the one person who feels that way. I was responding to your complaint that I quoted.

Artistic merit doesn’t enter into this. We’re talking about the way that people talk about art, not the art itself.

“I have things in mind, but I’d like to look at his work again so I can speak more definitively. How about I post my reasons later tonight.”

Sure, you bet. I look forward to reading them.

Objectively, of course.

“It’s not a shared opinion, it’s a shared idea.”

How do you distinguish between a shared opinion and a shared idea?

And in any case why should I consider a “shared idea” that I don’t agree with to be more important than my own subjective opinion? If I don’t find a joke funny it makes no difference to me that a lot of other people do.

Ugh. The argument to subjectivity is remarkably stupid. That’s not even what the word subjective means. You might as well say that all art is eggplant.

Bottom line: all perception is subjective, but some perceptions are more accurate than others; all thought is subjective, but some thought is more accurate than other thought.

Anyone who makes the “all art is subjective” argument is saying “there’s only one criterion for determining whether art is any good, and it’s whether or not I like it”. That’s the most fatuous criterion in the world.

Of course, that’s not the real argument. The real argument is even more infantile: “You’re not the boss of me”.

Popping in as a fascinated lurker…

>

Ah, but as has been pointed out above, another group of people can have a quite different objective consideration, and a third group still another.

I can’t speak so much from the art POV, but I’ve investigated literary theory pretty thoroughly, and you’d be amazed at how fragmented so-called ‘standards’ really are. Even such basics as grammar – the equivalent of technical standards for writers – get shot all to hell with great regularity.

Every towering genius has a critic who thinks they’re nothing special, over-rated, even just plain terrible. Charlotte Bronte, for instance, famously disliked Jane Austen’s novels, believing them utterly devoid of Art – her conception of it, at any rate.

So while I absolutely agree it’s possible to separate out subjective and objective to some extent (having had this identical conversation on several other forums), the question of who decides which objective standards will be used in any given situation is one that can’t be overlooked here…and that brings us right back to the subjective. To be honest, I tend to get really suspicious of people who claim they can separate the two totally.

[quote]So, why bother analyzing it? There is nothing to talk about besides your personal opinion of it.[/quote]

And who says personal opinions can’t be well-informed, articulate, and hence interesting to others? Granted ‘It sucks!’ isn’t high discourse on any level, but one only has to read Roger Ebert, mentioned above, for a prime example of entertainingly subjective reviews.

Because in the end, people aren’t going to choose a comic or film or whatever based solely on ‘objectively good'; they’re largely going to react based on ‘I think people who feel ___ about ___ would enjoy this.’ Which is not a license to go out and recommend Vanilla Ice wholesale, of course, but should still temper anyone’s notion of recommending ‘good’ to others.

Ugh. Not familliar with the formatting, sorry. That first response above was to this quote:

[quote]They are more important than subjective considerations. A subjective consideration is something that every person has, but an objective one is something that a group of people have.[/quote]

“The real argument is even more infantile: “You’re not the boss of me”.”

That’s unfair. Your presuming bad faith.

“all thought is subjective, but some thought is more accurate than other thought.”

Accuracy is a mathematical concept, what does it mean in relation to art?

I’d say accuracy is more than mathematical. It attaches itself to concepts of reflexivity. A representation of a thing is accurate in the degree to which it represents the thing and inaccurate in the degree to which it does not represent its subject. The question, then, is What is art?

“I’d say accuracy is more than mathematical. It attaches itself to concepts of reflexivity. A representation of a thing is accurate in the degree to which it represents the thing and inaccurate in the degree to which it does not represent its subject.”

Certainly, but that is mathematical in the true sense of the word, and surely no one believes that accuracy of representation is, in itself, a measure of artistic merit?

I’m not presuming bad faith. I’m asserting it. The subjectivity argument is a bad faith argument. And generally, it’s an ignorant bad faith argument.

To argue in good faith about the objective qualities of art requires spelling out what your criteria are, and then sending your criteria out to do battle against other people’s criteria.

For example: we can objectively say that Picasso was a fine draughtsman with a facile hand. Where things get sticky is if I were to assert that Picasso gives us nothing more than the simulation of art, or the impersonation of art. I’d have to demonstrate that one of his Cocteau- (or Braque-) inspired pieces doesn’t compel the same emotional response because he’s unable to make the forms inter-relate in the same way.

The trick would be to do blind testing. I can usually tell a similar Braque from a Picasso in the same way I can tell a good cup of tea from a bad one. Same elements, but combined in a less evocative way. Ditto Cocteau.

To put it another way, Cocteau and Braque give us the genuine orgasm of art, while Picasso fakes it like a porn star. But, you know, it’s easier to tell a fake orgasm; Picasso you have to spend a lot of time with to see where Braque and Cocteau succeed in creating better work.

Of course, if you’re contented with pornstar fakery, you may not care. Or perhaps you even prefer it! You might be able to get a lot of people on your side in the debate. When it comes to Picasso, that’s how the art world views the debate: Picasso is better than Braque and Cocteau! I don’t really understand why, but I think it’s because people in the art world prefer their art shallow. Too bad.

I feel like there was a lot more that could have been said there, Joe. To somebody like me, still trying to understand the basic idea.

You state as your basic premise what we’ve all heard plenty:

“Some art is objectively better than others. Some is objectively bad. Your personal taste has no bearing on the work.”

I was hoping you would then offer evidence or substantiation of that point. But you really don’t.

You go into how some people seem to not recognise this and the problems this creates in terms of reviewing and discussing comics. And that was well done; it explains why the understanding of the distinction between good and bad has practical importance.

You make a big point of what you’re not saying with this statement, which is good. It’s nice to clarify that people are still welcome to their personal tastes independent of quality of the work and that there’s really nothing to get angry about when somebody refers to something that you enjoy as “not good”. And that’s obviously important.

You name several examples of things that are objectively good or objectively bad or objectively better than others. But this is where you lose me. My opinions tend to agree with your assessments, but my opinions aren’t necessarily well-formed. Why is (a) “clearly” better than (b), is what I wonder about .

And harder examples would be appreciated. That and amateur like me can’t see. I can look at Land’s stuff and see he doesn’t know or care that he’s working in a sequential medium. I can see various pictures of his he recopies and see he’s lazy. That makes him too extreme an example, though, and doesn’t quite convey your point to me.

Just if you ever felt like doing a follow-up, that’s what I was hoping more for.

As it is, I’m not sure you’re doing more than preaching to the choir with the above. I don’t see anything compelling enough to swing one to these ideas. You just seem to state them.

“Certainly, but that is mathematical in the true sense of the word, and surely no one believes that accuracy of representation is, in itself, a measure of artistic merit?”

I do, actually.

It depends what kind of accuracy you’re looking for, of course. I mean, yeah, people who can get the light, the colours, the perspective, the proportions — that’s important in representative art. People who can get accent and voice right — writers like Bruce Sterling are better than writers like Dan Simmons at that stuff.

We also like work to feel genuine. We don’t like acting out of character for no good reason. We don’t like plot-hammering. We don’t like gimmickry. If you’re going to create a character who’s a human who becomes a god by striking a magic stick, it takes skill to turn that around into Donald Blake actually being a god who was turned into a man. Do that badly, and you sacrifice credibility. Accuracy.

So yeah. Two types of accuracy: you can hit the target through right representation, and you can hit the target by setting goals and then meeting them. It all depends on the level of the work, and the intended audience response.

Oh, and as for the minimalism of Charles Schulz, Scott McCloud has already said this better than me, but it’s important to minimize realism in the portrait if you want to maximize audience identification. So Schulz’s artistic aims are well-achieved.

True Dan. But I wasn’t talking about accuracy in artistic representations, but only accuracy as it concerns our evaluation of art. That is, when we speak of objective critique of art, we are asking the question of how closely does the example before us reflect what it is we mean when we say Art.

If a work reflects What Art Is well (i.e. accurately), then we say it is good art. If a work reflects that definition poorly, the we say it is bad art. So what must be determined from the outset is What Is a Good Comic?

[quote]The trick would be to do blind testing. I can usually tell a similar Braque from a Picasso in the same way I can tell a good cup of tea from a bad one. Same elements, but combined in a less evocative way. Ditto Cocteau.[/quote]

Forgive me, I may be misreading this, but from here it seems like there are a few flaws in this test:

1. You’re conducting in effect a poll with exactly one respondent, and you expect that to be treated as proof by the larger community?

2. You’ve not set any guidelines re: ‘emotional response’. Is the idea that everyone has the same response, or that they respond to the same degree? Either way, trying to establish a baseline would be the psychic equivalent of herding cats.

3. I guarantee you, there are people out there who’d disagree with even your most objective criteria as listed, and be able to argue it quite as comprehensively. Just asserting that they’re all wrong and you’re purely right doesn’t quite cut it either way.

Tom Fitzpatrick

February 2, 2007 at 5:24 pm

Whatever happened to a “picture is worth a 1000 words?”

I miss BIG NUMBERS. The art was really good.

“Forgive me, I may be misreading this, but from here it seems like there are a few flaws in this test:

1. You’re conducting in effect a poll with exactly one respondent, and you expect that to be treated as proof by the larger community?

2. You’ve not set any guidelines re: ‘emotional response’. Is the idea that everyone has the same response, or that they respond to the same degree? Either way, trying to establish a baseline would be the psychic equivalent of herding cats.

3. I guarantee you, there are people out there who’d disagree with even your most objective criteria as listed, and be able to argue it quite as comprehensively. Just asserting that they’re all wrong and you’re purely right doesn’t quite cut it either way.”

Yeah, I do think you’re missing my point. What I’m saying is that I can do the “that’s a picasso, that’s a braque” party trick, and I could teach you how to do it too. The difference is one of technique, and the technique is what provokes the emotional response.

What I said was that you have to be well-educated in that technique to be able to even perceive the difference, or be able to respond emotionally to either artist. People always think that art should be direct, soul-to-soul, but it isn’t. All the arts are language. You shouldn’t expect to understand a language you haven’t studied.

And that’s where the subjectivity argument hits the brick wall of reality. Me, I’m no judge of Czech poetry, because I don’t speack Czech. Many people are rubbish judges of poetry at all, because they’ve never studied it at all. Me, I’m a decent judge of poetry in English, and of poetry in translation from French, German, and Spanish.

That’s the level of my expertise in that area. There are arts where I know my limits. I can’t perceive what Matthew Collings perceives in modern visual art until I’ve read his column — which is why I read his column. There’s stuff Augie sees that Í don’t — which is why I read his column. And so on.

Oh, and there might well be people who’d disagree with my prioritization of objective criteria, and I’d be happy to converse with them. Anyone who’d disagree that they’re real criteria deserving of attention is an idiot, and I wouldn’t waste my time.

“I’m not presuming bad faith. I’m asserting it. The subjectivity argument is a bad faith argument. And generally, it’s an ignorant bad faith argument.”

Precisely how someone can hold bad faith in ignorance I’m not entirely sure, but lets not go down that road.

I think it’s important not to get confused between objectivity and concensus.

You would be hard pressed to find anybody today who would argue that Picasso was anything other than a brilliant and effortless draftsman (an analysis I would agree with by the by) but eighty years ago the consensus was quite different. Ideals change over time, that is to say, they are not objective.

To say that Picasso was a great draftsman is not the same as saying that 2 + 2= 4. That is not to diminish him in any way, it is simply to acknowledge that there is a difference between fact and opinion.

Now you may consider me to be very ignorant for holding such views, but it is my honest opinion so please don’t accuse me of speaking in bad faith.

I keep flip-flopping over whether criticism actually can be right and wrong, and as a result whether it counts for anything, and reading this encouraged me. Thanks.

I haven’t read the enormous comments conversation yet, but I look forward to doing so!

Shades of John Ruskin here, Joe. I don’t know… I try to bring the goodness. Do I fail?

And HOLY SHIT, this is the busiest comment thread of all time.

Personally, even though I don’t believe in artistic objectivity I believe that criticism can be of value- mainly because I find other peoples opinions interesting even if I don’t agree with them.

[quote]Yeah, I do think you’re missing my point. What I’m saying is that I can do the “that’s a picasso, that’s a braque” party trick, and I could teach you how to do it too. The difference is one of technique, and the technique is what provokes the emotional response.[/quote]

OK, that’s clearer. But I’m still not convinced the sequence is that cut-and-dried. If (objective) technique X leads automatically to (subjective) emotional response Y, then why is there such dissention on the arts among even the best-educated critics?

[quote]What I said was that you have to be well-educated in that technique to be able to even perceive the difference, or be able to respond emotionally to either artist.[/quote]

Isn’t this a little like saying a parent has to have read the proper manuals in order to know how to respond emotionally to their children? Sure, it enhances the experience, evokes nuances that might not have been there otherwise, but emotion doesn’t inherently run off knowledge. To make that model work you have to decide which is the ‘correct’ emotional response, and then you’re right back to subjectivity again.

[quote]People always think that art should be direct, soul-to-soul, but it isn’t. All the arts are language. You shouldn’t expect to understand a language you haven’t studied.[/quote]

True…except that languages have grammar and other rules that enable them to be clearly understood, because their defined purpose is to communicate clearly with others. Art will always contain an indefinable element of subjectivity because it is not motivated by a similar objectivity of purpose.

Therefore you can’t by definition ‘teach’ a consensus POV in a work of art – not even if you’re the artist. You can only offer your opinions. If they’re based on sound principles, that obviously gives them much more weight, but it doesn’t make them finite.

“You would be hard pressed to find anybody today who would argue that Picasso was anything other than a brilliant and effortless draftsman (an analysis I would agree with by the by) but eighty years ago the consensus was quite different. Ideals change over time, that is to say, they are not objective.

To say that Picasso was a great draftsman is not the same as saying that 2 + 2= 4. That is not to diminish him in any way, it is simply to acknowledge that there is a difference between fact and opinion.”

Well, no. Absolutely not.

Picasso was always a great draughtsman. If people couldn’t see that, that’s their problem, and not Picasso’s.

Oh, and while we’re at it, people make ignorant bad faith comments all the time. In the subjectivity argument, the bad faith is in denying that there even could be a position of ignorance. The point of the argument is to preclude the argument. Classic bad faith.

“HOLY SHIT, this is the busiest comment thread of all time.”

Word.

“To say that Picasso was a great draftsman is not the same as saying that 2 + 2= 4. That is not to diminish him in any way, it is simply to acknowledge that there is a difference between fact and opinion.”

Well, no. Absolutely not.”

You honestly believe that artisitc merit has the same level of certitude as the internal angles of a triangle or the circumference of the Earth? Well, good luck to you.

“In the subjectivity argument, the bad faith is in denying that there even could be a position of ignorance.”

Could that not equally well be said of what you just wrote? I don’t think it’s bad faith, simply resolution.

“There are too many people out there, trying to pass off their opinions as reviews.”

Reviews are opinions, Dan. That’s what separates them from criticism.

A review is “I liked/did not like this film, and think you should/should not go see it.”

Criticism is “This film is good/bad, and here is why.”

Different things, different goals. Reviews are for right now, criticism is for the ages. Reviews are subjective, criticism is objective.

Example: Roger Ebert’s review of Independence Day. I think we can all agree that movie is a stunning piece of shit. But Ebert gave it a good review because he liked it. As I recall, he closed it with “It’s not the best film I’ve seen, or particularly good, but I’m glad I saw it.” It was a review, and it said, “Yeah, go see it, and turn off your brain.” As opposed to criticism of the film’s many flaws, which you can pretty much find by Googling the title and hitting “I feel lucky.”

Tying all this back into the whole comics thing, it’s pretty clear that certain writers here offer criticism, and others offer reviews. It therefore behooves anyone wishing to comment on said criticism or reviews to know which they’re dealing with.

If I weren’t obsessed with Kingdom Hearts II right now, I’d go into the whole “degrees of good” thing as well. Maybe later.

[quote]OK, that’s clearer. But I’m still not convinced the sequence is that cut-and-dried. If (objective) technique X leads automatically to (subjective) emotional response Y, then why is there such dissention on the arts among even the best-educated critics? [/quote]

Is there? Not so much, I think. I think there’s a fair agreement about the application of technique, and about form and content stuff. Where people reasonably disagree is about the artistic target. Is it even a good thing to write a book like Naked Lunch? And of course a book like Naked Lunch makes you rewrite your aesthetics — it takes the argument a couple three steps forwards, and makes you learn to appreciate the world itself in a different light, and never mind how you appreciate art.

[quote]Isn’t this a little like saying a parent has to have read the proper manuals in order to know how to respond emotionally to their children? Sure, it enhances the experience, evokes nuances that might not have been there otherwise, but emotion doesn’t inherently run off knowledge. To make that model work you have to decide which is the ‘correct’ emotional response, and then you’re right back to subjectivity again. [/quote]

As someone who’s done a spot of counselling, I can tell you that there’s a lot of people who really do need some emotional education. Well, everyone, really. There’s always more to learn about reading people’s body language etc.

[quote]True…except that languages have grammar and other rules that enable them to be clearly understood, because their defined purpose is to communicate clearly with others. Art will always contain an indefinable element of subjectivity because it is not motivated by a similar objectivity of purpose.[/quote]

Nope. False use of the word, again. And in fact, all art is about technique. All of it. Even art brut, even rock and roll, even Stickman. The issue isn’t subjectivity. The issue is technique.

[quote]Therefore you can’t by definition ‘teach’ a consensus POV in a work of art – not even if you’re the artist. You can only offer your opinions. If they’re based on sound principles, that obviously gives them much more weight, but it doesn’t make them finite.[/quote]

Don’t be silly. It’s not about consensus – far from it, in fact – and you can teach it. Or, alternatively, learn it. I mean, what — you’ve never taken English lit? You can’t tell where Eliot succeeds, where he fails? You can’t see how Yeats’s use of scansion and rhyme intensifies the unity of his poetry? And I could come up with examples in all of the arts.

“Picasso was always a great draughtsman.”

Whenever I see that spelling, I think it refers to drinking beer.

Ok.

Let’s talk music.

Joe. You’re a Pavement fan, right? I kinda vaguely remember Apodaca saying he liked them, too. (I know Grant is if he’s around.)

Do they objectively suck?

Man, probably not helpful, as it’s actually fairly utilitarian rather than about Art per se:

My golden rule for reviews/criticism* is that the thing the writer should keep in mind is “Why am I feeling the way that I’m feeling?”. I like this? Great – *why* do you like it? If you like it because it hits themes which always work on you because of your own history and nothing else, understand that and communicate that. If you like it for something more, based on something in the work… great, nail that down. What /exactly/. And if the world disagrees with you, and you can phrase a coherent argument, go with it. If someone can take apart your position, doubly great. Hegelian synthesis or whatever. Onwards. Criticism is a dialogue.

What anyone else “knows” as objectively great art doesn’t come into it. An honest relationship with your own emotional response is the key part of any critic. If you lose that, in favour of some vague idea of an objective truth, you’re screwed. It’s always worth remembering that ANY body of criticism starts from the position of lacking respectibility. Michaelangelo was just an interior decorator before a critic said “You know – there’s something more than covering a ceiling to this guy”. Especially in comics – which, as an artform, has a history of being rejected by people’s ideas of what Good Art is – presenting the idea of something that is self-evidentally better than something else is more than ill-considered – it’s actively DANGEROUS. It creates limits of what comics can be, and are. “Should” is the most vile word in any critic’s lexicon.

KG

*And, yes, they’re not the same. Which is kind of my point.

“Joe. You’re a Pavement fan, right? I kinda vaguely remember Apodaca saying he liked them, too. (I know Grant is if he’s around.)

Do they objectively suck?”

I can’t really speak objectively on Pavement. My enjoyment of the band is so strongly a subjective opinion, it’s unlikely that I could look at it without that having an influence.

“Different things, different goals. Reviews are for right now, criticism is for the ages. Reviews are subjective, criticism is objective.”

You’re right. I used the wrong word.

“How do you distinguish between a shared opinion and a shared idea?”

See, I knew it was ultimately going to come down to me having to explain to someone what an opinion is.

Basically, an opinion is active and an idea is passive. An opinion is something you believe, that you will try to validate or justify. An idea is something you understand.

“See, I knew it was ultimately going to come down to me having to explain to someone what an opinion is.

Basically, an opinion is active and an idea is passive. An opinion is something you believe, that you will try to validate or justify. An idea is something you understand.”

And in the context of what we were talking about the difference is?

Objective standards?

Bosh.

The history of aesthetics, since the term’s inception in the 18th century, and before that, dating all the way back to Aristotle and Plato, is the history of people being unable to settle with one another on just what the objective standards are that make something art or that make something Good Art.

It’s why you can disagree about art today. Why Dadaist aesthetics, Joe, and not, say, Adorno’s aesthetics and their critique of any artwork disseminated via mass production? Why Adorno and not Nietzsche’s version of Apollonian and Dionysan? Why not Alain Badiou’s notion of the “inaesthetic” as opposed to those others? Hell, what about Wittgenstein on representation and language? Ayn Rand?

People have heated arguments about all of these divergent standards — each of which would rate different elements as Objectively Good in the artwork — and each of these standards wopuld treat, say, a distinction between Quitely and Alex Ross, or Danel Clowes and Bryan Hitch, differently. The value judgments would be different.

Aesthetics isn’t a standard to which one can appeal, it’s an ongoing, often contentious argument which at any given moment contains multiple conflicting themes and standards.

“Aesthetics isn’t a standard to which one can appeal, it’s an ongoing, often contentious argument which at any given moment contains multiple conflicting themes and standards.”

I don’t see where the snotty “bosh” comes from apart from an infantile knee-jerk reaction to the word “objective.” The point raised in the article above that has the most merit is quite simply that reviews aren’t necessarily criticism. If you want to call yourself a critic, then simply enthusiastically stating your gut reaction to a piece (be it nostalgia tinted or inflected by the “oh how cool” factor) isn’t satisfactory. If you want people to take your opinions seriously and engage with them then you do have to be clear about the “themes and standards” you’re employing. That’s where the real conversation begins.

I’m not sure which this more resembles–late night dorm room bong talk or an 1884 lecture on phrenology. Some of you need to join us in the 21st century. Objective standards of aesthetics are an outmoded weapon of the elite, a mace in an era of nuclear weapons. You guys need to get on track with the creeping nihilistic reality of post-WWII culture. What does it say that we’re having this discussion about comics, of all things?

The funny thing is that Burgas seems the closest to actually identifying what this debate is really about.

[quote]Is there? Not so much, I think. I think there’s a fair agreement about the application of technique, and about form and content stuff. Where people reasonably disagree is about the artistic target.[/quote]

OK, fair enough. But that raises another interesting question: from that standpoint, how do you even recognize Burroughs (or Gertrude Stein, or James Joyce, or ee cummings) as worthy of attention, let alone important enough to re-write the standard? How do we exclude subjectivity from that equation, if only in terms of deciding which techniques should be applied in order to produce Art, and when, and how?

[quote]As someone who’s done a spot of counselling, I can tell you that there’s a lot of people who really do need some emotional education. Well, everyone, really. There’s always more to learn about reading people’s body language etc.[/quote]

No argument there. :) As I say, knowlege is all about adding nuances to the emotional experience. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be there – or at least, not in fine detail – for the experience to happen in the first place.

And in the end, whether it’s technically possible or no, you just can’t educate a person to give the exactly ‘correct’ emotional response to every situation. Nor for the same reasons can you trust any one person to define the correct response in the first place (beyond societal or religious responsibilities, that is.)
So you can’t train a critic to completely purge their own objective responses to the techniques presented to them, and therefore subjectivity is required in evaluating any critic’s valuation.

[quote]I mean, what — you’ve never taken English lit? You can’t tell where Eliot succeeds, where he fails? You can’t see how Yeats’s use of scansion and rhyme intensifies the unity of his poetry? And I could come up with examples in all of the arts.[/quote]

I agree, and I’m not arguing that part of the question. What I’m suggesting is that not everyone is going to understand the effect produced by their use of technique in the same way, let alone the way the artist intended – what you call the artistic target (a concept I like, BTW). Which brings me all the way around to the question at the top – who decides, who assigns priorities, and on what grounds?

Sounds like MarkAndrew wants the return of the Pavement Lyrical Appreciation Thread.

I don’t want to weigh in on the subjective/objective because smarter men then I have stated similer point but I will objectively say Pavement is awesome.

Whoa, a lot’s been said while I was with the wife. Allow me to address what I can recall:

I’m not talking about specific aesthetics. Indeed, I think various aesthetics should be judged by their own standards. But the aesthetics are not the standards of which I’m talking about. Beauty’s nice, but it’s far from necessary.

I’m talking about the basics (that vary from style to style) that allow us to frame a discussion in a meaningful way.

Pavement doesn’t use the aesthetics of your average rock band, but that doesn’t diminish them. Through surreal lyrical focus and improvisation-inspired melodies they created good music.

And please remember none of this is black and white. I refute complete objectivity as much as complete subjectivity. But it’s folly to deny that either plays a role in good criticism.

“And in the context of what we were talking about the difference is?”

Which thing? Comics criticism or subjective vs. objective in terms of importance?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

February 2, 2007 at 11:31 pm

“But from time to time I see some objectively bad stuff being pushed forward while personal taste of a reviewer is pulling down Good Work. And it bugs the shit out of me.”

Be that as it may Joe, Greg’s style of reviewing has encouraged me to pick up more books than your’s has.
He says what HE likes and what HE dislikes.
From there, I make my opinion based on how I feel about those things.
You however just go ‘This book is so fucking good, I want it to pinch my anus, just a little’, which although fucking hilarious, didn’t make me want to pick it up, even though you say it’s great.
I feel perhaps your style of reviewing makes the assumption that we will trust every word you say, and so you don’t have to go into it.
Greg’s style may be more subjective to the book, but at least you can see why he feels that way about it, either objectively or subjectively.

“But his critiques rarely go much beyond “I like Moon Knight” when he’s reviewing a book he’s got personal taste for.”

The same could be said about your tastes Joe – I must admit I only have the first trade to New Frontier, but I can’t see why people rave about it.
Technically, Cooke’s art is on the money, but the story is lacking, and it just feels like a pastiche of what’s gone before, without bringing anything new.
However, in your reviews of it, it’s just perfect, with no other explanation.

“And when you’re spending more time praising a middle-ground-at-best superhero monthly, you’re shortchanging a lot of work out there.”

As I said above, he’s reviews have put me onto work I wasn’t otherwise familiar with/heard of anywhere else – Brownesville, Cyclone Bill, Sudden Gravity etc.
You usually review the books everyone else is reviewing.

I know this isn’t what you wanted from your post, but you spent a good chunk of it attacking a style of review, while ignoring the short comings of your own.
I may agree with your reviews for some books, yet you’ve never motivated me to pick up a book I’ve never heard of or wasn’t going to try.

“Some of you need to join us in the 21st century. Objective standards of aesthetics are an outmoded weapon of the elite, a mace in an era of nuclear weapons. You guys need to get on track with the creeping nihilistic reality of post-WWII culture.”

Which is clearly the Era of Propaganda and Nothingspeak?

“What does it say that we’re having this discussion about comics, of all things?”

That comics as an artform are deserving of the same level of critical thinking as any other form?

Well, yeah, OF COURSE we like Pavement subjectively. Pavement rules.

But in terms of craft “Slanted and Enchanted” era Pavement objectively suck as much as, say, Rob Liefeld sucks at his craft. The singer can’t sing, 2/3rds of the others can barely play, and the drummer absolutely CAN’T play.

But a lot of people, at least a lot of music critics, find value in it. But it’s obviously bad art if jud. ged by objective standards of craft. (You can substitute another band for Pavement if you wanna. Say the Fugs, Kimaya (sp?) Dawson, probably the Sex Pistols, though I’m not a fan of the latter.)

FunkyGreenJerusalem

February 3, 2007 at 12:14 am

“That comics as an artform are deserving of the same level of critical thinking as any other form?”

I thought they were for kids!

“You guys need to get on track with the creeping nihilistic reality of post-WWII culture.”

Speaking solely for myself: Fuck the creeping nihilistic reality of post-WWII culture.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

February 3, 2007 at 12:35 am

“(You can substitute another band for Pavement if you wanna. Say the Fugs, Kimaya (sp?) Dawson, probably the Sex Pistols, though I’m not a fan of the latter.)”

Bar Sid, there’s nothing technically wrong with any of the Sex Pistols playing.
They all knew how to use their instruments, it’s just the recording and sound at concerts was intentionally made to sound distorted, often against their will.
Apparently their management wouldn’t let them do
sound checks before concerts.

A review is “I liked/did not like this film, and think you should/should not go see it.”

Criticism is “This film is good/bad, and here is why.”

Of course, I think this comes down to something a little more complicated in application. Any review worth its salt will include some objective details in support of their opinion, and any good criticism will use the subjective opinion of the writer to bolster the effectiveness of the art as an instrument.

“Whoa, a lot’s been said while I was with the wife. Allow me to address what I can recall:

I’m not talking about specific aesthetics. Indeed, I think various aesthetics should be judged by their own standards. But the aesthetics are not the standards of which I’m talking about. Beauty’s nice, but it’s far from necessary.

I’m talking about the basics (that vary from style to style) that allow us to frame a discussion in a meaningful way.

Pavement doesn’t use the aesthetics of your average rock band, but that doesn’t diminish them. Through surreal lyrical focus and improvisation-inspired melodies they created good music.

And please remember none of this is black and white. I refute complete objectivity as much as complete subjectivity. But it’s folly to deny that either plays a role in good criticism.”

Joe, the one buttock you allow us to catch a glimpse of is delightful, but we need the second to make a whole arse.

The objectivity/subjectivity dichotomous thinking is the bunk. Art is quantfiable as a) a means of eliciting measurable responses from the human nervous system and b) the way one human mind has created a high level mediated communication to another human mind.

Both of these come down to the exclusion of egotism and the technical achievement of passing some information along.

First off, Joe, I have to say that I can’t agree enough with you about this. Technical execution does have merit; some comics are simply better-made and more meaningful than others. You can objectively say why Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is a better comic, and a better story, than Donner’s Action arc.

This being said, I have to call you out on something– where the hell is this kind of thinking in your writing? Have you read your media reviews? You mention things you think are good and bad, but there’s no technical discussion of the whys or the artistry of it. Just “I read this; this is cool; this is why I’m smarter than Burgas”.

How the hell does that kind of blog-lite writing elevate discussion of comics? Go beyond just pointing out the good comics, put your money where your mouth is, and start telling us why the comics are good. Tell us what makes Quitely’s pages sing, why the stories are worth remembering, how the plots go beyond genre formula.

Thus far, you’ve offered only unadultered praise in much the same way Burgas has. Are you picking better books, in terms of technical merit? Yes. But you haven’t, thus far, ever articulated what made those books good. If you alone were the ambassador for those titles, no one would leave your writing understanding why they were superior. You instead simply state that they are, and expect the reader to agree by fiat, and that is poor criticism by any standard.

No, that sort of critical discussion is not easy to write. It is actually very difficult and requires some significant portions of skill and talent. That difficulty is why truly great critics of any medium often find themselves able to criticize as a profession. But I’m not asking for high-level McCloudian theses, here. I want to see less of your reviews of Criminal, which are basically contentless praise, and more of your reviews of Brubaker’s Daredevil, which succinctly and brilliantly pointed out how the book didn’t work, in a way that I’ve seen few other critics able to discern or articulate.

Tom Fitzpatrick

February 3, 2007 at 6:49 am

“Gentlemen, this is the 21st century ….
Try to have an open mind.”

Quote from RONIN by Frank Miller.

Lynx: I totally agree. As I said, this is a challenge as much to myself as the others.

Honestly, say what you want about Burgas but one of his posts is what first hooked me on this site. After that I tried Cronin’s posts and loved them too. but my problem with Rice, the little I’ve seen of him, is that even when I totally agree with him, the derisive snobbery in the tone can be turn off.

“Speaking solely for myself: Fuck the creeping nihilistic reality of post-WWII culture.”

Hey, you’re a product of it, just like everyone else posting here.

Of course, I think this comes down to something a little more complicated in application. Any review worth its salt will include some objective details in support of their opinion, and any good criticism will use the subjective opinion of the writer to bolster the effectiveness of the art as an instrument.

Precisely, none of this–no matter who’s trying to force it otherwise–is black and white.

Funky: Sorry. I know other folks HAVE tried out things I’ve recommended. I am working, like I just said, on raising the level of criticism.

I think (and joining this discussion 145 posts in, I really think nobody cares anymore, but what the hey, I’ve got free time) that there’s a split here between what Joe thinks he’s saying and what he’s actually saying.

What he’s actually saying is, “Art is not subjective; there are objective standards of ‘good’ and bad’ that can be applied to it, and in any critical discussion we should do so.” This is, if you’ll pardon my harsh language here, bosh. It is a statement that misunderstands the meaning of the words “objective” and “subjective”. An objective statement is, for example, “2+2=4″, or “5 is greater than 4.” These statements are true, can be proven true, and are true everywhere and always. Go to Japan, and 4 will not become greater than five.

Whereas in Japan, different cultural standards apply and pieces of art that we consider to be good in the West are not appreciated and vice versa. (And I obviously don’t mean this to pick on Japan; every culture has differences in artistic standards in every medium.) In 1868, 2+2 still added up to 4, but the considered opinion of the artistic community was that Monet was trying to pass off unfinished paintings to suckers. If you’d asked them for an example of an “objectively bad” painting, they’d have pointed you to what we now consider to be a masterpiece. Art is, in the dictionary definition sense of the word, purely subjective.

But what Joe thinks he’s saying is, “Just because art is subjective doesn’t mean we can’t come to a consensus opinion as to what we subjectively consider to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art, formulate and agree upon reasons for why these works are ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and then apply this intelligent critical analysis to other works we are an audience to; saying that this is a ‘subjective’ medium does not mean we have to check this consensus, these agreements, these standards, this history, and this intelligent analysis at the door. Rob Liefeld’s art is not “objectively” bad, but we can agree that the vast majority of us prefer artists with a grasp of human anatomy over artists who think that human beings all have one-inch-thick ankles, and we can articulate the specific things we dislike about the work instead of just saying, “Ick, it’s bad,” or “Yay, it’s good,” and if all the people who like Liefeld’s art have to say is, “Well, I like it anyway,” it’s not very helpful to the discussion. If you can’t come up with reasons why you like it, an analysis that counters this consensus analysis, then it’s not much help to a discussion of the art.”

And that, I more or less agree with.

“Art is, in the dictionary definition sense of the word, purely subjective.”

Maybe that’s true in Japan (though I doubt it), but in the Oxford English Dictionary, the word subjective does not appear in the entry for “art.”

Thanks for the insight, John, but I’m saying what I think I’m saying.

I like how in the space of just a few posts I’m either a snob or a moron.

I’m both!

this is a pretty amazing thread of discussion, which for me has accomplished more in one webpage than maybe the lump sum total of comics discussion I’ve seen online EVAR.

here’s what I personally am taking away:

Objective standards of aesthetics are an outmoded weapon of the elite, a mace in an era of nuclear weapons.

and:

Joe, the one buttock you allow us to catch a glimpse of is delightful, but we need the second to make a whole arse.

because I am a self-obsessed blowhard, i can’t help but attach this to my own writing. I feel like if I want to be anything, it’s a good reviewer with aspirations to criticism, in the Roger Ebert mold. That’s what Greg does here, and as others have pointed out, right now that’s what Joe does too. (Although I have a hope/feeling that he’s going to be upping his game considerably in the future, which should be FUN–marrying his snarky humor to more meat will be a blast to read.)

i’ve just signed on to join another tiny group blog where me and a few buddies are gonna gas on about music, basically to entertain each other, and I’m realizing that I’ve totally stagnated in my critical thinking. i post to my current blog plenty, but they’re either smartass remarks, odd bits of news/info, or spineless reviews with no true content.

so this is inspiring me to get off my OWN ass and have some critical thoughts of my own–i used to have them a lot, and write them down plenty, but whether it’s cause of our baby or our new house or my job or whatever, I’ve made my brain lazy.

thanks to everyone for the interesting analysis, and thanks to joe for kicking this whole thing off.

blah blah BLAH.

“Whereas in Japan, different cultural standards apply and pieces of art that we consider to be good in the West are not appreciated and vice versa. (And I obviously don’t mean this to pick on Japan; every culture has differences in artistic standards in every medium.) In 1868, 2+2 still added up to 4, but the considered opinion of the artistic community was that Monet was trying to pass off unfinished paintings to suckers. If you’d asked them for an example of an “objectively bad” painting, they’d have pointed you to what we now consider to be a masterpiece.”

This is, of course, nonsense. In that period, there was tremendous cultural exchange between Japan and the West. Go to the Van Gogh museum to see his collection of Japanese art, and how it influenced his work.

As for the “opinion of the artistic community” — well, some people were slower to catch on than others, especially in regard to Van Gogh. But the work is still objectively good, and was objectively good then.

You are mistaking cultural standards for objective value judgements. If we were to do the same in America today, we’d have to assume that American Idol was better drama than, say, an episode of Prime Suspect. But it isn’t.

Aesthetic value judgements are, of course, forced to evolve by cultural interaction, and by the innovations of individual artists and artistic movements. Nobody can seriously claim that Alan Moore didn’t raise the bar, and bring a new range of techniques into comic book writing. Now what we previously considered good now no longer looks as good, and this means that everyone has to raise their game.

The exact same thing was true with the Impressionists. What they did with paint to express light had never been done before. It took a while to learn their language so as to be able to make an accurate aesthetic judgement. Opinion doesn’t enter into it.

Objective (adj): of, relating to, or being an object , phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers. (From the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary.)

Subjective (adj): relating to or being experience or knowledge as conditioned by personal mental characteristics or states. (From the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary. Emphasis mine in both cases.)

(This, by the way, is what I meant when I said art was purely subjective in the dictionary definition of the word. Not the dictionary definition of art, the dictionary definition of subjective.)

As you can see when reading these dictionary definitions, no, art is purely subjective, because it is always conditioned by your personal mental condition, and qualities of “goodness” or “badness” are not perceptible by all observers. This doesn’t mean we have to give equal weight to all subjective opinions, but it does mean we have to acknowledge that they are all subjective opinions. There is no “God’s eye view” of artistic quality.

Arguing that there are objective standards for art, and that “some people just aren’t perceptive enough to see them”, is basically arguing with the dictionary. Which, if you want to do it, feel free, but I’m probably not going to pay tons of attention to what you have to say. :)

Then you misunderstand me. I’m not talking about emotional response or personal reaction. I’m talking to craft and technique and how it can relate to objectifiable quality.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

February 3, 2007 at 11:15 pm

“Funky: Sorry. I know other folks HAVE tried out things I’ve recommended. I am working, like I just said, on raising the level of criticism.”

Well, you’ve never put me off something, so it’s not that bad, it’s just some of the books, if it came to your review alone, wouldn’t have sold me on a book I ended up enjoying.
The objective argument bores me – Kubrick was technically one of the best film directors ever, his craft was second to none, but I know a lot of people who get bored shitless in his films.
Me, I watch Barry Lyndon and objectivelty no it’s a great piece of film art, and subjectively love the hell out of it.
Many don’t – they can’t argue the craft of it, but it still doesn’t click for most people.
What’s the point of basing a review saying ‘this book has great craft, go buy it’, if the book will bore the shit out of everyone?

I like the books that push the boundaries of the comics medium, that do something new – that bam it up a notch – but if I can’t enjoy them as well, on a subjective level, then what’s the point?

Joe, you rabble-rouser. Why must we talk about objective “good” at all? Can’t we just talk about specific purposes, techniques, and effects, and let the consensus about what’s “good” work itself out later on? Screw these top-down, loaded, overly-casual terms: I submit that if consensus about the (somewhat oxymoronic, you’ve gotta admit) “objective good” is a precondition to the appreciation of art, then it probably isn’t worth much…and besides, you never know, that sketch of yours might be better than you think! So let’s leave “good”, that malleable thing, right out of it. Obviously I agree with you that the appreciation of art can’t ever be wholly subjective. But don’t you agree with me that the word “good” is valueless as a critical tool? Like someone said above: tell me about that Quitely drawing. Tell me about your useless sketch. But don’t tell me about “good”. Let “good” figure itself out, because I have no interest in it. Because knowing about “good” doesn’t teach anybody anything.

Illustration: I used to have a roommate who thought Mozart was overrated, and that Beethoven was much better. Bosh, naturally: Mozart isn’t “overrated”. And, Beethoven isn’t “better”! These are valueless critical terms too, and they don’t say anything. The differences between Mozart and Beethoven are fascinating, and their unique approaches and contributions deserve our study, but my friend there chose the wrong terms at the start, and so there was nothing to have a conversation with him about. Just an argument, about whether Kirk could beat up Picard. Of course the irony here is that if you want to talk about mathematical certainties, music is what should be on the table: mathematical proportion is musicality, after all…

Good column, even if it was about the subjective/objective thing. But please, folks…consensus isn’t something that happened a hundred years ago, consensus is what’s going on now…always being produced, and never being produced. Let’s look at everything, and just talk about it in the clearest way we can. Surely that’s enough, without bringing “good” into it? Surely it’s time to let the good bury the good?

Sorry, just thought of a way to say that all more succinctly:

The idea that “everything is subjective” in art can be disposed of quite easily without having to invoke (or impose) an absolute system of comparative quality. That kind of solution only ends up biting you in the ass, anyway, because there will always be a case you can’t defend.

For further reading, see Kochalka’s famous “Craft Is The Enemy” call-to-arms (maybe I should say, incitement-to-riot?) in TCJ’s letter column a few years ago.

They should really publish that whole thing online. Something tells me it’d draw hits.

Goodnight, Cleveland!

I see what you’re saying, Plok and I agree mostly. I’m not totally convinced, mind you. Like I’ve said, comparing Mozart and Bach would be interesting . . .saying who is better would be fruitless. But I think there is value in being able to say, yes, they are both better than, say, me. I think some people are worried that I think we can objectively classify every single bit of art in an ordinal fashion. That’s retarded! No way! But it is possible, in some instances (especially in extremes) to see “better” and “worse.”

Yeah, “good” and “bad,” these are loaded, weak terms. I don’t really even want to use them that much. But I’m sick of the “if I like ________ then it’s better than _________” idea. No, you just like it more!

I think it’s quite notable that all of the notions of “good art” seem to be, of necessity, retrospective. That is, to parpahrase a couple of people above, it takes the culture or the vocabulary of aesthetic judgement a while to catch up.

Aesthetics, by the way, doesn’t just refer to the study of “beauty;” it did in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the notion of “beauty” is usually avoided now because the term is so loaded to start with.

But if it’s all retrospective, that creates two problems: one, a presentist bias, as we see, say, when people critique Kirby or Eisner for the seeming stiltedness one finds in their work at times; and again, when, five years or ten years from now, someone’s doing the same to Darwyn Cooke or Alan Moore. (And indeed, if you look around, you find people doing a little of it already. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa per Cooke!)

And second, it suggests that any reading of material coming out Right Now is going to be very suspect, because it seems that in the history of critique, the consensus of contemporaries of the artist doesn’t always beat the spread in terms of later ratifications. And since tghe response to art always takes place, for us, in the present, how can we then tell whether our own judgments of past art will stand some nebulous test of time, the test of lasting critical consensus which makes up the only apparent test of declarations of artistic good. Everything else is simply, well, impossible to distinguish from forecefull declared taste.

Worse, what we think of as good art is hardly constant anyway, and things drop in and out of reigning standards of “Good Art” almost constantly. In his time, Shakespeare was a great artist. For Samuel Johnson, Shakespeare was nly good when he adhered to Aristotelian unities, meaning that plays like A Winter’s Tale were out of the running. Twenty years ago, Steinbeck and Hemingway were giants of American letters; today, the emphasis is on the avant-gardisme of Dos Passos and Stein, and Hemingway is sometimes treated as a mere extension of 19th century realism in prose, and certainly not much read. And tomorrow he may be back in the good graces of the Serious (self-appointed) Critics.

But here’s the thing: you aren’t making a judgment of mere taste if you’re talking about Hemingway in terms of realism; you’re considering him in light of a particular model of aesthetics, that then determines whether he’s “Good Art” or not. It’s why there can be serious back-and-forth discussions among serious people about, say, Frank Miller’s more recent work on projects like DKSA and All-Star; and it’s why I suspect the general critical consensus of the moment regarding, say, Scott Pilgrim won’t last in its unanimity.

Does this mean we should all stop creating reviews? No. But it does mean that no point in a critique isn’f fair game for argument, or that any artwork can be elevated to the point that objections to it may be dismissed out of hand or praise of it rendered incontestible by fiat. Now, no one here is really advocating those latter positions — people here welcome argument, in a good way — but the word “objective” isn’t really one with the nuance to allow such things to occur if anyone mistakenly takes it seriously.

So let’s argue these points when we disagree, and perhaps understand that in many cases the distinction between taste and value in art is a dynamic one, one that can’t be made with the kind of absolute certainty we’re all tempted to allow ourselves.

Also, note to self: Never use the word “bosh” in public again. Between this and getting kicked out of the mall, I’ve learned my lesson.

Note to Omar: I intend to work “bosh” into every comment I make here from now on.

And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Say, why don’t you join us? After all, you’re the reason we started this movement…don’t worry, the process is painless, and afterwards you feel sooooo freeeeee…

I’m enjoying your comments, by the way.

“Objective (adj): of, relating to, or being an object , phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers. (From the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary.)

Subjective (adj): relating to or being experience or knowledge as conditioned by personal mental characteristics or states. (From the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary. Emphasis mine in both cases.)

(This, by the way, is what I meant when I said art was purely subjective in the dictionary definition of the word. Not the dictionary definition of art, the dictionary definition of subjective.)

As you can see when reading these dictionary definitions, no, art is purely subjective, because it is always conditioned by your personal mental condition, and qualities of “goodness” or “badness” are not perceptible by all observers. This doesn’t mean we have to give equal weight to all subjective opinions, but it does mean we have to acknowledge that they are all subjective opinions. There is no “God’s eye view” of artistic quality.”

With respect, that’s a ridiculous argument, for the self-same reasons I mentioned before. And if you’re going to use that definition of “objective” — which, btw, is a very stupid definition from a less than impressive dictionary — then nothing is objective in the entire world at all ever.

Yes, of course all art has objective qualities. Duh. And all art has no subjective qualities, none at all. That’s less obvious, but it’s true. Only consciousness has subjective qualities.

Any time we argue aesthetics or ethics, we’re arguing about “what is good”; which is to say, we’re arguing about which standards to use. Having done so, we can then apply them in reality and find out which work better (and, of course, for which purpose). But this says nothing about the art in particular. The art remains the same.

As I was saying before, we all have off perceptions of the world, by definition. That’s what we mean by subjective — the difference between the objective world and our necessarily limited perception of it. And what we strive to do is bring our perception into line with the world. We strive to minimize the flaws of our subjectivity.

Of course, that leaves us with the issue of exaggeration (as in a Van Gogh painting). At that point, rather than pursuing a representational approach, he’s directly addressing the way in which the use of line and colour can communicate a feeling about the object, the perception of the object, the active creation of the object through “linguistic” media, and so on. We’re at a higher level of objective investigation here.

It’s my conviction that the only people who believe that art is subjective are consumers. Artists know otherwise.

It’s all context, isn’t it.

“Illustration: I used to have a roommate who thought Mozart was overrated, and that Beethoven was much better. Bosh, naturally: Mozart isn’t “overrated”. And, Beethoven isn’t “better”! These are valueless critical terms too, and they don’t say anything. The differences between Mozart and Beethoven are fascinating, and their unique approaches and contributions deserve our study, but my friend there chose the wrong terms at the start, and so there was nothing to have a conversation with him about”

Yeah, that’s a silly argument.

Unless you’re coming from a romantic or technical point of view. It’s Picasso all over again. Mozart had great technical facility, but little emotional power — and wasn’t really reaching for that, anyway. Beethoven, otoh, struggled for every effect, created new forms, expanded the lexicon, etc. Plus, he got to live longer, so his work is in general more profound because it expresses the emotional range of an entire life.

So we can safely say that Mozart never wrote anything with the depth of either emotion or technique that could come close to Beethoven’s late string quartets. Maybe through lack of opportunity, we’ll never know. But that’s how it is.

So yeah, Mozart is pretty, but Beethoven is beautiful. And I’ll always think beauty is better than prettiness.

I don’t agree that our notions of “good art” are all retrospective.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word “bosh” used so much before.

And how, exactly, did you not just make my point for me, Paul?

You tell me, Plok.

Far as I can see, I just demonstrated good reasons why someone not only could but should consider Beethoven the superior composer, notwithstanding Mozart’s superior facility.

Other people might consider Ode to Joy proof in and of itself.

So you did, Paul, so you did…and that’s exactly what my roommate didn’t do. You talked about specific, concrete things, and he just talked about “good”, which I am arguing is a word useless to criticism. Well, he said Mozart was “overrated”! And that doesn’t constitute a critique, surely. Of course it may be true, even so: but, what should I care for his assertions, if he won’t let me see how he came by them?

I beg your pardon if I caused you to misunderstand what I was saying as a defence of Mozart. I actually wasn’t defending him. Hey, I wasn’t even saying that there’s no such thing as “good”, and no such thing as being overrated! But I was saying that Joe’s contention about the “objective goodness” of his sketch has the flavour of some old-fashioned question-begging: “good” and “bad” are the conclusions here, not the premises, and his sketch may start out technically accomplished or not, but it doesn’t start out “good” or “bad” anymore than it starts out overrated. Yes: art isn’t all about subjectivity. But, no: “goodness” is not a natural attribute of any work. It isn’t intrinsic: rather, it’s a judgement that we see our way to through appreciation and criticism.

This is why I (good-humouredly) called Joe a rabble-rouser: “objective goodness” is a paradox, and so sure to draw fire, but he could easily have asserted the same thing with the provocation left out, by simply saying “look, I have no training to compare with Quitely’s, I have fewer tools at my disposal than he does, and I’m less familiar with them…my sketch is probably not very good, unless I’m some sort of savant.” Or, did you not mean “skillfully executed” when you said “good”, Joe?

And yet as you point out, Paul, Mozart’s technical prowess is not enough to save him from your judgement that Beethoven is the superior composer…and this is a real serious point, because conversationally we might lump technical proficiency in with “being good” — we could say “Joe sucks” for example, or “I pity the poor bastard, he just can’t draw” — without ever becoming very confused about what we mean, but even sitting around shooting the breeze informally, saying Beethoven’s “better” needs backing up with some reasonably careful language (such as the stuff you employed), or it’s incomprehensible even as opinion. So if there’s something my old roommate really, really shouldn’t expect to get away with, it’s airily calling these things “goodness”. That’s just plain obfuscatory. If he can’t even say “I’ll always prefer beauty to prettiness” about it all, he might as well have said nothing whatever.

Sorry, bit of a ramble, there. But I hope that clears up my point of view.

Down with “good”! Who needs it?

And Paul, for all his technical talk, even admits that he THINKS beautiful is better than pretty. So even he can’t objectively state that Beethoven is better than Mozart – he just happens to like Beethoven more.

The original piece is a good example of objectively bad writing.

Tangents, unsupported statements, vauge points, and a misunderstanding of the point the author himself is trying to make.

Howyadoin, you asked me for reasons why I believe Quitely to be only a moderately good artist and not a great artist. I wanted to write back on Friday, but the weekend turned out to be a bit busier than I intended. Anyway, here’s the gist of it:

Quitely excels in his often dynamic portrayals of inanimate abjects. His cars, trains, spaceships, bridges, and technology are all well-accomplished, in both technique and in style. His living beings, however, suffer from being on the same page as the aforementioned objects. There is very little consistency in his character designs. His Emma Frost on page 30 will look entirely different from his Emma Frost on page 26. His sense of anatomy also leaves something to be desired. He spaces eyes far too far apart. Sometimes. Other times they’re almost the right distance. His jawlines change as inevitably as the seasons; every character has at least four different jawlines and it seems as though he chooses which one to portray in a given panel by throwing a dart at a dartboard covered with jawlines. And his teeth. Individually, they are phenomenal. He captures the different kinds and states of teeth pretty well. The problem is when he puts these great teeth together in a single mouth… again, anatomy is his undoing. His animals look like work for which we would applaud an eighth grader. They look very good for eighth-grader animal drawings. Very detailed and patiently rendered. And not really all that great. In WE3, Bandit’s visible anatomy is as unstable as Emma Frost’s in X-Men.

Now, and here’s the thing, I have to make a certain presumption to come to the decision that Frank Quitely’s art is not good for these reasons. I think the presumption is well-reasoned and fair, but as it is still a presumption, I could be wrong. My presumption is that I believe Quitely wants to draw people who are drawn in a sort of exaggerated realism – not unlike the work of Jean Giraud (Moebius) and several other ’80s-era European creators. This is based from observation of the painstaking detail he draws into his scenery, into the things with which his characters interact – as well as the detail he puts into his characters. My judgment is based on what he seems to be aiming for. I think he fails to accomplish what I believe he is aiming for.

Still, he may be aiming for something else. But I don’t see evidence in his work that this is the case. It could be that he is a misanthrope and renders his mush people as inconsistently as he does in order to portray his belief that only objects and things are trustworthy. Or maybe he’s not trying to create people that work well with the rest of his art. Maybe he’s just joking around, drawing people as he does just to see how far the joke will go. Maybe. Or maybe there’s another explanation.

But maybe, just maybe, the truth is that he’s bad at drawing people? I believe this to be the case, not because I have something personal against mushpeople, but because I do not think that Quitely is creating the good art that I presume he wants to create.

“And Paul, for all his technical talk, even admits that he THINKS beautiful is better than pretty. So even he can’t objectively state that Beethoven is better than Mozart – he just happens to like Beethoven more.”

I’ll always think that red is redder than blue, too. Why? Because it’s true.

You’re making the simple error that think = opine. It doesn’t. Think, in this instance, means “reasoned judgement”.

Mind that’s not to say that prettiness doesn’t have its place. Nobody wants Jackson Pollock for an interior decorator, it would be too intense.

But yes, beauty is better than prettiness because prettiness is simply about sensory or intellectual pleasure of a low level, but beauty is about bringing in a greater and more complete range of thoughts and feelings.

“You talked about specific, concrete things, and he just talked about “good”, which I am arguing is a word useless to criticism.”

Well, let’s talk about the Greek word, virtue. These days we tend to use the word as if it meant a platonic entity, but the Ancient Greeks used it not in the sense of pure “good” but rather in the sense of “good for…”

A virtue was fundamentally a skill — and usually a particular skill (the virtue of being a good pot thrower, for example). So we are back again to technique.

Of course, there’s more to being good than simply demonstrating technique, as listening to a bad prog rock record will show. Steve Jones is no Segovia, but his guitar technique is perfect for Sex Pistols singles (and for not much else, apparently). You wouldn’t want to hear John Lydon take a crack at opera (except for giggles), but his vocals are perfect for what they do. The issue here is quantifying technique as if it were on an absolute scale, rather than being suited to a particular job; and that job is to create a particular experience that evokes specific auditory, emotional and intellectual responses.

I mean, sure, “good” is just a simple term of approval, and we should strive to be more articulate. “Good” can mean the technical skill of the artist, or it can mean being fit for purpose, or it can mean that the skill and personality of the artist interact well with the project at hand, and pluck an emergent synergy out of apparently thin air. Lot of different ways to use the word, but I think we all know what we mean in context.

It could be that he is a misanthrope and renders his mush people as inconsistently as he does in order to portray his belief that only objects and things are trustworthy. Or maybe he’s not trying to create people that work well with the rest of his art. Maybe he’s just joking around, drawing people as he does just to see how far the joke will go. Maybe. Or maybe there’s another explanation.

Nah, that’s not it. I read in interview with him years ago back when he was doing New X-Men. He said the reason his faces look different from page to page is because he simply can’t render them consistently, much to his own disappointment. He said he wants to do consistent faces, but just can’t get that skill down in the least. So yeah, it’s not deliberate, it’s a definite shortcoming.

See, now that’s rad. I can respect a guy who’ll say, “Yeah. I’m good at some things, but my art really suffers in this particular area.” Quitely has great design sense, but he’s not a great comic artist yet. But with all the practice he’s getting, maybe he’ll get there.

Well put, Paul.

I think maybe “good” is being confused with “better” around here…

Thanks for the input, Dane. Definitely food for thought; usually when people dislike something in his art, all they offer up in the way of commentary is “it’s weird.”

Which, obviously, doesn’t stimulate much in the way of conversation.

Great discussion, everyone. I don’t have much to say in the “big” debates you’re all engaged in, but I’ve been thinking about comic book artwork, and how to judge its effectiveness.

The purpose of all art may be to communicate, but comic book art has a very specific purpose: to tell the story.
Everything else is near-superfluous.

(Yes, I read an Alex Toth interview recently, why do you ask?)

Comic book art succeeds or fails on its ability to develop the setting, characters, and mood of the story. The story may be abstract or concrete, but the art makes it tangible. As I stated above, I can judge comic art’s effectiveness, and point to others as to why a certain artist’s contributions were effective or ineffective.

While I don’t go for the idea that there are total objective standards, the quality I can look at with the most objectivity is storytelling.

As a reader, I put in my own subjective judgements as to whether the artwork succeeds or fails on an aesthetic level. John Romita Jr., for example, is an excellent storyteller. He’s a very skilled comic book artist. I just don’t like how he draws, so he’s not a favorite of mine. Jae Lee doesn’t have JRJR’s storytelling abilities, but I like his artwork on a purely aesthetic level.

I can say a comic is effective/ successful or not, whether or not I found enjoyment in it. David B.’s Epileptic, for example, is an excellent work, and gets the story across effectively… but it bummed me out, man, so I can’t say it’s a favorite.

I’ve taken a while to figure out how to respond to this point by Mr. Rice and after several drafts I’m just going to reduce the number of lines by saying that I completely disagree with the entire premise of the post.

To elaborate slightly:

“No, Art is Not Purely Subjective. I’m sorry, it isn’t. I know it’s a golden little dream that feels warm and cuddly when we hold onto it, but it simply isn’t true. Now, one’s reaction to art IS purely subjective. But one’s opinion or enjoyment of something does not affect the work itself.”

First off, this strikes me as an entirely subjective opinion from Mr. Rice. I do not believe there to be any empirical data he, or anyone else can provide to support this absolute claim. Second, I feel he falls into the trap of the Buddhist parable here – if art is created and nobody observes it, does it make an impact? One’s reaction to art is what, in my opinion, allows the art to exist.

“There are nearly-universally agreed-upon standards for art and storytelling.”

Again, I feel I have to disagree with Mr. Rice. I don’t believe that years of study by anyone [i]other than the observer[/i] will change that observer’s reaction to the objet d’art in question.

“What we FEEL is important, but objective standards can help you see WHY you feel something. What about art is working and not working.”

That, to me, is more in the realm of psycho-analysis than comic reviews or critiques. And even then, unless the reviewer has MY body of experience and knowledge, it certainly doesn’t seem like he would be able to deepen my understanding of my own feelings.

If this thread is indeed about developing a way to improve the quality of analysis of the chosen medium (comics) and not just an extended rant on why Mr. Burgas is wrong (based on a comment by Mr. Rice two threads below) – then perhaps I can add something I feel could be constructive that I read years ago about how the language we use can help create the misconceptions. It was originally written by Robert Anton Wilson (of [i]The Illuminatus Trilogy[/i] and [i]Cosmic Trigger[/i] fame) based on the theories of Alfred Korzybski:

http://www.est1892.co.uk/forums/showpost.php?s=20cf974e018d5c0b599d826c6bfe8ca0&p=187076&postcount=84

I think I’d be a lot less likely to disagree with Mr. Rice had he written his article in E-Prime as opposed to Standard English. But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong…

Anything can be labeled as subjective, including statements like “2 + 2 = 4″. I can use the logic neo-solipsists use, and say that this expression is subjective, because it depends on the interpretation of the used symbols. But that would be silly, since it’s not about symbols or interpretation, it’s about concepts behind the formula.

More complex math, where not everything is intuitive and obvious, would be even better analogy. How do you prove that integral of x^2 is indeed (x^3)/3 to a person who does not want to listen your explanations, and says math is useless and subjective? Same thing goes for art.

“But that’s just my opinion”
The correct e-prime form of this statement should look like this:
To a some degree, I think that, according to my latest observations, this is possibly my subjective personal opinion, maybe.

This article is objectively stupid.

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