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I have been getting flak for being an elitist snob when I talk about the quality of work in ArtPrize. There seems to be some nebulous, unsupported idea that judging art is wrong floating about ArtPrize. Suspending judgement and embracing the idea that all art is equal is a direct offense to the production and promotion of art. Some people seem to see art as a completely subjective realm, it is not. Whether you like a piece of art or not is subjective, however, understanding what the work is about and the context that it exists in a process of reading and comprehension.
Good art may not be something you like, it may be repulsive to look at, it may address things that you would rather not talk about. Personal taste is subjective, art is cultural production that is related to, and relevant to, the current state of existence. Opinions and views expressed within an artwork may be subjective, but the context in which they function are not, good art is made for a reason within a time and place. Art provides pieces of the dialougue that is being developed around and about our current lives. Artists function as part of culture, making things about the time and place that they exist in, both responding to and directing the path of contemporary culture. This cultural direction includes a broad spectrum of makers from artists to architects to designers and beyond.
The ArtPrize event is a great social experiment, maybe even a great art piece in itself, but many of the entries are not. Part of the process needs to include discernment, taking the time to make value judgements about the quality of the work being presented. Acting like all work has the same value denigrates the whole lot. Saying all art is good is akin to saying all food is hamburger. In a vision of art where judgement is suspended art becomes meaningless, without value. If it is all a matter of opinion and all opinions are equal than nothing has more worth than the least among them. Those who condemn the evaluation of art as snobbery and elitism are really saying that art is worthless. Who is the snob, the person willing to look at art critically or the one dismissing all art as worthless?
What is needed is to determine value by making informed judgements based on intent, content, execution, and context. Making educated and informed value judgements about art is not snobbery, it is critique. Art is open to critique, part of the function of art is to engage people in a cultural conversation about who we are, where we have been, and where we are heading.
International Artist and Local Strategist based in Grand Rapids. Recipient of the Rapidian's illustrious Hunter S. Thompson Superlatives Award in 2010.
Reports on: art and stuff