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Amy Gade

IDS 802: Ways of Knowing in Comparative Perspective

Homework #4: Critical Evaluation of the Arts Essay
There is controversy about whether the proper point of emphasis for understanding
and evaluating art is (a) the characteristics of the art-object itself, (b) the
characteristics of the artist, or (c) the characteristics of the appreciator's
experience. Compose a well-written, 1200-1500 word essay arguing in support of
one of these positions. This essay should demonstrate a clear understanding of the
course materials from Modules 10 and 11. Each of the three approaches to
evaluating art should be described completely. Make sure to identify the writer that
you think best demonstrates each approach. Your own position should be stated
clearly and defended with careful argumentation.
In our lecture and reading materials regarding the critical evaluation of the
arts, three varying approaches to the proper emphasis for the understanding and
evaluating art were identified. Differing opinions have argued as to whether
emphasis should be placed most heavily on the characteristics of the artist him or
herself, the characteristics of the art-object itself, or the characteristics of the
appreciator and his/her experience with the art in question. This essay will recap
each varying position of emphasis, as well as discuss my personal opinion on where
the strongest emphasis should be placed.
The position of placing superior emphasis on the characteristics of the artist
to critique ones work requires that the observer have some form of understanding
about the artist him or herself and/or what he or she intends to communicate to the
appreciator through their work of art. This critique requires the evaluator to consider
the extrinsic features of art, like its relevance, communication, and representation.
Much of this position relates to the principle of emotional portrayal in art and
communicating this emotion to the appreciator. Leo Tolstoy and John Hospers both
stand by the role of emotions in the appreciation of art.
While Hospers believes art expresses the emotions of the artists, elicits
emotions in its appreciators, and contains emotion in itself, Tolstoy takes a much

more direct approach as it relates to the artist. For this reason, I believe Tolstoy
probably provides the strongest case for the emphasis of the artist in understanding
and evaluating art. Tolstoy expresses that art is a form of communication between
the artist and its appreciator. He believes that art ought to be judged according to
how successfully the artist is able to convey his/her feelings and emotions. Tolstoy
calls this the level of infectiousness a work has and believes that the degree of
infectiousness a work of art has should be based on its individuality, clarity, and
sincerity. He believed that art should display a unique feeling or emotion, that it
should clearly convey what the artist intends it to, and the artist needed to have felt
what it claims to be portray in order to be deemed as quality work. As an end all,
Tolstoy believes that if the artist isnt sincere about what he/she is portraying in
their work, even if the appreciator enjoys the work, it should not be accepted as of
Many critics argue that Tolstoy puts too much emphasis on whats being
communicated by the work of art and by doing so is taking away the emphasis of
the actual work of art. While I am not sure I agree with that exact critic, I most
definitely have some critiques of my own. I very much agree that art is a form of
communication. Just like words, art brings out many feelings and emotions in both
the artists and the appreciators. What I do question about Tolstoys approach is how
much control or responsibility the artist can realistically have in terms of how their
art is interpreted emotionally. I strongly believe that art ensues emotions in most all
appreciators, but what emotion is felt by each is really of little emphasis of the artist
or work of art. What may have been created through expression of one type of
emotion may easily bring out of each appreciator a different emotion. Not only can

the emotion felt be much different with each appreciator, the intensity to which
they feel said emotion can range dramatically from one person to another.
This position, therefore, also requires one to consider the original intention of
the artist and what he/she might be or have been trying to say. What Tolstoy fails to
consider is should the work still be considered of quality if the appreciator feels a
different emotion than that which the artist was intending to portray? Does this
position infer that an appreciator must feel the exact same emotion at the same
intensity the artist once did in order for their work to be considered of quality? In
many cases of art from the distant past, are we even able to know what the artists
original intentions were? Since so much of this position relies on the communication
between the artist and the appreciator, its possible the work should not be
considered quality since there is some failure in the communication between artist
and appreciator.
Could knowing or understanding the artist a little more, like their biographical
data, help with critique of their art? Should new facts about the artist and/or their
work affect your interpretation of their work? We all know those spilled secrets or
hidden intentions can definitely change how their work is viewed from that point
forward; however, there are also times those shared intentions do not influence or
alter your thoughts on their work, especially if you tend to disagree or not see, feel,
or hear what was trying to be portrayed. While I definitely agree with the purpose of
art to serve as communication between the artist and appreciator, I think there are
weaknesses in Tolstoys view that tend to place the appreciator more so in control of
the critique than the artist or his/her communicated intentions alone.
The position of placing strongest emphasis on the characteristics of the work
of art itself is one that deserves heavy consideration, for after all, there would be no

critiquing of art if not for art itself. This critique requires the appreciator to consider
intrinsic features of the art, or those that are present in the work itself like its
composition, beauty, and form. This position would not require the evaluator to
consider any prior knowledge of society, life, or any recognition of their own
emotions of feelings in their evaluation.
Clive Bell is probably the most significant supporter of this approach to art
evaluation. In our reading materials regarding Bells position, the following phrases
struck me most,
Of course many descriptive pictures possess, amongst other qualities,
formal significance, and are therefore works of art: but many more do not.
They interest us; they may move us too in a hundred different ways, but they
do not move us aesthetically. According to my hypothesis they are not works
of art. They leave untouched our aesthetic emotions because it is not their
forms but the ideas or information suggested or conveyed by their forms that
affect us (Artistic Representation and Form handout, p. 1).
In reflecting on this statement, I immediately think of todays commercial art used
on signs or advertising. Take artwork for a fruit sign at Wal-Mart, it is purposeful and
aesthetically pleasing, yet for me portrays no emotion, therefore, based on Bells
approach would be considered quality art. At the same time, I definitely disagree.
Photos on advertisements are not something I tend to consider as art in most cases.
While I appreciate his down to earth approach at considering the work of art
alone for critiquing purposes, I think it is merely impossible for an evaluator to set
their emotions or personal likes/dislikes aside to evaluate art for the work alone. I
would also have to argue that where I think Bell goes wrong in his approach is not
providing enough things to evaluate the art-object itself on. As someone very
untrained in art, as an evaluator, I would be taking a very blind eye approach.
Because I wouldnt necessarily know what I am looking for to deem a work quality
or non-quality, I imagine I would jump immediately to how the work makes me feel

or what it might remind me of. In that case, I dont believe I would be following
Bells approach guidelines, therefore, I believe it lacks some strength.
The final position of giving strongest emphasis to the characteristics of the
appreciator is my favorite approach of all. This position argues that art evaluation is
more than just picking out the good or bad features of the work or what you know
about the artist and his/her intentions, but more so, about how it makes the
appreciator feel. This approach really allows the appreciator to put some of
themselves into the experience of art. Personally, I think this is the most holistic
approach to art for it encompasses what the evaluator feels the artists is trying to
portray, what they think of the actual work, and finally what emotions or
experiences the work brings out of them.
Margaret Mcdonald seems to demonstrate the best approach to this
particular position of emphasis. In our reading, Some Distinctive Features of
Arguments Used in Criticism of the Arts, Mcdonald argues there is more to art than
that which can be seen; art can be heard, visualized, read (p. 1). I would argue that
art can be felt. It is in our everyday life, hanging on our walls, refrigerators, and
picture frames, pounding out of our car stereos, iPods, and store speakers. Art is
everywhere we look, from the noise of busy trucks on the street, to the view of a
tree shredding its leaves, to the expression of words on a piece of paper, a blog, or
tweet. Art engages us, inspires us, impacts us, and arguably stalks us. My personal
feelings are that art is so engrained in us that itd be downright impossible for us to
shut our own emotions, feelings, personal aesthetic preferences off long enough to
evaluate art based on the emphasis of the previously mentioned characteristics of
the artists or art itself.

Mcdonald makes another strong point that art can have different meanings at
different points in time. I believe this comment can be interpreted in many different
ways. For example, what Shakespeare wrote hundreds of years ago now carries
different meaning to the consumers reading or hearing it today. Based on our
societal structure, personal experiences, and upbringing to name a few,
Shakespeare is not and cannot be understood like it once was intended to be.
Mcdonalds point can also be applied to the different times in ones life. For
example, a song like I Believe I Can Fly, by R. Kelly, brought me a lot of joy upon
its original release. Its a song I believe R. Kelly intended to be motivational to those
facing struggles or put downs; however, after losing a classmate some years later
and having this song selected for his funeral, the song now has a different meaning
and evokes a different emotion from me.
While each approach deserves consideration for its own individual reasons, I
believe the position of giving the most emphasis to the appreciator is probably most
realistic. To Tolstoys approach of the importance of emphasis on the artist, it was
argued that knowing about the artists original intentions after creating ones own
critique may or may not influence ones opinions of their work can in turn put the
appreciator at the basis of control of the critique. To Bells approach of the
importance of the emphasis on the art-object itself, it was argued that not enough
factors were provided for an art-object evaluation, which may in turn lead the
appreciator to give emotional bias to their critique. While each approach is
significantly useful, I believe the appreciator will always be in control of their own
thoughts, opinions, and emotions as it relates to the understanding and evaluation
of art.