Another much less subtle influence is brand. If you go to see the mona lisa, you'll probably be disappointed, because it's hidden behind a thick glass wall and surrounded by a frenzied crowd taking pictures of themselves in front. At best you can see it the way you see a friend across the room at a crowded party. The louvre might as well replace it with copy; no one would be able to tell. And yet the mona lisa is a small, write dark painting. If you found people who'd never seen an image of it and sent them to a museum in which it was hanging among other paintings with a tag labelling it as a portrait by an unknown fifteenth century artist, most would walk by without giving. For the average person, brand dominates all other factors in the judgement of art. Seeing a painting they recognize from reproductions is so overwhelming that their response to it as a painting is drowned out.
Man-made stuff is different. For one thing, artists, unlike apple trees, often deliberately try to trick. Some tricks are quite subtle. For example, any work of art sets expectations by its level of finish. You don't expect photographic accuracy in something that looks like a quick sketch. So one widely used trick, especially among illustrators, is to intentionally make a painting or drawing look like it was done faster than it was. The average person looks at it and thinks: how amazingly skillful. It's like saying something clever in a conversation as if you'd thought of it on the spur of the moment, when in fact you'd worked it out the day before.
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People's preferences aren't random. So an artist working on a painting and trying to decide whether to change some thesis part of it doesn't have to think "Why bother? I might as well flip a coin." Instead he can ask "What would make the painting more interesting to people?" And the reason you can't equal Michelangelo by going out and buying a blank canvas is that the ceiling of the sistine Chapel is more. A lot of philosophers have had a hard time believing it was possible for there to be objective standards for art. It seemed obvious that beauty, for example, was something that happened in the head of the observer, not something that was a property of objects. It was thus thesis "subjective" rather than "objective." But in fact if you narrow the definition of beauty to something that works a certain way on humans, and you observe how much humans have in common, it turns out to be a property of objects after. You don't have to choose between something being a property of the subject or the object if subjects all react similarly.
Being good art is thus a property of objects as much as, say, being toxic to humans is: it's good art if it consistently affects humans in a certain way. Error so could we figure out what the best art is by taking a vote? After all, if appealing to humans is the test, we should be able to just ask them, right? For products of nature that might work. I'd be willing to eat the apple the world's population had voted most delicious, and I'd probably be willing to visit the beach they voted most beautiful, but having to look at the painting they voted the best would be a crapshoot.
Instead tastes are a series of concentric rings, like ripples in a pond. There are some things that will appeal to you and your friends, others that will appeal to most people your age, others that will appeal to most humans, and perhaps others that would appeal to most sentient beings (whatever that means). The picture is slightly more complicated than that, because in the middle of the pond there are overlapping sets of ripples. For example, there might be things that appealed particularly to men, or to people from a certain culture. If good art is art that interests its audience, then when you talk about art being good, you also have to say for what audience.
So is it meaningless to talk about art simply being good or bad? No, because one audience is the set of all possible humans. I think that's the audience people are implicitly talking about when they say a work of art is good: they mean it would engage any human. 4 And that is a meaningful test, because although, like any everyday concept, "human" is fuzzy around the edges, there are a lot of things practically all humans have in common. In addition to our interest in faces, there's something special about primary colors for nearly all of us, because it's an artifact of the way our eyes work. Most humans will also find images of 3D objects engaging, because that also seems to be built into our visual perception. 5 And beneath that there's edge-finding, which makes images with definite shapes more engaging than mere blur. Humans have a lot more in common than this, of course. My goal is not to compile a complete list, just to show that there's some solid ground here.
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No matter who you pick, they'll find faces engaging. Of course, space aliens probably wouldn't find human faces engaging. But there might be other things they shared in common with. The most likely source of examples is math. I expect space aliens would agree with us most of the time about which of two proofs was better. He called a maximally paper elegant essay proof one out of God's book, and presumably god's book is universal. 3 Once you start talking about audiences, you don't have to argue simply that there are or aren't standards of taste.
It seems to be wired into. Babies can recognize fantasy faces practically from birth. In fact, faces seem to have co-evolved with our interest in them; the face is the body's billboard. So all other things being equal, a painting with faces in it will interest people more than one without. 1, one reason it's easy to believe that taste is merely personal preference is that, if it isn't, how do you pick out the people with better taste? There are billions of people, each with their own opinion; on what grounds can you prefer one to another? 2, but if audiences have a lot in common, you're not in a position of having to choose one out of a random set of individual biases, because the set isn't random. All humans find faces engaging—practically by definition: face recognition is in our dna. And so having a notion of good art, in the sense of art that does its job well, doesn't require you to pick out a few individuals and label their opinions as correct.
impressive, not less. Yet that doesn't seem quite right, does it? Audience, i think the key to this puzzle is to remember that art has an audience. Art has a purpose, which is to interest its audience. Good art (like good anything) is art that achieves its purpose particularly well. The meaning of "interest" can vary. Some works of art are meant to shock, and others to please; some are meant to jump out at you, and others to sit quietly in the background. But all art has to work on an audience, and—here's the critical point—members of the audience share things in common. For example, nearly all humans find human faces engaging.
It was pulling on that thread that unravelled my childhood faith in relativism. When you're trying to make things, taste becomes using a practical matter. You have to decide what to do next. Would it make the painting better if I changed that part? If there's no such thing as better, it doesn't matter what you. In fact, it doesn't matter if you paint at all. You could just go out and buy a ready-made blank canvas.
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December 2006, i grew up believing that taste is just a matter of personal preference. Each person has things they like, but no one's preferences are any better than anyone else's. There is no such thing as good dream taste. Like a lot of things I grew up believing, this turns out to be false, and I'm going to try to explain why. One problem with saying there's no such thing as good taste is that it also means there's no such thing as good art. If there were good art, then people who liked it would have better taste than people who didn't. So if you discard taste, you also have to discard the idea of art being good, and artists being good at making.