On the subjectiveness of art
One thing that is almost always brought up in discussion when people debate art is that art is subjective. This is in a way the “let’s agree to disagree” of the art world, meaning that no consensus and thus no real connection between the people who are engaged in the debate can be had.
The fact that “art is subjective” is true, of course. What it means, however, is not clear. The most obvious thing it means and should mean is that it is alright for people to have opinions and resonate with different forms of art. Thus, there’s no point in really arguing whether renaissance paintings are better than romantic paintings or whether Beethoven is better than Mozart. Of course, some objective parameters of measurement can be applied, but in the end, it’s a matter of taste.
However, most times when the subjective nature of art is discussed, people actually refer to another conversation or debate. When most people claim that “hey, art is subjective”, they actually refer to the very nature of a product’s value. In other words, they are not sure whether something should truly qualify as art and, in the lack of an open and honest communication, the agreement to disagree is raised.
What is art and what is it not?
This agreement to disagree leads to the lowering of standards in art. Not only are standards lowered, but, in many circles, they have disappeared altogether. In the eyes of many, anything passes as art and only the mere intention for something to be art makes it art, although sometimes this criterion is passed on as well.
While it is true that one of the thing artists should do is break boundaries and create beauty and that there shouldn’t be a board dusty people categorizing what is art and what it is not (à la “Mona Lisa Smile”), it is odd that art is the only field where anything qualifies to be seen as such.
To compare, just because you call a box with a wheel a “car”, it doesn’t really make it a car; and accidentally cutting yourself while cooking or shaving doesn’t qualify as “surgery”. In the same way, cutting a twig and putting it into your home doesn’t mean it’s carpentry and counting Monopoly money doesn’t mean you’re banking. And yet, yelling into a microphone is seen as music, arranging shoes in a line is considered an installation and dressing up a model in a cardboard is seen as “thought-provoking fashion”.
Post-modernism (but not singularly) has turned everything on its head and has given birth to the concept of “there is no truth” and “everything is what you want it to be”. Of course, this does not make any sense. Just as a quick logical scheme, if it is true that there is no truth, the statement that there is no truth is true and thus the original statement that there is no truth is false.
Art is associated with aesthetics, which is the field that studies pleasure-related experiences, the mechanisms used to create there and the results of these processes. Aesthetics is strongly related to beauty and beauty is fundamentally related to balance. However, in many creative fields, including fashion, there is a strong movement towards a redefinition of beauty. A paradox is often taking the place of the definition of beauty. This works in two steps. In the first step, so-called artists and tastemakers define art as “anything” and place great emphasize on the fact that beauty can be found anywhere. In the second step, they are pushing things that make you cringe and claim that this is what beauty is and that one should accept it, any other definition of beauty being shun away, despite their claim that “anything goes”.
It’s complicated, but many people are now starting to awake to this thing and create new artistic circles where they go back to classic beauty and elegance. In fashion, we are seeing this contrast too, where many collection seem like they were scrapped by children during arts class and are presented as being extremely high art, when in fact they are not.
It is important in order to talk about something to be able to have a definition and criteria for what it is. In other words, we all know what technology is and don’t call a watermelon technology. In the same way, why have so many people given up on the need to define art?
It is important to have definitions if we want to talk about something. Knowing what needs to be done is the first step into having better art. If there is a standard for art and certain criteria (such as sophistication and symbolism instead of tautology, universality expressed through particularity, a play with proportion, rhythm and style, social and spiritual purpose, etc.) we will already have better art and better fashion. Taking the spiritual component of art (meaning that it should appeal and raise the soul) should also be taken seriously, since if you take it out in the belief that there is no soul, there is nothing to be raised and thus art can have much of a purpose.
The fact that when bad art is criticized, people claim that “you don’t get it” is, besides it not being an argument but an ad hominem, insulting. In other words, according to some people, if you don’t see any beauty in a piece of dirty fabric and don’t have your soul raised by it, you’re dumb. Calling someone stupid won’t win you arguments.
The fact that people are either not criticized or that their critique comes from people who live in a bubble is probably one of the worst things that can happen in art. This phenomenon does not happen in all creative fields. For example, in classical music, critiques are strong and musicians work a lot to meet the standards of those at the top. In other fields, such as fashion, the standards have been lowered a lot. Lidewij Edelkoort has claimed for a while now that design schools don’t teach a lot of essential things anymore. This is because people either don’t know them anymore or because those who know them want to live outside of the bubble.
The solution for better creative products, better art and better fashion is to break that bubble. We should understand that art is about communication and has no meaning if it’s made for its own sake.
People in creative fields should be more severe as to what their field is. Teachers, curators and tastemakers should take beauty seriously and should look at their beauty compass and use it. Not having a compass for beauty and claiming to work in aesthetics means that you don’t have very high expectations of the world or of yourself; and that is a problem that needs to be immediately addressed. Creating meaning based on nothingness doesn’t work.
There is already a strong movement in the direction of classic (for the lack of a better word) arts, as many artists are going back to rudimentary techniques, which they often combine with high-tech findings. We also see it in fashion, as many designers like slow fashion and are working on reinventing couture.
Things are becoming more and more contrasting and more and more great art and artists are emerging from the nonsense. So, having the guts to express your honest opinion, having the open mind and heart to being educated and asking questions and having high standards, firstly for yourself and then for the world are the tools each and every one of us, artist or non-artist have, to create better art in the world.
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S. We want to hear from you! What do you think is the definition of art? Does it have a purpose? Can anything be seen as beautiful? Share your feedback, questions or thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!