Is it inconsistent to assert that the internalization of art is a subjective experience, while nevertheless admitting that there must be a set of objective criteria with which to evaluate it? Another illustration: the following pictures were both taken at Angkor Wat, the first by myself and the second by someone else.
I think it would be difficult to argue that my picture is not objectively worse than the second. Though the pictures are from opposite ends of the same structure, the intentions of each basically line up: awesome ruins, reflection in moat splits the frame, solemnly blue sky interrupted by a divine-like break of the clouds centered above the structure, etc. Going against my version is a lesser quality resolution and damper colors (my wimpy zoom and amateur digital camera is no match for whatever pro-digital-slr-whatever the other photog got to use). Also, the other shot is perfectly and evenly framed, whereas I would have loved to cut off mine on the right just after the tall structures in the background and before the appearance of the branches on the left. And of course my beautiful photo is sullied by the presence of ugly, ugly tourists walking the bridge and climbing the steps. The off-angle view in my work is actually, I think, more interesting and provides a depth you don’t get in the professional, straight on approach. But nevertheless, I think it’s too little, too late, mine is probably inferior. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes, but doesn’t intellectual honesty require that we declare a winner when there is one?
Another more salient example comes from the recent Academy Awards. Now, yes everyone knows, award shows are stupid, and the Oscars are particularly dumb, but awarding Best Picture to the Cohen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men over P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is especially egregious and cannot be justified on any objective grounds for evaluating art. The latter is clearly the more ambitious project, both thematically, as an allegory for this country’s dual strains of unbridled capitalism and fanatical religiousness, and how adherence to either will lead you to ruin, as well as cinematically, as Anderson uses a variety of long, drawn out shots, steady cams, moving cams, an insane score by Johnny Greenwood, and coaxes performances from Daniel Lewis and Paul Dano that each range from frightening brutality to pathetic vulnerability and everywhere in between. No Country is a great little picture, but it does not profess or try to be anything nearly as magnificent. It’s a nice little thriller, chase/stalker flick with a likeable protagonist you root for and a psychopathic weirdo you are terrified of, with meandering and barely sufferable interludes featuring a retiring old-timer cop who pontificates on what it all means. Good stuff. But there is no wild range of emotion, no novel shots of people scurrying towards and then away from an exploding oil derrick, no interesting score, no descent into the abyss, and no social commentary. There is much too much happening in Blood to digest and appreciate on one viewing, one needs to watch it again to get the subtleties, the interplay with the music, the information contained in the numerous dialogue-less shots. I can’t imagine anyone needing to see No County again; once you know what happens, what else is there? It was almost surely its social commentary that sealed Blood's fate. It brings to mind Julie Christie’s remark on the Oscar winning German film, The Lives of Others: “I’m not sure I can bear to see a film they gave the Oscar to, that tells you what awful people Communists are.” Amen, sister.
So how can art be at the same time a subjective experience that cannot be evaluated on anything more than a personal basis, yet also a creation that exists in the context of many other creations who all succeed and fail to varying degrees on the basis of objective criteria? In much the same way that light acts simultaneously as a wave and a particle, no one knows.
What we’ve learned:
1) Producing art is fun. Talking about art, less so.
2) I need a better digital camera.
3) There Will Be Blood is very good.
4) Julie Christie is awesome.