Subjective Beauty: Is it?

If you drive down to the local museum, you’ll see varying art styles, all the way from baroque to post-modern styles. Now, there seems to be a lot of controversy over post-modern art. Is a single colored line down the middle of a canvas true art? I heard one man say he would have paid $1M for that painting if he had the money. My friend, who was present when the man said that, commented, “He’s just stupid.”

People often say art is subjective. As a musician, I constantly hear that you have to learn to appreciate the beauty which many would find repulsive. Is art subjective? We are going to take a trip down memory lane. We’ll look at the progression of art from generations ago to today.

Where Gothic architecture previously graced the streets from Rome to London and our own beautiful American cities, post-modern architecture now sits in the center of our cities. Whereas a couple hundred years ago, society valued art with vibrant colors and emotion, today society has learned to value blotches of colors on a canvas. Yet, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is it not?

The two pictures above show a painting from the 1800s, entitled, “Dawn of the Morning, Lake George,” and a cathedral built in Gothic times. Below, we see two pictures of modern art and architecture. Now, I’ve been taught things such as, “Oh, well the painting shows the expressiveness of the artist. You can see the vibrant yellow contrasted against the navy blue and the black.” The modern architecture also shows creativity and expressiveness on part of the building designer, or so they say.

A question I would like to ask is, have we really progressed in art? Or have we lowered our standards of beauty? This is a question I have to ask myself, and I still wrestle with it. Is beauty in the eye of the beholder, or is taste in the eye of the beholder? What’s the difference?

When I say that taste is in the eye of the beholder, I assume a standard by which I measure beauty. However, if I say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I leave the standard up to the viewer, and whatever they think is true and right for them, even if they view an ugly painting as beautiful. Wait a minute. I just used the word “ugly.” I’m using an objective standard. That’s not allowed. After all, we do live in a post-modernistic society.

As I wrestle with this idea of beauty being objective, I find that ultimately you have to rely on your worldview. This means examining the ideas and philosophies behind abstract, post-modern art: post-modernism. What does post-modernism say? What’s the reasoning behind it? In essence, post-modernism says truth is relative, and nothing is objective. Postmodernism claims that each individual’s values and beliefs are true for him or her but that those views cannot and must be applied to everyone else. How does this show itself in art?

If we examine the art and architecture of today and compare them to the architecture of old, many people will say the architecture of today with our high-rise buildings and funkily shaped museums looks “cool,” but it doesn’t inspire majesty or awe. Comparatively, the architecture from 200 years ago is majestic and stately, and it makes one feel proud.

Is art objective? Yes, but it is subjective in taste. We know the difference between ugly and beautiful, weird and stately. Our tastes vary within beauty, but we can tell the difference between random chaos and meticulously painted objects. I’m still wrestling with the subject, especially as people have told me so many times, “Art is subjective.” While I find that you can learn to appreciate art you don’t enjoy, our minds are brainwashed into this thinking that any expression is beautiful, even though it might be either morally wrong or just downright nonsensical. Ultimately, art should uplift others and inspire greatness, and much of postmodern art not only inspire a sense of confusion, it also takes away from the awe of the grandeur of true beauty and nature.

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