For the past month, I have been trying to uncover the mystery of the arts, showing what makes it so special and why both the observer and creator are so important to the entire process. All of those previous arguments lead us to the final question: What makes a work of art good? 

In my previous article, I hinted at a teleological, or purpose-based, framework being the most appropriate way to judge a work’s value, and it’s now time that I expand on that topic. 

I have argued before that a work of art has two primary purposes: to entertain and to communicate something about the human condition to the observer. Both of these coincide with the two different types of value that a work can have, an economic value and a communicated value. 

In turn, under a teleological framework, a good work of art is one that maximizes both its economic and communicated value by being able to entertain and clearly articulate meaning to any given spatial or temporal orientation. 

This duality is where we find the phenomenon of someone being able to say that a work of art is their favorite, but not the best of its kind, and vice versa. 

Oftentimes, one’s favoritism is directly connected with a high communicated value. In other words, the work of art expressed something that the observer found meaningful, impactful, and ultimately change-worthy. 

On the other hand, the best work of art is often connected to its economic value and, in this case, I don’t just mean financial success. Economic value refers to the level of entertainment and appreciation one has for the creative process that yielded the work of art. 

For example, one might say the best book of all time is one that is popular among its readers, thoroughly entertaining, and exhibiting more technical and literary expertise than every other book. 

What if the observer just doesn’t understand a work of art, though, and that’s why there’s no communicated value? 

This is by no means the fault of the observer. It isn’t their duty to scrape any value from a work if they can’t find it. 

Instead, it is the job of the creator to articulate what they are trying to say, but they must do so without risking the entertainment of their work. Complaints about art being too preachy or a borderline life lesson are works that fail to achieve this balance of economic and communicated value. 

As a result, good creators will deliberately maximize the medium of their art through practiced and engaging techniques to both maintain the observer’s attention and communicate their perspective to the observer. A key part of this definition is the intention. 

Of course, a creator could dialogue with an observer and claim that everything they did and said was deliberate when there was actually no meaning behind it at all. At the same time, an observer could easily lie about how they experienced the work of art, too. 

These reactions only serve to undermine the arts as a communication between two unique spatial and temporal orientations through additional orientations focused solely on the economic value. 

For example, storytelling media will often use techniques like symbolism to get across communicated value, but what could be perceived as symbolism could just be a stylistic choice of the creator, meaning that it solely has economic value. 

Nevertheless, observers of the media might speak the praises of the creator for such a thought-provoking usage of symbolism when it wasn’t deliberate, or a creator might backtrack and claim after-the-fact what something really meant. 

A good creator isn’t afraid to admit what’s intentional and what isn’t, though, and a good observer isn’t willing to conflate external opinions with their own objective experience. They do this to achieve that special relationship between two distinct orientations. 

Altogether, this reveals that technical complexity means nothing to how good a work of art is if it doesn’t serve to entertain or communicate value. 

Thus, after experiencing a work of art, the observer shouldn’t feel compelled to listen to those who find extra economic value in the creative process itself. An observer should only care about the takeaways following their experience. 

Did you enjoy it? Did it make you want to change how you think, speak, or act? 

On the other hand, creators should hope to cause that change within the observers of their art by sharing their spatial and temporal orientation with the audience. 

From this, we can conclude that good art serves to both entertain and change lives.

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