On a multitude of occasions I have found myself saying, “Your opinion is objectively incorrect.” The paradoxical nature of the joke is what makes it humorous, but a deep dive into the pretentious world of art reviewing and analysis will reveal that this phrase, and its variations, have an unironic use.
In my previous article I discussed the arts, breaking down how the different abilities and consequences of the arts make it rise above everything else that humanity has accomplished.
In particular, I noted the experiences of the observer and how their spatial and temporal orientation will impact the memories, associations, and even the value taken away from a piece of art. The uniqueness of this orientation culminates in one’s interpretation and overall impression of a work.
Because of this uniqueness, one’s interpretation of the underlying meaning is objective insofar as it relates to the experiencing of the work of art itself. As a result, the ways in which you took in, related to, and/or learned from a piece of art are factual and true to you as the observer.
For example, if you watch a TV show and discover a thematic takeaway as a part of your viewing experience, the personal takeaway is something that did happen and can’t be argued against.
Things get more complicated when you try and generalize that takeaway to others’ experiences. People will make claims concerning what a piece of art is trying to say, or what its value is, and then proceed to assert their own experience or interpretation, but even though it could be reasonably implied, they often make this claim without the qualifier that it is only true for them.
When doing this, people are making uneducated claims on behalf of others’ experience. Of course, this seems like common knowledge and a non-issue because we can always just keep in mind that the analysis of a piece of art by another person doesn’t reflect our experience and the value we assign to a work.
However, I think there’s a fundamental issue with this type of dialogue because the reviewer or analyzer often has an ethos that bears significance over his or her audience’s perceptions. Whether this ethos comes from formal education, argumentative intelligence, personability, confidence, or any other source, it is dangerous to adopt another’s viewpoint regarding a work of art, especially if it’s a one-sided form of communication.
To do so is to undermine the phenomenon that makes art so great, namely the reactionary and personal nature of experiencing it.
As I mentioned in my previous article, the value of a work of art is rooted in how the interaction of creator and observer changes how the observer thinks or acts. Here’s where I note that I’m not including the economic value because this value is rooted in the physical work and the subsequent physical exposure to, or the entertainment factor, not the work as an internalized communication of ideas.
Thus, by relying on another person to redefine how you experienced a piece of art, you are letting someone else decide what you value, undercutting what makes your experience so special and unique in favor of someone with the mystique of authority.
This isn’t to say that this dialogue shouldn’t exist. One isn’t, oftentimes, limited to experiencing a work of art once, so by discussing and analyzing a work of art, we can prepare ourselves to create a new experience and value judgement with a new spatial and temporal orientation upon experiencing the work again.
In turn, the arts should be discussed in a way that emphasizes the spatial and temporal orientation of the observer. For example, if you enjoyed a movie back in your childhood, rewatched it as an adult, and found it unbearable, then don’t dismiss your previous experience.
Instead, you should reflect on it and note the differences in orientation. This type of dialogue, whether personal or communal, should be the preferred method of discussion because in this way experiencing the arts becomes an exercise in both human connection with others’ experiences and authentic introspection surrounding one’s different experiences.
Guided by the original observer and their collective experiences alongside the potential support of others or clarity of hindsight, this external dialogue maximizes the ability to find value in a work of art while also respecting the relationship between creator and observer.
So, don’t let anyone else convince you what the takeaways of a piece of art should be. Your experiences are yours and they reflect that self, but at the same time, don’t feel afraid to share that unique perspective with others because it can always help the second time around.