The first generation or so produced work of genuine merit. Monet, Renoir and Degas still maintained elements of disciplined design and execution, but with each new generation, standards declined until there were no standards. All that was left was personal expression. The great art historian Jacob Rosenberg wrote that quality and art is not merely a matter of personal opinion, but to a high degree, objectively traceable. There has been a debate slowly building over the last few years on sites like YouTube, and across social media. Now, this is not a new debate. In fact, it’s probably been around about as long as people have been talking about art. But it’s only now particularly that it’s gotten suddenly rapidly fired up again. It’s a debate which pertains mainly to the idea of how we look at and process media. Through human interest and the algorithmic gods, art and media criticism has quickly become one of the most popular forms of online entertainment. With the power of the Internet, we get more perspectives than ever, and much of the elitism about who gets to be an authority on these subjects has gone right out the window. [COMMENTATOR] “Face it: this game sucks, It’s boring and it’s stupid.” Yet with this comes a lot of questions that people don’t necessarily know the answer to. Case in point: How can I objectively judge a work of art? Or, more specifically: Can I judge art to be objectively good or bad? Now, this might seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer. But let’s consider it, for just a little bit. Before we further delve into this topic, here’s a bit of housekeeping. To help support the channel, Skillshare has generously offered to sponsor us for this video, which is pretty convenient as the services they offer are fairly relevant to what I’m discussing here today. Skillshare is an online learning tool with more than 25,000 available classes all run by industry professionals in the realms of art, writing, design, and more, specifically made to help introduce people to topics they might not otherwise be familiar with. Whether you’re trying to expand your knowledge for a career or just out of curiosity. On my own end, Emily Gold has a great class on how to get into the habit of creative writing, If you’re interested in stretching your own artistic muscles and seeing what you like to create. If you’d like to join more than 7 million Creators learning from Skillshare for less than ten bucks a month, check out the link below to sign up. The first 500 people to click it get a 2 month free trial to the service. Isn’t that wonderful? Ok, that’s out of the way. Let’s get back to it. First, let’s really go the extra mile with this one, and define our terms. Reminder that what we’re looking at here specifically is art criticism, and it’s with that in mind that I’m giving my definitions. Judge, when talking about art, generally means for a subject to observe, and then to form a conclusion around a given object. A person opens a video, looks at two portraits, and then judges which they prefer. Much like you’re doing now. Objectivity, specifically rooted in the object, would mean that we are dealing with facts, without consideration for things like individual perception or personal feelings. An example would be that if we focus on portrait A, we can say that objectively, it was painted in 1965. Comparisons can also be used objectively. If we look at portraits A and B together, we could say that portrait A uses a greater variety of color than portrait B. If, however, I pointed at A and said this portrait uses more color and is therefore more visually interesting, this would not be objective. Again, objectivity does not account for individual perception. Subjectivity, specifically rooted in these subjects, would mean that we are factoring in things like individual perception or personal feelings. This is generally where we agree our opinions fall. When I asked you earlier to judge which portrait you preferred, that was employing subjectivity. You are being guided now by personal preference. A crucial misunderstanding here Is that when you do this, you are throwing objectivity out the window. In fact most subjective viewpoints are made using objective aspects of the work. you may have preferred portrait A, because it used more color than portrait B, what we’ve agreed upon earlier, as an objective part of the work. If things have been feeling a bit slow so far, don’t worry. To get to the point where we can think about the fun stuff, the games and TV shows and movies, we’re gonna work our way up. So here’s two new pieces to look at, they’re a bit more exciting. (Music) See, look at that. (Music stops) One of them is even moving. Now what can we say objectively about these two images? Well, as I say, one’s moving and one’s still. Okay good. we’ve established genre. Beyond that, Hmm, it’s tricky. Can I say that object A is objectively a windmill? I’m not so sure. So to me it looks more like a flower. It makes more sense that a windmill would move in this way than a flower, but that’d still be an assumption made based on perspective. It’s simply a good justification for that perspective. It sounds like what we’re getting into is subjectivity I see a flower. You see a windmill. It’s our individual perception that’s decided this. You might be thinking: How do we resolve this? What if we asked the artist? Now, the role of the artist’s intent in how we look at art has probably been one of the most tense debates in art criticism for the last few hundred years. If you’re familiar with the death of the author, you know how this goes. If not, brief outline: The argument goes that, while it seems rational to fall back to the author to know objectively what a piece of art is or what it means, this ignores the practical realities of how art is ordinarily perceived. Art is, by its nature, Authored but not every symbol or graphic has its most popular meaning gained from that author. Many political symbols, most famously the Nazi swastika, are co-opted in such a way that they now represent something far beyond their initial interpretation. Whether the Tibetans or Taoists approve or not, if you tattoo a swastika on your face, It’s likely to be interpreted a certain way. Similarly, image B, known as the keep on truckin’ sign, when… (train rumbles) When Robert Crumb drew this piece, he wasn’t thinking it would come to be representative of the hippie subculture of the USA. And yet, that’s what happened. What was a simple goofy graphic, came to mean so much more in this time and place If Crumb told us, Nah, it’s just supposed to be a silly picture, that would otherwise invalidate any reinterpretation on the part of the viewer. That’s not really feasible, which is why generally nowadays the death of the author is kind of assumed. Not to say people still don’t argue it. In fact, many arts “objectivists” will still invoke the author when asking how we can objectively measure the quality of a piece. Taking the author’s intention as one point of measurement , and the execution as another. Though, this does ignore how our judgment of the execution could itself be biased, and that this essentially gives the author full permission to announce their work as objectively perfect. As long as they say it was meant to be exactly how you described it to be. But I can hear you thinking, well, when we’re arguing whether you can objectively judge art, we’re not just talking about like paintings and drawings and things like that. What about stuff with more clear structure, like a story? Let’s give it a go. (Music) So here’s a bit of bite-sized literary interpretation for you. To briefly read it out, Clive is afraid of rocks. A man tries to murder Clive. Clive hits him in the face with a rock. The man dies. Clive dies. Let’s observe this piece objectively. Well, objectively, it’s the story of a man called Clive who is apparently scared of rocks. But then when he’s threatened, kills the attacker with a rock. And then dies. Now, let’s objectively judge it. Well, for one thing, it’s narratively just a mess. They explain specifically that Clive is afraid of rocks, but then he suddenly overcomes that fear without explaining why, before or after. And then Clive, our main character, just dies and it’s like we get no resolution at all. So there you go. My objective judgment based on what’s objectively in the text. All right, so what you probably just realized there, is that when you really boil it down, I did not just give an objective judgement of the text. In fact, I actually Fabricated a set of factors that I personally cared about, put that onto the text, and then judged it based on those. I was the one who decided it mattered that they didn’t explicitly explain why Clive overcame his fear, and I was the one who decided it mattered that the main character here did not have, to me, an emotionally satisfying arc. This is a common issue for those in the objective school of arts criticism. Often, you will make what is not really anything like an objective criticism, but because you haven’t analyzed your biases, it feels like you’re just speaking logically. Often books like Campbell’s The Hero of A Thousand Faces or Vogel’s The Hero’s Journey get cited here, explaining the general character types and structure of most stories, and then from that, you can use that to measure the success of the text. The thing is, Campbell and Vogel are not here dictating what does or does not make a story. What they’re explaining, at best, is how popular stories are generally structured. Descriptive not prescriptive. But closely following a traditional narrative structure is not the same as telling an objectively good story. If it was, “generic” wouldn’t be often considered a negative thing. You may still believe that popular opinions or conforming to audience expectations are a solid source of objective measurement. But that isn’t objectivity, that’s just popular opinion. You are the one deciding that this is a positive quality. When you invoke traditional narrative structures, you’re not really arguing the text objectively failed because of that. You’re arguing that you think it failed to be the expectations of the average viewer or reader. Most people want a story about a hero who goes through change in a way that feels understandable, because they want to feel connected to them, and therefore emotionally invested. But just as with our original objective assessments, these are also composed of many different assumptions going into viewing the work. These assumptions make up a perspective. And so what we have are many, many different Subjective viewpoints. They may make a very strong argument for their subjective viewpoints, one based on objective facts, but that viewpoint is still ultimately Subjective. Now if I acknowledge, I’m only speaking subjectively, I can make many different arguments for why this story about Clive is phenomenal. When I thought about the idea of him being frightened by rocks, and then just thoughtlessly using one against an attacker, It kind of made me think of like an analogy someone in a gun control debate would use, like oh, yeah, everyone’s afraid of deadly force until they’re the one in trouble, and all bets are off. Or, you know someone might use that for a nuclear weapons analogy too, it could be a classic saying: “Everyone’s scared of rocks until it’s time to hit someone with a rock.” I don’t know if it’s a particularly strong argument, that’s something we need to discuss, but it’s a reading I can draw out of it. Clive dies. Well objectively I can only read what’s on the page: he died. But what if we took that as a metaphor for the old Clive dying like a spiritual rebirth? That’s a component of the Hero’s Journey, even. So if traditional structure is something you care about, with this interpretation, we actually just made the story a lot more coherent for you. But, maybe I’m just doing the writer’s work for them. Trying to patch the holes they left in their story. Maybe it should have been, “Clive dies, but only metaphorically.” There. Isn’t that just a… objectively better piece of writing? You are tearing me apart Lisa! Sorry about that, I realized that I’d only been talking about like, paintings and made-up stories you probably don’t care about, so here’s something I’m sure you’re deeply invested in. The Room, for those not aware, is a 2003 film that tells the story of Johnny: a hard-working banker living the time of his life until he discovers his fiance and best friend have been secretly seeing each other, behind his back. With dialogue that feels like it was written by an alien, puzzling editing choices were seemingly no rhyme or reason, and performances like these: It’s not true. It’s bullshit. I did not hit her. I did naaaht. Oh hi Mark. It’s widely considered the worst movie of all time. Or at least up there. This, in spite of the fact that it also has maybe the most dedicated Cinematic fan base outside of Star Wars. In fact possibly more than any other film, with The Room, you will hear the statement, “I personally love it, but it’s an objectively bad film.” So, with all we’ve talked about so far You’re ready for me to give you the hot take that The Room is not an objectively bad film. Yeah. Yeah, that’s what I’m telling you. This is usually the most uncomfortable point anyone who still holds on to the idea of objective criticism comes to. What if we get a film that’s really clearly not well made, but now we can only say it’s bad in our opinion? A variation of this is putting the Mona Lisa next to a doodle by a five-year-old. If one of these is not objectively better than the other, if The Room is not objectively bad, what’s even the point of trying to make quality films? Why should I care about having consistent characters or coherent editing? Good anatomy or sense of perspective? I can just throw it all together. And if you have a problem with it, well, That’s just your opinion. There can be no more arguments about arts because we’re all just a load of Subjective blobs bumping up against each other. Now. You may be more of a concrete thinker, you may be more of an abstract thinker, and it’s understandable that if you do like to have this more clear, measurable structure by which to judge media, the idea of there not being an objectively correct answer about how art succeeds or fails, its meaning or its execution, that can be frustrating for a lot of people. “…hear my opinion, which is why I am not expressing an opinion, I am stating a FACT.” That’s part of why we have review aggregate sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, and why YouTube is a space filled with people working out the deep underlying symbolism of a text for you. You ever heard someone tell you, ‘you like the film, that’s nice, but it’s objectively bad.” And then cite review scores? Ever had someone say ‘oh if you want to find out what this film is ACTUALLY about, watch this YouTube Theory video and find out.’ My point here is that I get why it can be so comforting to feel like you have some reference or some figure that you can point to and say “Here’s the objectively correct answer,” to this piece of media. It’s like self-help. We want the illusion that there is a single objective right answer, but it’s just that: an illusion. In the case of The Room, if we discard authorial intent, it’s to the audience to decide what the film really is. Is it a drama that failed tremendously or a comedy that succeeded in unprecedented ways? These filmmaking qualities, the acting, the writing, the editing, even contribute to or contradict a standard you individually must set. And, well, if we adhere to authorial intent, I guess that question gets a lot easier. Because writer director Tommy Wiseau has stated repeatedly, that the film was always intended as an absurdist black comedy, and if we wanted to measure out how well it succeeded in that goal, well… “You’re just a chicken cheep cheep cheep!” On all sides of the argument, there have been those putting forward the idea that you are, one way or another, consuming media wrong. Either those who find there to be no value in evaluating purely objective elements of a text, or those who ultimately think it’s the only thing that matters. I think if you want to analyze a piece of media and pick out all the logical inconsistencies, if that’s what’s important to you, that’s perfectly valid. I think if you just want to categorically summarize as many objective aspects of a text as you can, just so we’re on the same page discussing it, that is also extremely valid. If not for people like that, we wouldn’t have Wikipedia. But today I want to dispel the notion that when we’re talking about objectivity and subjectivity in the case of art criticism, one is the correct answer, and one is simply feelings. The Room may have objective elements that can be pointed out: a technique, or lack thereof. Something we can identify and evaluate as fairly non-standard cinema. And we can look at those things. But to from there, judge the text as a whole, we come from a perspective affected by culture, geography, our personal experiences. Outsider Art is an entire movement based around perspectives separate from specific mainstream ideas. And even conforming to that mainstream, a good performance in one region may be over acting in another. The portrayal of a marginalized group may be effective to the majority of people, but not to those within the actual marginalized group. And we can’t just ignore all of that, as exceptions that make the rule. To enforce the notion of objective measurement of good or bad material, is at best, further limiting the potential of art to accommodate for a variety of tastes by discouraging all but one direction. At worst, It’s a form of cultural imperialism, demanding a wide variety of groups coming from any number of backgrounds to all follow the same metrics of quality. Quality, as it stands, that largely seems to be defined by men with pleasant voices, telling us what does or doesn’t matter. There can be standards, but at the end of the day, they are your standards. Whether shaped by the tastes of the people around you, or sometimes totally contradicting them. You know, I chose to use my headset for this video because I couldn’t get my lavalier mic thing to stop sounding like this: “fine art” and that’s not me saying clear audio is objectively better than a clean visual where I’m not wearing this big clunky thing. That’s just me working on what I think myself and my audience would prefer. What matters is up to you. This is not about eliminating discussion. There could be endless talk about why material affected you a certain way, why you found a technique effective or ineffective. To argue when you disagree about how to tell a story. To say there is right and wrong in art and it’s only a matter of finding out what right is, now and for all time, That is the end of discussion. We may be able to measure objective aspects of a text, the number of chapters, the number of colors, the number of different shots. But so far nobody has figured out how to measure the inherent quality of those objective aspects. And that’s a good thing. Representing a freedom to create art without the belief that deviating from a norm inherently reduces the quality of your work. Not to insist there is no meaning, but so that no one can insist that meaning for you. So no. There’s no such thing as objectively bad art. At least, that’s my perspective. “Thank you very much.” Hey there folks, hope you all got something out of that video. As I admit, I’m only one person, and the purpose of this video is only to give an argument for my own perspective. Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to see comments on this topic down below. Once again, I’d like to thank Skillshare for helping make this episode possible. I really do recommend checking them out using the link down below. If you like my work, You can also consider chipping in over on my Patreon or Coffee for one-time donations. This channel is only made possible by the support of my viewers. 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Of course no matter how much you give, I can’t thank all of you enough for the sheer level of support You’ve provided my channel over the last few months. I hope I can continue to offer content you find genuinely interesting and thought-provoking. Other than that, thanks so much for watching. Have a great week. Love you all and stay safe.