Taken by itself, my previous post seems to imply that art, and all experience, essentially, is nothing but a subjective matter.  Essentially, it seems to promote a solipsistic understanding of reality, or at least  an unsatisfying Kantian of phenomenological understanding.  Therefore, I’m going to address another important element of art – the intrinsic value.  Without intrinsic value, everything is entirely subjective.  Michael Bay’s movies (generally) cause an enjoyable experience, so they are good.  Applying hedonic calculus, we potentially reach absurdities such as Transformers 2 being objectively better than Casablanca, because more people have had an enjoyable experience from the former.  Similarly, the Big Mac is a greater artistic achievement than the Mona Lisa.

As formerly established, I am using art and author in an extremely broad sense.  “Art” is “something that is crafted,” be it a sentence, a painting, a sculpture, a tool, a house, or, any (crafted) object.  The author is the person(s) that do the crafting.

The value of the art can be measured on the basis of the function of the art.  The function is – essentially – an interpretation of the art.  The function is generally understood to be the interpretation based on the author’s intent, but this is not necessarily the case.  Art can be directed toward any function, just as it can be interpreted in any manner.  As an interpretation, some functions fit better than others.  This is usually stated as “X is a [value] Y.”  A pillow is a terrible hammer.  Breakfast is an excellent way to start the day.  A coat is a serviceable blanket.   These judgments measure the validity of the interpretation.  For art as it is more generally understood – books, films, painting, sculpture – the function is often more complex, or simply directed to a higher end than basic utility.  They are often understood in terms of catharsis, paths to self-knowledge, or analogies providing context, among many other functions.  This leads us to the second prong of determining the value of art – the nobility of the function.

“Nobility” is a loaded term, but one I feel appropriate for the discussion.  In this case, I associate “nobility” with something I believe to be uncontroversial – Maslow’s Hierarchy.  Essentially, the higher up the hierarchy, the more noble the function.  This nobility functions as a sort of “multiplier” of value.  Something that is nourishing is inherently good, but not as good as something that elevates the soul.  Something that is harmful to the body is not nearly as bad as something that harms the soul.

Applying this nobility, we have a meal set before us.  If the meal is nutritious, it is good, particularly in that one functionality.  If the meal is a still life, it is bad as a source of nutrition, but is of a higher value than the simple meal, as it engages the audience at a higher level.  Following Maslow’s hierarchy, we should not reject the lesser art, as we need nutrition to survive, and we cannot appreciate the more noble needs while the baser remain unmet.

This leads us to where the judgment gets particularly nuanced – art that affects the different hierarchies in variance between the positive and the negative.  If you skip dinner and stay up late to read a book, the experience of the art is bad for you on the baser level, but, for the sake of the argument, it is assumed that the experience of reading the book fulfills more noble needs, creating a net good.  It is acceptable, at the least, to occasionally forego the baser needs for a more noble occupation, though continued neglect of any need is itself bad.

Another example, let us consider the MMO – the Massively Multiplayer Online game.  These games generally encourage factionalism.  On the positive side, you have a kinship with your faction, fostering friendship, even a sense of family, as well as building esteem in your respect for self and others.  But factions also encourage division, and a loss of respect for others.  The value then becomes a question of the function.  If a player plays a MMO to “pwn n00bs,” it is much more likely that, though he likely builds he own self-esteem, it comes at a loss of respect for others.  If, on the other hand, one plays for the sense of camaraderie and competition, he will build up on many levels of needs, with few needs being neglected or harmed (except, of course, those pesky bottom rung needs).

But this then turns from objectivity back to subjectivity, or at least, it appears so.  We then return to the nature of “interpretation.”  You cannot judge art without interpretation, as art cannot be experienced without interpretation.  Michaelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and thousands of other works of great art can be interpreted in a base, prurient sexual manner.  According to art critics, anything vaguely rectangular, triangular, or circular is sexual in character.  A meal can be appreciated for flavor or appearance as easily as nutrition.

So we must judge art in light of a certain function, and make that function clear in our judgment.  Furthermore, it is best to judge art by its most common function (the cultural reception), or perhaps its most fitting functions.  A butane lighter is (generally) a terrible painting tool, but people assume that a terrible butane lighter is one that fails at the most fitting functions of a butane lighter – creating sparks and producing flame.  The nature of this judgment is probably best recognized among film.  Schindler’s List is a terrible feel-good movie, but it is recognized that the function of the movie is catharsis, not feel-good, so people consider it a good movie, not a bad one.

So, in conclusion, the value of art lies in comparing the function (interpretation) to the object, to determine applicability.  Then, after determining the proper function, is should then be judged on its nobility.  A filling meal is good, but not great.  A sublime feast that changes how you look at the world is great.  Junk food may be on balance bad, but entertainment designed to fulfill base desires at the expense of your faith in humanity is terrible.

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