The Commerce Journal


January 6, 2012

Exploring the ‘science’ of good taste

Why a critic’s opinion is more important than mine (or yours)

COMMERCE — I‘d like to think of myself as cultured when it comes to art, specifically books and music. And while I’ve never listened to jazz with any regularity or read Moby Dick, I do recognize the difference between good art and bad art.

Now here’s the part where you might argue that good and bad are subjective labels. But they aren’t, or at least they aren’t as subjective as you might think. There is a difference between good art, and art that you like.

It’s why The Scarlet Letter is a better book than The Da Vinci Code, even if most people will only read the latter book. It’s why Bob Dylan is the best songwriter of all time, even though you don’t sing Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts in the shower. It’s why more people will see any of the Twilight movies than Citizen Kane.

That’s the problem with discussing art with many people. They confuse their personal taste with good art. There is nothing wrong with having your own personal taste, and in those confines you have absolute freedom to love any sappy, over the top, throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care song that floats your boat. I love plenty of music that I would characterize as unoriginal, repetitive and shallow. But I would never argue that this music is, in fact, good.

There are plenty of movies that I love that are over the top, lack good character development, are void of original or innovative plot points and rely on poor dialogue. But, if discussing said movies with anyone, I would be the first to admit that these movies do not deserve to be categorized by the Library of Congress as holding significant cultural value.

Now who determines what is good or bad art? Simply put, critics do. Many people abhor professional art critics, often considering them to be snobby, stand-offish and generally too uptight for their own good. But the fact remains that these people are professionals. It doesn’t mean that their opinion is necessarily always right. The majority of the time however, it is, or at least as “right” as an opinion on something as subjective as art could be.

It’s always funny to me when people scoff at art that is critically acclaimed. These individuals spend their lives watching, listening to, absorbing, studying and reviewing art in their particular field. Their opinion is far more valid than your’s or mine, because they have devoted their professional lives to it. That doesn’t meant that you have to love every single critically-acclaimed piece of art that is produced, or that you can’t be bored through “Lawrence of Arabia.” But please, don’t pretend like your opinion on art is more valuable than a critic’s.

Because it’s not.

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