Is art subjective?
This is a heart-to-heart from myself to the photographic community. I've written some articles that were pretty harsh on certain types of "photographers". I feel strongly about these topics I had written about and still hold these views to this day. However with the salt, you need the sugar, and that is the purpose of this article. We need to understand a few facts, ladies and gentlemen! So let's get to it!
Photographers have a high calling, as I've said before. It is important to realize the importance that we as photographers have, and your responsibility as one that freezes time! What you capture, especially for people may well remain a family heirloom which will last generations! Your photographs may be the only representation of the individual you are photographing ever - think about that for a second! You may well have the incredible privilege of being able to immortalize a person for their family in a photograph! Don't you think it is vitally important that the art behind the profession is understood, followed and executed for these photographs? Wouldn't you want that for your own photographs after you're gone?
Objective Rules and Facts
I've spoken with several people which made ridiculous statements about the subjectivity of photography and art, arguing that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and all that crap - at which point I bust out laughing at the ignorance! It is post-modern lunacy which strives to make all things relative that I am laughing at, not the individual - after all, ignorance is bliss!
Relativism is a self defeating argument and no serious thinker can possibly claim that all things are relative - why? Because you would have to make an absolute statement that "relativism is absolutely true" at which point, you've just violated your very own principle of no absolutes in move #1 - check mate! See what I mean? Relativism is stupidity, people! There ARE absolutes! There ARE rules! No you CAN'T do what ever you please! Don't believe me?
I challenge you to drive down your interstate freeway, on a motorcycle, at 3 AM, butt naked doing 95 MPH - see how far you get! Understand now? You CAN'T do what ever you want, you are the source of NOTHING within yourself - you don't have an authority or source within yourself. Even inspiration itself, which is the guiding principle in all creatives, is an externally influencing force - you see, you get inspired, you then create based upon inspiration. But creativity has a framework in which you can create and have a sustainable base. One cannot simply create without any founding principles, and then argue that "it's art, so it's subjective" because you, in yourself have NOTHING to offer in an absolute sense. What you can offer is a work that can be understood within a pre-existing framework which had existed before you, and upon which you rely to build your idea.
Let me give you a practical example of why it is impossible to conclude that "art is subjective" with an anecdote.
I'd like to introduce you to a concept that Ravi Zacharias, a philosopher which I hold in high esteem, said.
I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts.
He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.”
I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?”
He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.”
I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?”
He said, “That is correct.”
I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?”
All of a sudden there was silence.
You see, you and I can fool with the infrastructure as much as we would like, but we dare not fool with the foundation because it will call our bluff in a hurry.
You see, a foundation is built on absolutes, it must be in order for it to sustain that structure - that's not open to debate! Just the same, visual art has its own absolutes which manifest in rules and guidelines. These rules and guidelines were discovered by creatives the world over through many, many hundreds of years of study, application and improvement. These masters, throughout time spent massive chunks of their lives in the pursuit of understanding "what makes beauty" and have arrived at the conclusions which we hold as universal facts of visual beauty and attractiveness today.
Are you, as a creative arrogant enough to say that in a few years, at most, that you've held a camera, that you can undo hundreds of years of human experience and knowledge? Well, by making the statement "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" or "art is subjective", you're literally and directly claiming that all previous masters like Van Gogh, DaVinci, Rembrandt and so on, we're fools, and you know better! Ha! Go to the world and say that, see how far your "subjectivity" theory flies!
But of course, you're more intelligent than that. And this is why what I've said makes sense to you so far. Not because it is of my own concoction, but because what I've argued as a philosophical principle is a transcendent fact! Transcendent of humanity that is, and exists as an absolute. That means it's not up to you, or me to change it, but we both must acknowledge it, and the fact that this ideal represents the framework of visual beauty - period!
In conclusion, we have all realized that art is not subjective ultimately, and there are rules and guidelines which serve as borders and guiding principles that all humans can appreciate. And although there definitely is a subjective layer to art, that subjectivity is not anywhere near as relevant or important as the absolute foundations which I've conceptually described thus far.
Here's a more granular breakdown of the rules and guidelines I am referring to in this other great article - a must read!