Art is subjective so we should stop trying to objectively classify it

This strip was drawn and written by Randall Munroe for his web comic XKCD. The link to the original is as follows:

Good morning everyone,

The subject of today’s post is that art (and written works fall under art) is subjective and therefore we should not try to objectively classify art.

To begin with, let’s try to define art. “The Devil’s Dictionary,” a satirical work, defines art as “This word has no definition” πŸ˜‰ (NOTE: The Devil’s Dictionary was written by Ambrose Bierce and first published in 1906.) Conversely, Merriam-Webster defines art as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines art as “the making of objects, images, music, etc. that are beautiful or that express feelings.”

Those are broad definitions. Presumably, based on those definitions, in order to prove that a work of artwork was bad it would be necessary to provide evidence that the work in question was not beautiful, did not express feelings, did not require skill, and was not a product of creativity. So, we’ll try that approach on the following:

No apparent skill was used to make this and there is no evidence that anyone classified it as beautiful.

While the above may not fit within the definitions typical used for art, it still sold for $120,000 and was showcased during a Miami art fair. Apparently, someone felt it was worth more than any size-fetish work has ever been valued. (NOTE: That is to say, no size-themed erotic work ever sold for over $100,000.) The duct-taped fruit was meant to satirize the art world. So, arguably it fulfilled the purpose of expressing feelings and thus could be considered good art. (NOTE: For an opinion as to why it was bad, see this article from the Insider.)

(SIDE NOTE: One’s mind boggles when considering what magnificent creations a size-fetish artist could bring to life with $120,000 at their disposal!)

Let’s then try to set a standard for literature. We could select a dictionary and declare that all words must be used ONLY in the manner prescribed by that reference book. Accordingly, we could make claims like “lips should never be described as plush” because that is not in accordance with our dictionary.

However, unless a language is no longer used, it is constantly changing. It is mutable. Any attempt to prevent words from changing their meanings would resemble King Canute the Great demonstrating to his courtiers that he has no power over the rising tide. Put another way, any attempt to render a living language immutable is guaranteed to fail.

“Canute Rebukes His Courtiers” by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville

Many English words have been used “incorrectly,” or at variance with definitions, with enough frequency that they eventually acquire new meanings. For example, the definition of “whelm” means “to overcome in thought or feeling.” (NOTE: That is according to Merriam-Webster.) Therefore, adding “over” and making it “overwhelm” is redundant. Furthermore, “overwhelm” is also given as a meaning for “whelm” ❗ Why are we wasting four extra letters to write “overwhelm,” when whelm means the exact same thing?! Presumably, English speakers thought that it sounded better to strengthen a word that already meant to be overcome in thought or feeling; so, they wanted it to literally mean “over” overcome πŸ˜‰

Apparently, English is like the elements and cares not for the desires of people to economize and standardize it. (SIDE NOTE: Check out the following video from NerdSync concerning how the Young Justice character Robin uses “whelm.”)

It is understandable that people would want to ossify meanings and render them unchangeable. If a writer suddenly decides that the word “blue” meant the same as the word “red” then it is highly probable that their intent would be misunderstood. Criticisms of written works should not hesitate to identify words that cause confusion and make a work difficult to understand. Additionally, small errors can have significant consequences. For example, omitting the letter “s” at the end of an English noun may make it unclear if the writer meant one of an item or more. So, minor details matter.

However, there is a certain tipping point at which a word switches or assumes new meaning. Sometimes, a wrong definition becomes right.

Obviously, it is not only English that “misuses” words. The German language took at least one French word and used it incorrectly so often that it became standard. Take for example the word “Pommes” which literally means “apple” in French, but is used for the meaning of French fries (fried potatoes) in German. (NOTE: The pronunciation is also different, “pomm-es” in German and “pomm” in French.) As evidence for Pommes representing French fries, the following image was taken from a German menu:

Now I’m hungry :\ Anyone got 7 Euro I can borrow? πŸ˜€

For further proof of its widespread usage, one need only search for the phrase “Schnitzel mit Pommes” (schnitzel with pommes).

A search using that phrase on Google returned over 9 million hits in late August 2020.

If there were overseers attempting to dissuade people from misusing the French term then they failed.

Also note that the French term “pom frit” means “fried apples,” but is used to represent “fried potatoes.”

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with German speakers taking a word from French and using it differently. It is not a crime to take a word and alter it. Similarly, if someone takes issue with writers using words in ways that perhaps expand their original uses that is unfortunate, but potentially futile. Words change, regardless of the wishes and desires of critics and editors. (NOTE: Or should I write “irregardless” of the wishes and desires of critics and editors? πŸ˜€ )

Who among us can authoritatively state what meanings a word should possess? Can anyone step forth and claim that using “veggies” instead of “vegetables” is wrong? (NOTE: At least one person tried πŸ˜‰ ) There is no ambiguity with “veggies.” If a person states that they will eat steak with veggies for dinner will others assume that person had a banana with their steak? No. Will bystanders wonder if they meant steak with chocolate chip cookies? Again, no. Veggies is shorter than vegetables and thus takes less time to say and to write. Why not use veggies?

Perhaps a counter-argument is that vegetables is a longer word and thus better, somehow. Using that same reasoning, we could forbid the usage of “split” and substitute “bifurcate” instead. We could also outlaw “beautiful” and mandate the use of “pulchritudinous.” Does anyone think that is a good idea?

Alternatively, perhaps it is the “ie” ending that makes veggie sound too cute or childish, like other words with the same ending such as “doggie” or “cutie.” However, that rationale apparently does not apply to words like “injuries,” “maladies,” or “remedies.” At least there is no evidence of anyone classifying them as such. It’s almost as if the rules governing human discourse were a bit arbitrary πŸ™‚

Personally, I am not always a fan of the direction that English evolves. In particular, the relatively modern trend of not capitalizing letters at the beginning of sentences or proper nouns is rather vexing. I fervently hope that I will never see the day when that becomes the norm…

^ Solo picturing the dismantling of sacred capitalization rules.

But, just as the sea ignored the commands of King Canute the Great, the English language ignores me.

Furthermore, there can be an elitism at work if an editor favors “standard” words over colloquial equivalents. Perhaps a writer refers to gnats and mosquitoes as “No-See-Ums” and “Skeeters.” At least, those are terms that I myself used as a boy. Shall we judge those from provincial regions who use colloquial words as somehow lesser than those who traffic in the “refined” tongue of their nation’s cultural and political capitals? (Did I mention “skeeter eaters”? ‘Cause they’re a thing too!)

Ken Darby was an American composer whose film scores received three Academy Awards and one Grammy Award.

Perhaps the rules crafted earlier in this writing could be dismissed as overly simplistic or more harshly rebuked as specifically designed to fail. Thus, the question arises, what rules would be complex enough to accurately judge literature? Can humans craft a flowchart of such complexity to prove itself worthy of the task?

NOTE: This is actually a chart depicting the romantic relationships of penguins at an aquarium in Kyoto. I’m using it here to represent a complicated diagram, and because penguins are cute πŸ˜‰

One can read all the books in the world on how to write and how to paint, and then use the information to craft tools to judge art, but that still wouldn’t affect the fact that art is subjective.

Now, it can be tempting to assign greater worth to those works which required significant effort. However, history is full of iconic pieces which required minimal labor. For one example, Jani Lane, frontman and songwriter for the rock and roll band Warrant, wrote the hit song “Cherry Pie” in one night on a pizza box. (NOTE: That is according to an interview he gave with cable television network VH1. One source, which I could not verify, stated that he wrote the song in about 15 minutes.) Despite the short amount of time involved in its creation, Cherry Pie earned the band a great deal of money and was named the 56th best hard rock song by VH1 in 2009. (NOTE: Beating Europe’s “The Final Countdown” which was only ranked 66th. Speaking for myself, The Final Countdown is better than Cherry Pie!)

Similarly, Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” look simple and presumably required relatively little effort. Yet, according to an article from Phaidon Press, Warhol considered the Campbell’s Soup Can to be his favorite work.

Note that these cans are identical except for the different labels denoting the various soups. They remind me of giantess videos which often differ only in very minor details. Ergo, did you like that last video? Here it is again, except this time the model is wearing a blue bikini instead of a green one. Isn’t that innovative? :/

Now, I would like to discuss a very personal example of an ostensibly simple piece that nonetheless is valued highly. (NOTE: Before I begin, I want to warn readers that the next few paragraphs involve a brief discussion of someone dying at an early age due to disease.) It involves a small watercolor painting, about five inches by seven, in the entryway of my home. It sits not far from the doorway so the members of my family pass by it every day. On this painting is a young ballerina, representing my oldest daughter, standing on her toes and utilizing what I believe is called the en pointe technique. The ballerina’s left arm is extended with her fingers touching the fingers of another, shorter, ballerina. The other dancer is wearing a dark blue dress and is clearly younger. She represents my youngest daughter. The faces of both dancers are blank, completely absent of any features. This painting is unfinished and will forever remain so. The ground below the dancers is solid green without complex texture. The sky is a plain blue with some white lines to depict a light shining down onto the surface upon which the two girls stand.

Someone might see this and describe it as “below average.” Lacking in so much detail that we would be better suited by replacing it with a reproduction of one of the works from French artist Edgar Degas. (NOTE: Degas is famous for his many paintings featuring ballerinas such as “The Dance Class” – La Classe de Danse) That person might ask “Why put that painting in such a prominent place if something else objectively better exists?”

Such a statement might be considered reasonable, Degas is famous and known by millions of people. In contrast, the artist who painted that work in my entryway is not famous. Her name is not known by millions of people. I first got to know her in 2011. My family and I provided assistance while she sought medical care. We only knew her for a brief time, but during that time she created the watercolor painting. This artist was a beautiful, smart young lady, but she never received public acclaim or great financial rewards during her lifetime. She passed away in 2012, due to cancer, a few days after her 20th birthday. No museum houses her works. No magazine article sings her praises. But, we appreciate the brief time that we spent with her. We value her art. The piece she gave us is worth more to us than anything ever created by Degas. Its value cannot be justified objectively, but its value persists nonetheless.

Michelle Malone is an American singer and songwriter who founded the SBS Records company.

Returning to the ultimate implications of art being subjective, if a person understands that fact then they should also accept that there is no good or bad art and that artists cannot improve or worsen their creations.

Compare that to things which do have objective measures. A person could order a sandwich and measure it with a ruler to determine its length, they could weigh it on a scale to determine its weight, and they could insert a food thermometer to determine its temperature. Length, weight, and temperature are each unbiased measurements. Despite the observer’s emotions and feelings, the length, weight, and temperature of the object they are measuring will not change.

In contrast, how could an artist improve their art, the object, if the assessment of its value was completely dependent on the observer, the subject? An illustrator could learn to depict human beings with proper proportions and accurate musculature, but that would not make their drawings better or worse. That likely sounds laughable to some, but if you look again at the top of this page you’ll see art from XKCD which uses only stick figures. In my experience, stick figure drawings were always considered easy and not classified as “real art.” I have precious little drawing ability; yet, even my mediocre skills could faithfully recreate stick figures. Nonetheless, XKCD’s comic strips have a wider distribution than many more realistic drawings.

Artists can vary the lines the draw, alter the words they use, change the colors they paint with, hire different performers for their plays, give different directions to those performers, etc. However, none of those changes make art better.

Unfortunately, finding examples of people trying to claim that instances of popular art have an objective value is not difficult, such as in the thumbnails, above and below, of two videos from YouTube.

Indeed, this very blog contains posts in which seemingly objective claims have been made. Statements like “the writing quality is above average” or “the special effects were above average for giantess clips” could quite reasonably be construed as attempting to assert objective value. Similarly, claims that videos in which performers do not perform naked are “more like art in a way” than videos in which performers do perform naked could be understood to mean that using naked performers make a performance not art. However, those are merely opinions.

Hopefully, I have established by now that all standards regarding art and literature are personal. Thus, every review and recommendation on this blog is subjective. The intent is to consider as many perspectives as possible for size-fetish media. So, reviews of a giantess gleefully killing tiny people will more than likely not be recommended to fans of gentle giantesses. However, ultimately the value of a particular work must be determined individually, like all art. There is no way, despite whatever Herculean effort a person may exert, to make an objective review. It is just not possible.

That said, it feels overly cumbersome to add “in my opinion” to each and every statement on this blog. Therefore, future posts will still use verbiage that may come across as objective. However, readers should understand that all assessments are opinions. Effort will be made to contextualize each work and consider how others may experience it, but there are no definitive standards.

“Mirth or passion, sentiment or reflection; which ever of these most predominates in our temper, it gives us a peculiar sympathy with the writer who resembles us” – Quote taken from Scottish philosopher David Hume’s “Of the Standard of Taste

Personally, I think we need more criticism, negative and positive, of size-fetish works. The community would be well-served with more discussion of how those works make us feel. Discussion that includes more than trite statements such as Random_Artist1 is great, Random_Artist2 is great, Random_Artist3 is great, etc. The motivation to only voice positive comments and silence negative comments is understandable. However, it does a disservice. Furthermore, it’s patronizing. Such an approach assumes that artist egos are too fragile to bear the weight of reality and hear an honest perspective. Note, this is not a call to be mean-spirited. It is most certainly not a justification for ad hominem attacks, or a means to hurt others under the thin veil of media criticism.

However, there should also be recognition that it is impossible not to offend someone. For proof of that statement, choose to follow a religion. Alternatively, if you prefer, choose not to follow a religion. The particular choice is immaterial as the end result is the same. Choose to be a Protestant, your choice will be considered wrong by Catholics. Choose to be a Catholic, your choice will be considered wrong by Protestants. Choose to be an atheist, and you offend them both! πŸ˜‰ You cannot make a choice that satisfies all three groups, and it should go without saying that those three represent only a few of the many, many ways humans differentiate themselves. To exist is to offend. So, seeking not to offend anyone is also a poor approach to discussion. To quote British author Alan Moore, “There is such a thing as being offensively inoffensive …”

That’s it for today folks, the subjective nature of art has been on my mind for awhile and I’m glad I finally explained how that pertained to my reviews. On that topic, Thursday’s post will be a review. Until then friends, keep growing!

All Rights Reserved.

6 thoughts on “Art is subjective so we should stop trying to objectively classify it

  1. Very interesting and well-thought out. Thanks for sharing.

    May I ask about your educational
    background? By the way you critique and write, seems like you have studied English or literature.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words! Regarding my educational background, I have not specifically studied English or literature per se, but I did earn a Master of Science degree in International Relations.


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