The Beauty of Subjectivity

Written by Kimberly Roth : April 8, 2008

not artyou got to look outside your eyes
you got to think outside your brain
you got to walk outside you life
to where the neighborhood changes

~ Ani DiFranco

A year ago, the Washington Post ran an article about an experiment in art appreciation. I held on to that article, knowing it would come in handy someday. Given the lively discussion on poetry we’ve had lately, I decided the time had come for it to be unearthed.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… or listener, as the case may be. Art emerges from an individual’s perceptions and experiences, and it is received through the lenses of others’ unique backgrounds. Some art is created in response to more universally acknowledged truths, and therefore speaks easily to many people. Other art is created out of a highly unique experience, and may communicate only with a choice few.

What is art?

Once upon a time, art = beauty.

But who decides what is beautiful?

For many, art = communication.

Swirling colors, soaring rhythms and succinct combinations of words serve to express what our soul cannot otherwise utter.

What is art?

We could say that art is the expression of emotions and ideas through various mediums.

But is that enough?

Communication is a two-sided process. The speaker expresses herself, the listener processes what is being communicated, and responds to the message she has received. So it is with art. The artist creates something outside of himself to express and understanding of something he has experienced within himself. Once the art has been created, it is out there, vulnerable to the receptivity of other people.

Back to the article, what makes an artist great?

So much in art is related to the context in which it is presented. When a virtuoso assumes the identity of a street performer, does their art decrease in value? According to this grand little experiment, it does indeed.

What is it that convinces us art is valuable?

I submit for your approval, mass appeal.

Despite our best intentions, we humans are a cognitively simple society. We like our choices well defined and served up in clever packaging. We like commercials that tell us which choice will make our life better. We like options that remind us we are sane because, after all, we share the opinions of others. We like things to fit neatly into an orderly coded filing system. When we’re not quite sure where something belongs, we don’t know what to do with it, and we either sit down and think about it or we toss it aside. We haven’t left ourselves much time for the “sit and think” option.

Or, perhaps, I’m just speaking of myself.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I challenged myself to write more poems in April. I am not a poet by nature. I fear that someone may not like what I have written, or it may seem elementary, or a word may not mean quite what I thought it meant. Yet, I write. In the moment, the words are coming from an experience, and I have to believe that can speak into someone else’s life.

I also must acknowledge that it will not speak to everyone.

So how do we respond to another’s offering of art?

Objectivity is not a choice, unless we want to turn art into something lifeless and mechanical.

How about trying to see it through different lenses, walk around it in different shoes, respond to it from different perspectives? Perhaps it speaks to you right where you are, and you can interact with ease. Perhaps you encounter it in a cordial fashion, but walk away without much to say. Perhaps you sit together in a coffee shop, late into the night, struggling to communicate through an exhaustive conversation, only to leave more confused than you entered. That’s ok.

Communicate your attempt.

We don’t all connect with every person we meet, and we will not connect with all of the art we encounter, but let us strive to understand the detachment. In the process, we may not only gain another perspective, but we will learn much more about our own.

photo by chrisjohnbeckett

for further reading . . .

  • None Found