Judge Art Now!!

I frequently meet people who are scared to judge Art. This is fascinating to me, because as I understand it, Art is an inherently personal experience, a gift from the artist. It is mine, and so mine to judge, like bad breath or bad shoes. I feel comfortable assessing a Van Gogh as second rate, a Pollock as mediocre, or an unknown coffee-shop drawing as brilliant. It is a sign of the (perceived) irrelevance Art has in modern life that many do not feel licensed to judge it.

Most lay-people evaluate Art (be it music, visual art, or dance) with simple standards. Discouraging the use of these standards does us no service. It is never in an artist’s best interest to imply that he/she is more intelligent, or sophisticated, than the audience. It is interesting to consider the public’s disinclination to judge Art in contrast to its inclination toward the judgment of sport. Sports teams, which have a loyal community based on geography, are the subject of constant – and usually completely uninformed – discussion.

The act of judgment is an act of ownership, and investment. Sports teams have public support, in part, because the public is empowered to critique them. Art is reliant on encouraging the engagement and investment of its community. How does one encourage engagement and investment? By encouraging judgment. Burdening potential stakeholders with the correct means to evaluate an experience is asking too much. As we move forward to the discovery of the Art and audience of tomorrow encouraging judgment could be meaningful to the growth of the Arts community.

This was published in the dance magazine Contact Quarterly a few months ago as a letter to the editor. It’s the short short version of a 1500 word piece.

I would add here that I find sports to be a common ground in our society. When I don’t know what to say to people ‘out in the world’, I can usually strike up an engaging conversation on sports. (I’m not faking it; I do genuinely like and follow some sports.) Perhaps in the 18th or 19th century it was different. Maybe then people talked about sonatas, witches, or taxes. But I find comfort – and I think many do – in the common shallow shared passion that sports provide.

I do not mean to imply that sports are bad. I am simply trying to explain the mass appeal. A conversation on the relative merits of sports vs. arts for children and adults will be forthcoming.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.