Friday, October 13, 2006

Stirring the Pudding of Art

Aesthetic judgement is a judgment. Believing that there is no viable way of determining or making decisions about the relative worth or quality of a work of art is an aesthetic itself. Holding this view allows you to believe that Shakespeare cannot be shown to be superior in any way to Joan Rivers hawking jewelry on the Home Shopping Network or that the Nobel Prize for literature could just as well go to Barbara Cartland as Alexander Scholzenitzen.

Aesthetic relativism is no more inescapable than moral relativism. If you argue that there is no moral underpinning upon which to favor one action over another, you are taking a moral position. Amorality expresses a belief about the nature of the world and your position in it. Whether in art or morality, I would argue that there is no such thing as not having an opinion as not having an opinion is an opinion.

Relativism in art, morality, behavior, and politics has been encouraged in recent years by its adherents tarring anyone who attempts to stake out differences with the dirty label--"elitist". If you press for gradations of quality or ethical superiority of one position over another, you are anti-democratic, treasonous, arrogant, intolerant, racist, or worse.

The paradox here is that if you follow the path of relativism, you would seem to be required to attack any sort of education, improvement, or differenciation that might move the human race toward something better than a lowest perceived common denominator. And by doing that you make a fascinating declaration of your own superior and elite status. You would like to make absolutely sure that no future generation will be as advanced, as capable, as well educated, and as moral as you.

Thanks, but no thanks from someone who still will insist that Bill is over Joan on the quality scale.

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