This rather technical question is supported (and supports at the same time) by multiple theoretical questions, for instance, what makes stuff good? What type of stuff are we talking about? Is there something in common for this stuff? What is “stuff” anyway? If you look at all different kinds of stuff in an analytical way, trying to evaluate it, you will see a pattern of specific traits which affect your, and everybody else’s, opinion on the stuff. They are the main topic for discussion in the papers given to us (“Taste for makers” by Paul Graham, “Knowledge and the Arts” by Mr. Macknight, the IB’s knowledge framework for Arts), they are represented by the terms beauty (or aesthetics) and taste. Perhaps, they are the key to understanding how to make good stuff?
Beauty and aesthetics are something everyone talks about, but no one really understands. One, looking at a piece of art, may say that it is beautiful, while others may say that is hideous. We can see this practically everywhere, debates on art’s beauty are present throughout both the professional community and regular people who are interested in going to an art gallery from time to time. If anyone can argue about art’s beauty and aesthetics and can have their own opinion which can be criticized, can we then safely say that beauty is subjective?
“Many philosophers speculated on the importance of beauty. At the low end, beauty merely provides decoration to make life more pleasant, at the high end, the experience of beauty was thought to elevate the soul toward the heights of purity, wisdom, and (sometimes) religious exaltation.”
“Knowledge and the Arts” by Eric T. MacKnight
If beauty provides nothing more than “decoration”, then anyone can judge it. If beauty is about more than just making stuff pretty and pleasant to the eye, there must be some criteria for analysis. However, we cannot deny that beauty has a subjective part to it, emotion will always affect the knowledge given by the artwork, despite the reason at work. Events happening in one’s life will reflect the said one will perceive an artwork. So there have to be two parts when evaluating an artwork, subjective and objective, such as an “a bridge between personal knowledge and shared knowledge” (from IB The Arts knowledge framework.)
If we have the subjective part, then what makes the objective part? If it is objective, then it can be quantified, measured, determined, It has to follow certain rules. To both create and evaluate art from a technical standpoint, one must be proficient in the art mastery, without which one simply would not recognize the work done and it’s quality.
“’A lot of [applicants to the MIT] seem smart,’ he said. ‘What I can’t tell is whether they have any kind of taste’”
“Taste for Makers”, by Paul Graham
It is then taste which makes the objective part. And while a lot of people will say that “taste is subjective”, I would like to argue that it is… kind of both. To have taste, you must have the technical knowledge to be able to see the mastery behind the work. However, we are human beings, affected by emotion. Life events, while being the subjective part of beauty, cannot affect the technical knowledge given by the reason. Perhaps the analyst has a personal preference for a certain type of painting technique or thinks negatively of electronic piano, because of personal life events. Another knowledge question arises from this conclusion, “How can the knowledge ever be pure from subjectivity?”. Whatever the answer may be, it does not limit taste, and therefore the beauty of artwork from being objective, as the technical analysis always persists.
So, what is the stuff and how do you make it good? One answer is: we don’t know. If we cannot affect the subjective part of beauty, because it is more unique to the one perceiving art, we have to work on the objective part. Yet, no matter how hard we try, there will always be someone whose subjective view covers the way for the objective analysis. So, maybe a different kind of question should be asked, “To what extent can the analysis be made objective?” and “Do we even have to make the stuff good?”. At the end of it all, it’s all about asking the right questions.