Last week my spouse and I had lunch with another couple at the river. The husband was holding forth on the subject of art appreciation. “If someone thinks that stick-figures are the pinnacle of art, than who can say otherwise?” he challenged.
“Surely you don’t mean to say that a drawing a stick-figure is the cultural equal of, say, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?” I ventured.
“Well, why not, if that’s what you like?” he said “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
This kind of postmodern belief – cultural or artistic relativism, is deeply ingrained. What is good and beautiful and worthy depends wholly on the point of view of the person making the assessment – nothing has inherent or objective value in relation to anything else.
Not surprisingly, artistic relativism goes hand in hand with moral relativism. Just we can no longer claim that the common law of England is morally superior to the Sharia law of Saudi Arabia, symphonic music can no longer be adjudged a greater cultural achievement than Waiata or Krill-Krill.
Contra my lunch companion, I think you art and music can be evaluated outside of opinion. There is an objective order, discernable by reason, that tells us that this: Is better than this:
And that this:
Is better than this:
Something we will be thinking about in the coming weeks.