Just had a great discussion about art over at Evil Editor's blog. It started out as a discussion about Charles Burns's graphic novel Black Hole, but morphed into a discussion about novels vs. graphic novels, and then about objectivity and subjectivity in art.
I'm of two minds about objectivity and subjectivity. I think, for the artist - for me, at least - there has to be objective criteria in order to make good art. There are just certain things composers and writers and artists need to know in order to produce anything at all, let alone something good.
Picasso knew just as much about painting as DaVinci. He deliberately took a different route when he saw that painters were making paintings as realistic as photographs. Where does realism go from there? So at first glance if his paintings look like they were drawn by a child, does that make him a bad painter? Or does a closer inspection reveal something more? Do viewers need a greater sensitivity when viewing Picasso versus DaVinci? What about that velvet Elvis?
But once the art reaches the viewer, all bets are off. You can't tell people what to like or what to appreciate. It's like granting permission to people to like certain things. You can't tell someone else what they should value. (Quoting Ril - which was a great way to put it.)
I see this in music all the time, especially classical. Classical musicians moan the death of their music, that no one truly appreciates the hours of arduous practice or the beauty of the music. People would rather watch Survivor than go to a symphony. And I agree that music education is something we're missing in schools nowadays. (El Sistema, I think, has the best chance of "saving" classical music - see this post.)
But I don't mourn the death of classical and jazz. I think there's a hunger that's still out there; many people seem to realize they're missing something. I'm always amazed in my teaching just how hungry my students are. I think many teachers (myself included) make the assumption that most people who take lessons don't really want to learn - or they want music taught in such a way that it's made easy.
But it's not easy. Even for prodigies, music is hard. That's its nature. And I'm always surprised at how many students accept that early on. Not all of them do, but most can sense if I'm going easy on them, and nine times out of ten they lose interest. The harder I am, the more they seem to like it (generally). So I think there's definitely a hunger out there.
But you know what? Different tastes is what makes the world go 'round. That, and whatever force keeps the Earth spinning on its axis.