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7 - Identifying and evaluating art

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2014

Richard Eldridge
Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania
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Why we go on arguing about which works are good

The identification and evaluation of objects or performances as works of art is often a process fraught with passion and difficulty. We care about some favorite works that we regard as successful – certain books or movies or paintings – in the way we care about our friends. They appeal to us both immediately and deeply. We often remember them, revisit them, reread them, or rehear them. We recommend them to others, and we are then pleased if the work engages them and sometimes disappointed or troubled if it does not. Prices in the art market and publishing industry depend on what people respond to, as does support by governments and foundations for work in progress.

We often have trouble, however, saying why we respond to a work in the way we do, especially when we are faced with original work. We worry about being taken in, and we can be hesitant to display our enthusiasms. Yet most of us cannot help giving ourselves over to some objects or performances, even to some new and difficult work. Just how and why are we moved to do this? Are there any procedures for being right (at least more often) about which works genuinely have artistic value? What are the relative roles of feeling (liking) and reason in our responses to art? Does reason even play a role? Are or can there be experts in the identification and evaluation of works of artistic value, authorities whose verdicts deserve our deference?

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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