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A Historical Theory of Art Criticism Author(s): James D. Carney Source: Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 28, No.

1 (Spring, 1994), pp. 13-29 Published by: University of Illinois Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3333153 Accessed: 02/06/2009 19:20
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A Historical Theory of Art Criticism


Conceptions of Art Criticism Edmund Burke Feldman writes in his Varietiesof Visual Experience,a widely used text in art education, that "whatever else it is, criticism is something we do. It is a practical activity (with theoretical underpinnings) in which it is possible to gain proficiency."' For those who share this intuition-and I count myself among them-the theoretical question that arises is, What exactly is this activity, and what reasons are there to think that it has any special art-critical status? Feldman's answer to the first question is that art criticism is an orderly and sequential process that is divided into four stages: description, formal analysis, interpretation, and judgment, where "judging a work of art means giving it rank in relation to other works of its type."2 What grounds are there for believing that art criticism that follows the model has any special status? In this article I present a model for type-relative criticism, somewhat along the general lines suggested by Feldman. And I offer my reasons for thinking that criticism of this sort has a special theoretical status. Following Feldman, I will focus on visual art, in particular paintings. In art criticism judgments are made about the value of artworks. Artworks have many kinds of values, including historical, functional, and aesthetic.3 I will understand art criticism to be directed to the aesthetic value or values of artworks. An artwork has aesthetic value only insofar as the experienceof it is valuable in some way. Following Jerrold Levinson, pleasure is not itself an entirely adequate account of aesthetic value since the latter includes an enrichment of human experience along various dimensions that include not only pleasure, but also cognitive, emotional, and visionary elements.4 Almost everyone at some time or other engages in art criticism. And there is a plurality of critical games.5 An examination of the diverse D. is James Carney a professorin the Departmentof Philosophyof ArizonaStateUniPhiJournal Aesthetics, versity,Tempe.He has most recentlypublishedin the British of and the and Research, Pacific losophy Phenomenological Philosophical Quarterly, the JournalofAesthetics Art Criticism. and Vol. Education, 28, No. 1, Spring1994 Journal Aesthetic of ?1994 Boardof Trusteesof the Universityof Illinois


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practices of art critics fails to reveal any established structure or method, much less any type-relative criticism tied to some analytical sequence of the kind Feldman suggests. But to conclude, simply from an empirical examination of practices, that no single approach to art criticism is any better than any other ignores the suggestion that there may be standards or norms for doing art criticism well-norms generally shared implicitly by practitioners even though, in practice, art criticism takes various forms.6 I suggest that there are such norms and that art criticism, when it is type-relative criticism linked to a sequence similar to the kind Feldman suggests, fulfills the normative principles for art criticism in a relatively replete way. If there are normative principles that mark the field of art criticism, what are they? First, critical evaluations, if they are to merit respect and recognition, should be backed up by reasons. And if a critical judgment of an artwork is supported by reasons, those reasons must have some plausibility for any reasonable person. Recognition of the merit of critical judgments needs to be safeguarded as much as possible from the influence of subjective and divergent tastes. Second, a relatively replete critical evaluation of an artwork should increase our understanding of the artwork. Third, the value features given in support of critical judgments should be features conducive to the enrichment of human experience along various dimensions. I turn first to an influential model for critical evaluation which, to a degree, satisfies these or some of the normative principles just enumerated. As it stands, I believe the model misfires. If I am right, its failures may be a guide to what is a more defensible model. A Model of Aesthetic Evaluation An influential model for art criticism has been generated by the work of Frank Sibley.7 According to this model, evaluating art is not an entirely subjective matter but involves reasons. The model divides most remarks about artworks in the context of art criticism into three basic groups: First (a) there are nonaesthetic judgments such as, There is a biomorphic shape in the bottom left corner. Such judgments are about descriptive or structural features of an artwork. Second (b) there are aesthetic judgments such as, The colors are vibrant or, The lines are dynamic. These judgments are about what are customarily taken to be aestheticfeatures-graceful, ossified, balanced, unified, garish, flamboyant, harmonious, rhythmic-where some kind of partial enumeration is used to characterize such features. Third (c) there is the overall verdict such as, This is a first-rate painting. Typically a-features are given as reasons for ascribing b-features, for example, This picture is balanced because of the position of the area of red. Aesthetic terms such as graceful and vibrant always apply because of the presence of features that, like curving or angular lines, color contrasts, placing of masses, are visible

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on a fundamental level of observation. Reasons given for c-judgments appeal to b-judgments, for example, This painting is a good (bad) painting because it is unified (shallow and lethargic). These reasons are limited sorts of justification, since they are primafacie grounds for merit. If a work has unity, then it has a certain primafacie merit. Crucial to this model is the account that is given for the relationship between aesthetic and structural features. There seem to be three ways on the model to understand the relation: (i) reductionism, (ii) positive condition governing (or the criteriological view), and (iii) negative condition governing.8 For both (i) and (ii) there are semantic rules for the application of aesthetic terms. For (i), "graceful" just means "has such-and-such structural features." For (ii), structural descriptions are sometimes enough logically to insure the applicability of an aesthetic term (although they are never necessary)-the description of an aesthetic feature is true (conceptually) of the artwork if certain structural features are present. For (iii), reasons given for ascribing an aesthetic feature do not reflect a conceptual connection but reveal the cause for the judgments. So "reasons" from (a) to (b) are explanations that reveal the source of the aesthetic feature, and such judgments, not being conceptually governed, cannot be made without the exercise of taste. Any nonaesthetic feature or features cited in such reasons can, in other artworks, fail to be supportive of the aesthetic feature. However, there are some judgments that do not require the exercise of taste because they are conceptually governed by negative conditions. There is a meaning connection that logically precludes certain aesthetic features, given certain structural features. For example, as a matter of semantics, it is impossible for a line that is thick, short, broken, and rough to be graceful. Sibley defends (iii). This model for critical judgments has much to recommend it. It stresses the perceptual nature of aesthetic features. Critical evaluations, c-judgments, are backed up by reasons directed to b-features; and for any reasonable person such reasons, if true, plausibly support c-judgments. The account explains why any reasonable person, so long as that person has the requisite language skills, taste, and contextual knowledge, can come to see that the artwork has aesthetic features. On this model, critical evaluation increases to some extent our understanding of the artwork. And the value of art is plausibly connected to the pleasure attending aesthetic features. But I believe the model has serious failings. I will focus on two. First, there are shortcomings to the accounts given for the relationship between aesthetic and structural features. For (i), there is the challenge of producing any definition for aesthetic terms that is extensionally adequate. Contra (ii), structural features cannot guarantee gracefulness or any other aesthetic feature unless they reflect analytic conditional statements. Lacking appeal to a conceptual grounding, (iii), relies on the judgment of the optimal perceiver


JamesD. Carney

for the correct ascription of an aesthetic feature to an artwork. If the ascription of an aesthetic feature appeals merely to the structural features of an artwork in, or not in, some historical context, then it is difficult to see how such judgments can be immunized from subjectivity and the exercise of taste.9 Second, formalism seems to be the underpinning of the popular model.10 The model supposes that the sole or primary justification for the worth of an artwork is the experience engendered by attention to formal features. Artistic value includes the pleasure that comes from reflecting on features such as unity and balance, but it is doubtful that it depends exclusively on such experiences. The value of artworks lies as much in cognitive, visionary, and social aspects as it does in the pleasurability of reflecting on formal features. Finally, any orientation toward formalism has trouble explaining the relation between interpreting an artwork and evaluating an artwork. I next turn to a type-relative model for art criticism. I hope I can make a plausible case that it is better directed to the normative principles of art criticism than is the model just reviewed, its principal rival. Before presenting the model, I will discuss some of the ideas that underpin it, although I will not make any sustained attempt to argue for them. Art Style To understand an artwork and find it valuable is to experience something that is in some way found to be worthwhile. In other places I have argued that considerations governing the individuality of artworks are best looked at as historical.1 Historical contextual factors such as style, category, period, and the like, affect both the status of something as art and the aesthetic features of an artwork in ways to be explained in this essay. I am in complete agreement with Monroe Beardsley when he wrote, "The first thing required to make criticism possible is an object to be criticized-something for the critic to interpret and to judge, with its own properties against which interpretations and judgments can be checked."12 Artworks exist as individuals and can be distinguished from interpretations of them and judgments about them in a historical manner that makes use of art style. On Sibley's model, aesthetic features are identified with value features such as tranquility, strength, or muted melancholy. There are, however, features of artworks that are neither aesthetic features in the value sense nor descriptive or structural features. I will call them primary aestheticfeatures. What I have in mind are the representational, expressive, or exemplified features that a visual artwork can have. These features of a visual artwork are what the perceiver with a proper background-one who is aware of the appropriate style-can see in the structured object by the exercise of understanding. Primary aesthetic features of an artwork depend on when it was made and the style to which it belongs as well as the visual color-shape

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structure made by the artist. Primary aesthetic features of an artwork are supervenient on its intrinsic features viewed relative to the appropriate stylistic category. For example, the ostensible structural features of a Brice Marden painting such as Summer Table (1972)-three rectangular panels, each with a different single color-cause it to look superficially very much like some painting by Ellsworth Kelly-for example, his Hard-edge Four Panels (1964), consisting of four identically shaped single-colored surfaces. Why do we perceive the former as having expressive features, but not the latter? Because Marsden was heir to the Expressionists, especially Bamett Newman and Mark Rothko. His paintings are not to be understood in terms of technical aspects or simply as collections of flat, unmodulated colors and shapes but in terms of something to which the spectator will react subjectively. Kelly, on the other hand, is working in a Hard-edge style where abstractions are stripped of all perspective, narrative, association, and, especially, emotional content. In the next section I present a model for type-relative art criticism for visual artworks that makes use of the notion of art style. I believe type is best understood as style. 'Type,' like 'category,' is used to cover such things as art forms (paintings, music, literature, and so on), genre within an art form (for paintings, for example, landscapes, portraits, still life, and so on), and media (oils, watercolors, pastels, and so on). I have trouble with the notion of ranking a particular painting relative to all other paintings, or a landscape or still life relative to all other landscapes or still lifes, for reasons that will become clear. A Minimalist painting meets standards such as significant form, which are deeply connected with "art for art's sake" but do not apply to Conceptual artworks which are oriented around art as idea. Equally, and for similar reasons, I have trouble with the notion of ranking a particular painting relative to all other oils or all other portraits. There are individual styles (e.g., Matisse's Fauvism), art styles of particular historical periods (e.g., Fauvism or Photorealism), art styles of large or small regions (e.g., German Expressionism or the Barbizon style). I do not take genre-landscape, portrait, still life-as style, nor do I take mediawatercolors, oils, pastels-as style. I take the style of an artwork to consist of those features of the form and content of the work that are characteristic of artist, period, place, or school. Such characteristic style features cut across the form/content distinction. A style feature of Fauvism is the use of bright, primary colors for expressive purposes. A style feature of Suprematism is the use of colored geometric forms for representing gravitation-free objects in absolute space. A style feature of trompe l'oeil art is the production of a picture that affords a visual experience similar to the experience of seeing what is depicted. A style feature of Minimalist art is the use of colored geometric forms to achieve well-developed formal structure. Style features of the portraits of J. A. D. Ingres include superlative draughtsmanship, clarity,


JamesD. Carney

and immediacy. Almost all artworks exhibit an individual style, and most artworks exhibit one or more general styles. Style accounts, both individual and general, are hypothetical posits, that is, best explanations by informed art historians. The art historian to a large extent discovers stylistic features by looking to such things as the artist's aims and goals, what the artist puts in the work (its ostensive descriptive features), the relation of the work to past and even future styles, and the relation of the work to its culture. The Style-relativeModel of Art Criticism In setting out the model for art criticism I will make use of an actual example: W. I. Homer and L. Goodrich's critical account of Albert Pinkham Ryder's 1885 painting Jonah(figure 1).13The model is for evaluating a particular visual artwork relative to an individual style. Evaluation often occurs for groups of artworks. For example, the judgment is made that Andre Derain produced Fauvist works of breathtaking originality and virtuosity that exceeded those of other Fauvists. As long as such cases can be understood as evaluations relative to some style or other, they can be accommodated by extending the model in obvious ways. The model is set out as a sequential process made up of seven differentiated steps, though to some extent the steps overlap at several points, and sometimes a different order can be followed.

Oil 1847-1917). on can(ca. Fig. 1. Jonah 1885),by AlbertPinkhamRyder(American, vas, 27 1/4 x 34 3/8". National Museum of AmericanArt, SmithsonianInstitution. Giftof JohnGellatly.

Theoryof Art Criticism An Art-Critical Model


Step One: Locatethe Style To locate the individual style exhibited by an artwork is to distill from the art-historical context characteristic features upon which art content depends. Ryder presents a case similar to that of William Blake, where though one can trace various influences that former schools and movements had on him, his eccentric isolation seems to preclude classifying his output into any general style category. Nevertheless, Ryder had an individual style that itself came to be seen as revolutionary, a forerunner of Expressionism and Surrealism. Homer and Goodrich provide a relatively full account of Ryder's style, which includes a reduction of all the elements to an almost abstract simplicity; legendary and mythological motifs; a dark, lustrous glow of the paintings; often yellow lighting, producing an effect of haunting intensity. Here is a summary section where the emphasis is on characteristic formal elements: To summarize, Ryder's paintings represent an integrated unity of formal elements, an integration, however, that is found on several levels. For him, formal balance in a two-dimensional sense, involving the unifying of figure and ground, was combined with tonal control and harmony which was complementary of his design. The unity of Ryder's works was further enhanced by his choice of an essentially simple vocabulary, a minimum number of shapes and tones which he related to each other in a comprehensible way. In addition to these elements, Ryder's color, like that of the Old Masters, essentially embellished and enriched an underlying tonal framework.14 Step Two: DescriptiveFeaturesand Structures Make an inventory of the ostensibly descriptive features and structures. For Jonah, there are the actual colors, shapes, arrangements, textures, and so on.15 Descriptive features include the character of brush strokes (short and rapid in Ryder's case), the thickness of the paint, whether portions of the canvas are left unpainted, and so on. A close scrutiny of the descriptive features of Jonah will reveal such things as a low-keyed tonality; few highlights; glazes and thick layering; crude draftsmanship; confident, not hesitant, brush strokes; a minimum number of shapes; and bold, highly simplified forms. Which descriptive features or structures are salient for Jonahis largely determined by knowledge of Ryder's style. Step Three:PrimaryAesthetic Features Make an inventory of the primary aesthetic features. As indicated earlier, I take primary aesthetic features to be the non-value features that supervene on a base made up of a structured object plus extrinsic relational style properties. They can be conveniently sorted as representational, expressive, and exemplified features.16 The primary aesthetic features of Jonahare features


JamesD. Carney

that anyone or almost anyone acquainted with the style can see or be aware of in looking at Jonah.Seeing these features does not require the exercise of taste, but it does require the exercise of knowledge. A knowledgeable viewer of Jonahis likely to produce an inventory of primary aesthetic features that includes the following: highly simplified forms; representation of storm-tossed boat on a choppy sea, shrouded in shadows and lit only by the moonlight; Jonah flailing about in the water while a menacing whale approaches with bulging eyes, staring fiercely at the helpless mortal; expression of helplessness and terror in an intensely subjective and mystical way. Step Four: Value Features Inventory the value features, the normative aesthetic features. Value features supervene on a base made up centrally, though not exhaustively, of primary aesthetic features. I am suggesting that there are multiple levels of supervenience, and value features make up the second level. Examples of value features of Jonah are indicated in such comments by Homer and Goodrich as "a harmony of design and glow of inner radiance" achieved through the relation of the central figures to both background and foreground; "representation of stormed-tossed boat on a choppy sea... conveys the artist's feelings about the Old Testament story in a compelling visual form"; "strange, yellowish lighting, producing an effect of haunting intensity." Value features encompass aspects of both form and content. In the Ryder, included with unified and harmonious design, inner glow of radiance, and compelling visual form are also features such as "testifying to God's omnipotence in human affairs" and "speaking eloquently of this momentous episode that terrifies Jonah." Value features extend far beyond formal features because pleasure is not itself an adequate account of aesthetic value. The experience of an artwork can be valuable in a variety of ways, for example, the pleasure taken in one's perception of compositional structure (Rubens's Deposition); the experience of the horrors of war (Picasso's Guernica); the experience of sadness and extreme loneliness (Van Gogh's Wheat Field with Crows); and understanding the treatment of women as objects (Manet's Olympia). How do the primary aesthetic features constitute conditions for such things as unified and harmonious design, speaking eloquently of God's omnipotence, inner glow of radiance, compelling visual form, and haunting intensity? In general terms I am in agreement with the view of Kendall Walton and others that value features present in an artwork are to be perceived in it when it is perceived correctly.17 What this account does not sufficiently emphasize is how taste and subjectivity in the ascription of value features are reduced to a minimum because of the role that style plays. First, the style exhibited in a work of art generates what are to be taken

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as the appropriate kinds of value features (interpretation yields the particular value features). Value features ineliminably involve the style appropriate for the artwork. Style and the goals of a style both generate and limit the set of appropriate kinds of value features, and for some value features, such as unity, they provide standards.18 In the case of Jonah, the ideals of the style are fulfilled by value features such as harmonious design, inner glow of radiance, compelling visual forms, and haunting intensity. There are conditions for successfully realizing a style, and when this happens, value features are commonly the result. Not all paintings in a style are successful realizations of the ideals of the style; like most artists, Ryder from time to time painted pictures with little in the way of value features. Second, styles generate different sets of value features. For example, appropriate value features for Max Beckmann's artworks include almost none of those appropriate for Ryder; rather, among others, features relating to the effective expression of the ideas, longings, fears, and ecstasies of the cultivated social consciousness in prewar Germany make the list. Grandness of design is appropriate for the grand historical paintings of John Trumbull, but not for the works of Ryder. Gracefulness is also not appropriate for Ryder. Energy is appropriate for Ryder but not for most American genre painters popular in the mid-1880s. None of the value features associated with the style of Ingres-immaculate line, clarity and immediacy, and subtle nuances of color and light-is appropriate for Ryder's style. Third, tastes play an irreducible but hardly a dominant role in recognizing or judging when an artwork has a value feature. The central condition for an artwork's having a value feature is whether or not the artwork realizes the aims and goals of the style. And it is not uncommon for the tastes of perceivers who have knowledge of the specific historical context of the artwork in question to be shaped and influenced by the style of the art object. Someone with knowledge of the historical context of Ryder's artworks has little trouble distinguishing which of Ryder's paintings have and which do not have features like harmonious design; in the same way such an expert generally has no trouble detecting forgeries. For a time in the 1920s and 1930s, Ryder connoisseurship was in a primitive state, and his works were heavily forged. Ryder may be the most faked American artist, with an estimated five times as many forgeries as genuine works. So many went undetected that forgers copied each other. Today, after a reasonably short study of Ryder, a normally perceptive person can detect imitations of Ryder's style, imitations that show little understanding of his ways of working out a design and achieving a visionary narration. Fourth, tastes are minimized since how value features are achieved is ineliminably intertwined with style payoff. Homer and Goodrich, in the passage below, exercise properly backgrounded judgment and provide some information on how certain value features, such as having life, con-


JamesD. Carney

taining flowing rhythms, having beautifully interlocked shapes and colors and harmonious composition, are achieved in Jonah. Ryder's sweeping curvilinear design and sharp contrasts of light and shade bring the entire surface of the canvas to life. These moving, swelling rhythms, rising and building upon each other, are further articulated by Ryder's active brushwork, which corresponds to the flowing rhythms of the sea. Because these strokes are heavily built up on the surface of the painting, they become a tactile equivalent of the waves themselves. Yet all of this turmoil is brought under formal control, for patterns of light and shade are beautifully interlocked to form a harmonious composition that works effectively in two dimensions, with only a suggestion of space offered by the overlapping forms, stacked vertically from top to bottom.19 Step Five: Low-levelInterpretation Give the low-level interpretation for the artwork. The meaning or content of the artwork that is little more than an account of visible subject matter based on the earlier steps is what I am calling a low-level interpretation. Low-level interpretations are about the primary aesthetic features. What the properly backgrounded perceiver sees in Jonahis expressed in a low-level interpretation. On this level a plurality of elements may get selected, but there is nothing to debate about. Homer and Goodrich provide a low-level interpretation of Jonah along these lines: Fierce storm in which a wildly tilted and bent boat contains some wide-eyed, terrorized inhabitants. Just below the boat, Jonah flails about in the water. A menacing whale approaches from the right, staring at the helpless Jonah. In the upper part of the painting, surrounded by radiant golden clouds, God is shown as a bearded old man offering a gesture of benediction but unconcerned with the dramatic turmoil He has initiated below. Step Six: High-level Interpretation Give a high-level interpretation of the artwork. A low-level interpretation of Jonah is the one that almost everyone acquainted with the style would agree to. Typically, however, the aim or goal of interpretation is to bring to bear current values in such a way as to generate a reading that goes beyond what properly backgrounded perceivers would agree to and that suggests some significant art content. Such interpretations I call high-level readings. The aim and goal of high-level interpretations is to bring together what is reportable in low-level interpretations-along with such things as the artist's oeuvre, declarations made by the artist, and the function of the artwork in the historical context-in such a manner as to maximize the aesthetic value of the artwork for the contemporary audience.20 For many art historians today, artworks are value as agents in social, political, and ideological change, with the result that the function of the artwork in the culture

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of the time is given paramount importance in interpretations. The ideal of high-level interpretations explains why, once such an interpretation has been provided, the business of evaluation-making a verdict-seems superfluous. Homer and Goodrich offer this high-level interpretation of Jonah,consistent with the current emphasis by art historians on the social and ideological importance of an artwork: Ryder's Jonah testifies to God's omnipotence in human affairs, reaffirming his active presence in the nineteenth century, an age increasingly threatened by materialism and a host of secular concerns. Jonah bears witness less to a particular theological creed than to the general value of spirituality; this is expressed not only in the specific narrative subject from the Bible, but also in the cosmic, otherworldly visual language that Ryder chose as a medium for his ideas. Seen in a larger context, Jonah belongs to the international resurgence of interest in things spiritual and immaterial that reached its apex in the 1890s. It is hard to say just how conscious of this development Ryder may have been, but nevertheless in Jonahhe belonged to his time.21 A high-level interpretation such as this one expresses the aesthetic value of the artwork. Jonahis valuable because of the cognitive or visionary expansion it affords. Step Seven: CriticalJudgment Having carried out the preliminary tasks, make a critical judgment of the artwork that is supported by value features expressed in the high-level interpretation. One can judge that an artwork has (or lacks) aesthetic value to some degree, or that one artwork has more (or less) value than another, when reasons are directed to the value features found in the interpretation. Judging a work on this model implicitly involves giving it a rank relative to other works in a style, in that the particular work is judged to have merit if it is an effective instance of the value features of the style. Homer and Goodrich make the judgment that Jonahis Ryder's "greatest masterpiece." This concurs with the judgment of art historian Abraham Davidson, whom they cite and who writes that there is "nothing in nineteenth-century American painting that can be called visionary, in the mystical dreamlike sense, that contains at the same time as much awesome grandeur."22 In step seven the critical judgment of Jonah is about not its historical or functional value, but its aesthetic value, with value features such as "visionary, in the mystical dreamlike sense, that contains at the same time as much awesome grandeur" being supportive of the judgment.


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Some Final Comments First, the model is for evaluating a particular visual artwork relative to an individual style. Evaluation often occurs for groups of artworks. The oeuvre of an artist often gets ranked relative to some general style. Sometimes the works of different artists working in different styles are ranked. In these cases we can distinguish ranking across overlapping styles or styles subsumed by an overarching style, from ranking across nonoverlapping styles. The former can be accommodated by a compound version of the model, but the latter raises the problems discussed briefly below. Second, ranking an artwork highly in relation to style does not insure the artwork's aesthetic value, if the style itself falls short of producing value features that can stand comparison with humanly enriching styles. An artwork can rank at the top in relation to a style, and yet that style itself may be one that repeatedly results in monotonous and crudely sentimental artworks that are incapable of producing human enrichment and may even be counterproductive of such an end. Consequently, the presence of the value features of a style-the ideals of the style-does not ineluctably signal aesthetic value in an artwork. The paintings of the early Cubist Braque are not aesthetically valuable paintings, even though his L'Estaque paintings are historically valuable since they encapsulate characteristic features of early Analytic Cubism.23 Louis Icart's depictions of fashionable young women in languid, erotic poses attended by borzois and poodles are exemplars of Art Deco, yet they are usually regarded negatively even by those familiar with his style and with Art Deco because their sentimentality and commercialism bordering on kitsch. An artwork can be a powerful, innovative, harmonious realization of the aims and goals of a style, be replete with value features relative to some style, and yet the style itself can be wanting as a provider of human enrichment. Art critics and art historians often take for granted that an entrenched style is aesthetically valuable. But this practice does not preclude the reasonability of raising the question of the aesthetic value of styles such as Ryder's or general styles such as early Analytic Cubism, Art Deco, and Pop relative to other selected historical styles.24 Individual artworks, groups of artworks, and styles, genres, art forms, and any of the elements in art are valued aesthetically in terms of enriching human experience. Art, as enduring and universal practice, is ultimately explainable in the same way. Most art styles are aesthetically valuable for a variety of reasons. Consider Hudson River art and ideal images of what the American West should look like; Fauvism and how the artists felt toward their subject matter; Suprematism and the fascination of figuring it out; and trompel'oeil art and the joy of imitation. Consider also Academic art and its potential to bring historical episodes to life for the spectator. For example, Gerome's Thumbs Down is a meticulously researched painting in French Academic style that

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allows a viewer with some knowledge of Roman times to experience a sports event in the Coliseum in "the theater of the mind." Ryder-styled paintings are valued because of the artist's skill in conveying dreamlike narrations of literature, music, and religion in visual form. German Expressionism is valued for effectively expressing an intentional state, the content of which is life's suffering and despair. Third, the historical context of many artworks-for example, religious paintings in the Middle Ages and artworks in other cultures-made it clear that they were to be experienced in functional and not in aesthetic ways. How can contemporary spectators be properly prepared to find aesthetic value in such works? An artwork does not have to be intended by its artist to have aesthetic value, nor need its immediate audience find it to possess aesthetic value, in order for spectators over time to discover it to have aesthetic appeal. Spectators are able to experience aesthetic value in artworks that were meant to be understood differently. What is minimally required is that the pleasure or enrichment derived from the artwork be bound to the work's individuality. The individuality of an artwork is best considered historically. Spectators do not experience the object randomly but as an artistcreated structure relative to its historical context. Insofar as the magnitude of the experience had with an artwork is to be a measure of the work's value, it is only required that the experience be of the artwork. Fourth, there is the common intuition that there are some basic value features that cut across styles and that we may use to judge artworks. For example, from a formalist perspective Beardsley claims that there are three general and basic value features in art-unity, complexity, and intensitythat are always supportive of a positive verdict.25 If it is plausible that there are some general value features, such as possessing unity or having coherence, this does not imply that what makes for unity in a specific category or art form is what makes for unity in any artwork.26 However, the claim that unity is a general feature of value relative to only a particular category or art form faces the following objection: If the application of some general value feature F is relative only to some art category or art form, then we are left with a concept of F so anemic and shallow that it ceases to be interesting or useful as a general value-conferring feature. For example, if what makes for unity is relative to shifting art forms, then it is not clear that 'unity,' used generally, has any use other than simply expressing approval of something. There are reasons to doubt that any value feature can be a useful general criterion. Consider unity, the feature most often suggested for this role. First, almost anything can have unity, so until we know what aesthetic unity is, it is unclear that unity always supports a positive verdict. Second, artworks can in fact have a unity that is not meritorious. For example, a painting may be unified in that it promotes National Socialist ideas of decent and good art. Third, the lack of unity can, in some cases, be productive


D. James Carney

of aesthetic value. Art history offers many counterexamplesto the theory that unity, understoodin some robustway, is a value featurein all or most artworks.ConsiderPicasso'sDemoiselles. Criticsand artistsalike at first reacted negatively to the painting, typically for the reason that the obvious inconsistencies of style made it an unsatisfactorypainting. In the sixties Clement Greenbergsaid of the painting that "superbas it is it lacks cohesive unity."27 Here it seems that unity is tagged to inconsistencyof style. Criticstoday-for example, Leo Steinberg-claim that the discontinuityof the picture,its "chaos"(and that of many laterworks of Picasso),is responsible for its "breathof life" and "power and inventive genius."28 Here the is a reason for a favorableverdict. Finally, unity is like picture'sdisunity resemblancein being a context-sensitivenotion. Thereis of course a somewhat pale generalconceptof unity as the state of being a whole, but it is too weak to be of interest or use as a general value-conferringfeature that is valid across styles. The various standardsfor unity depend on context. In visual art at least, unity is frequentlyachieved simply through consistency of style. Relativeto a standardsuch as consistencyof style, unity is sometimes a plus, but sometimes it is a minus, as in much of Art Deco, most AmericanRegionalism,almost all National SocialistRealism,or in the individual style of the EnglishAcademicartistJamesTiscot.To repeatan earlier claim, an artworkcan be a powerful, unified, innovative, intense, complex realization of a style, be replete with aesthetic features, and yet exhibit a style that is not conducive to enrichinghuman experience. Fifth, it is the practiceof critics to rank artworksacross styles. For example, Feldman,whose generalapproachto art criticismbears some similarities to my model, describesand endorses an account of criticaltheory where "judgingan individual artworkmeans giving it a rankin relationto other works of its type" and where judgments are preceded by stages that include descriptionand interpretation. Feldman"works of its type" is For understoodas relatingthe work in questionto "thewidest possible rangeof comparableworks" and "comparisonwith the best works of the past."29 Feldmanallows for judging the comparativemerit of a portraitwith all the best portraitsof the past. Thus in judging Max Beckmann's in Self-Portrait a Tuxedo(1927),he compares it with Agnolo Bronzino'sPortrait a Young of Man (1535). "Theharshly manipulatedplanes in the Beckmannbecome a vehicle of aesthetic expressiveness much like the flawless surface of the Bronzino.Which means that the Beckmannis as good as the Bronzino."30 Feldman here does not look to any of the value features tethered to Beckmann's individual or generalstyle. Rather,implicit appeal is made to a function:aestheticexpressiveness.I do not wish to deny that critics general often rankartworksacrossnon-overlappingstyles. Nevertheless,I find this practicefalling short of normativeprinciplesof art criticism,unless it is an oblique way of rankingstyles. Feldmanin his book considersthe following

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six oil paintings, each one of a woman or two women: Chuck Close's Susan (1971), where, in imitating the camera, Close even put the ears and neck out of focus; Willem de Kooning's Two Women (1952), with multicolored torsos that destroy the women's personalities; Philip Pearlstein's Two SeatedModels (1968), an almost photographic rendering of anonymous, soulless flesh; Chaim Soutine's TheMadwomen(1920), where twisted contours and convulsive brushwork enlist our sympathy for the subjects; Richard Linder's Hello (1966), a space-age rendering of a fearful Amazonian creature; and Max Beckmann's Columbine(1950), an antifeminine fertility image of a so-called "shameless" woman. Since I claim that general styles are in theory rankable on the criterion of aesthetic value as human enrichment, a critic's ranking one of these paintings as more valuable could be understood as an oblique claim for the comparative merit of a style and thus of the particular picture or any picture that meets the standards implied by the style. It seems that critics hardly ever make such claims. Each of these paintings meets standards implied by its style that do not apply to other styles. If one chooses to rank individual artworks in different general styles, as Feldman does with the Beckmann and Bronzino portraits-e.g., Linder's painting is better or worse than Close's-then a more straightforward way of making the claim would be an appeal to a general (vague, perhaps descriptively shallow or empty) feature with all the hazards such a practice entails.

NOTES 1. EdmundBurkeFeldman,Varieties VisualExperience, ed. (EnglewoodCliffs, 3d of N.J.:Prentice-Hall, 1987),p. 471. 2. Ibid.,p. 487. 3. Historicalvalue includessimple historicalinterest(the artworkas a frameof its interest(anticipation, time) and art-historical originality,and influence).Functionalvalue includesthe variousreligiousand politicalfunctionsarthas served. The serious question of objectivityderives from art criticism directed to the aestheticvalue, not the historicalor functionalvalue of an artwork. 4. See JerroldLevinson,"Pleasure the Value of Worksof Art,"British and Journal of Aesthetics no. 4 (October1992):295-306.Variousways have been suggested 32, forjustifyingclaimsaboutaestheticvalue. I takemy claimto be a generalization of what people find valuablein lookingat an artworkand not constitutiveof the conceptof art. 5. RichardSchusterman argues for a plurality of criticalpracticesin "Evaluative Ratio23, no. 2 (1981):141-57.He seemingly supposes Reasoningin Criticism," thatno mode of criticismhas any claim to being superiorto othermodes of criticism. In contrast,my primaryaim is to argue that in style-relativizedcriticism, artcriticismbest achievesthe goal of objectivity. 6. JohnA. Stinespringdraws this very conclusionin "Discipline-Based EducaArt tion and ArtCriticism," Education no. 3 (Fall1992):106-12. 26, Journal Aesthetic of 7. See FrankSibley,"Aesthetic 421Review no. 4 (1959): 68, Concepts," Philosophical Review74, no. 2 (1965):135-59, 50, "Aestheticand Nonaesthetic,"Philosophical and "GeneralCriteriain Aesthetics,"in Essayson Aesthetics, John Fisher ed. (Philadelphia: TempleUniversityPress,1983).


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8. JerroldLevinsonsheds considerablelight on these four accountsof the relation in in his "AestheticSupervenience," his Music,Art, & Metaphysics (Ithaca,N.Y.: Comell UniversityPress,1990),pp. 134-78. differencesin ascrib9. As Alan Goldmanhas stressed,therecan be irreconcilable ing aestheticfeatures,where the only explanationis differencesin subjectiveredifferencesin taste imply that ascriptionsof aesthetic actions. "Irreconcilable propertiessuch as gracefulnessor garishnesswill differ in regard to the same artworks, therefore,when objective properties remain constant."Review of and Levinson's 50, Music,Art,&Metaphysics, Journal Aesthetics ArtCriticism no. of 4 (Fall1992): 328. Also see his "Aesthetic Qualitiesand AestheticValue,"Journal Value" 23-37.Goldmanrecently,in "Art-Historical 87, of Philosophy no. 1 (1990): 33, Journal Aesthetics no. 1 Uanuary1993]:17-28)endorseda view (TheBritish of similarto that of this article.Criticaljudgmentsto a large extent can be immunized from differencesin tastes by relativizingaestheticfeatures to particular styles. 10. The formalismimplicitin the popularaccountof aestheticfeaturesshows up in for the featuresthat get inductivelyenumeratedin explainingaestheticfeatures; p. example,this list from Sibley's"AestheticConcepts," 124:unified, balanced, integrated,lifeless, serene,somber,dynamic,powerful,vivid, delicate,moving, trite,sentimental,tragic. 11. JamesD. Carey, "StyleTheoryof Art,"PacificPhilosophical 27, Quarterly no. 4 British (forthJournal Aesthetics (1991):272-89,and "DefiningArt Externally," of coming). 12. MonroeC. Beardsley,ThePossibility Criticism (Detroit: WayneStateUniversity of Press,1970),p. 16. Painterof Dreams(New 13. W. I. Homer and L. Goodrich,AlbertPinkham Ryder: York:HarryN. Abrams,1989). 14. Ibid.,pp. 131-32. 15. For any artwork there are limitless descriptive features and structures.The artwork'sstyle provides guides as to which featuresor structuresare salient. This is not meant to imply that knowledge of one is a preconditionfor knowledge of the other.Likeso many things, they lean on each other. 16. Often ascriptionof primaryaestheticfeaturesis mixed with ascriptionof normative aestheticfeaturessuch as immaculateline, subtle nuances of color and spontaneityof expression,and precise light, rich texture,fresh representation, vision. Thisdoes not exclude distinguishingthem in termsof the differentbases they superveneon. 17. "Theaestheticpropertiesit [an artwork]actuallypossesses are those that are to of KendallWalton, "Categories be found in it when it is perceived correctly." 360. Review no. 3 (1970): 79, Art,"Philosophical 18. StephenDavies, Noel Carroll, and, recently,AlanGoldmanhave eachexpressed ideas along this line. Davies in "Repliesto ArgumentsSuggesting that Critic's Strong Evaluations Could Not Be Soundly Deduced" (GrazerPhilosophische Studien38 [1990]:174), suggests that if an artworkcan be correctlyclassified for with respectto its type, then "criteria aestheticvalue which apply generally to works of that type might allow for the valid deductionof criticalevaluations of such works."Noel Carrollalso has alluded to this possibility in his "Clive A Bell's Aesthetic Hypothesis" in Aesthetics: CriticalAnthology,2d ed., ed. George Dickie, RichardSclafani,and Ronald Roblin (New York:St. Martin's Press,1989),pp. 84-95. Pinkham 19. Homerand Goodrich,Albert Ryder, 156. p. is 20. Recentdefendersof the view that the legitimateaim of interpretations some Art sort of value maximizationare Alan H. Goldman,"Interpreting and Literaand 48, ture,"Journal Aesthetics Art Criticism no. 3 (1990):223-30;and Stephen of Davies, Definitions Art (Ithaca,N.Y.:Comell UniversityPress, 1991).Davies, of task of high-level intercontraGoldman,correctlystressesthat the preliminary pretations is to make them reflect the historical context-what Michael

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21. 22. 23.


25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30.

of Baxandallcalls "patterns intentions,"where intentionsare not the actual inbetween a pictureand its histentionsof the artistbut a posit of the relationship Patterns Intentions toricalcircumstances. (New Haven:Yale UniversityPress, of 1989). Pinkham Homerand Goodrich,Albert Ryder, 157. p. Ibid. Some historiansnow see Braque's paintingsduring this period as in fact initiating Analytic Cubism. See William Rubin, "Cezannismeand the Beginning of The ed. Cubism,"in Cezanne, LateWork, Rubin(New York:Museum of Modem Art, 1977),pp. 151-202. I have in mind here the questionof the relativemerit of a style as a style where this questionis not itself a style-relative question.Forexample,raisingthe question of meritof Information Performance Anti-formart relativeto Conart, art, issue. ceptualartis a style-relative of in Point MonroeC. Beardsley,"TheGenerality CriticalReasons," TheAesthetic of View,ed. MichaelJ. Wreenand Donald M. Callen (Ithaca,N.Y.:Corell University Press,1982),pp. 208-18. stressesthis point. Davies, in "Repliesto Arguments," Quoted in Leo Steinberg's"ThePolemicalPart,"Art in America (March/April 1979):123. Ibid.,p. 124. Feldman,Varieties, 488-89. pp. Ibid.,p. 490.