I feel like the Carroll reading was predominantly straightforward and easy to understand – His argument is that criticism’s main purpose is to be evaluative, and that this evaluation should be backed up (through description, classification, contextualization, elucidation, interpretation and analysis), and generally be well reasoned. As I understand it this evaluation is not simply positive or negative, but based on discovering the value within the work, based on its classification (or genre, if you will). His first chapter was providing arguments for this view, and arguing against views which counter it.

My main question comes from his response to one of these arguments, specifically where he’s arguing against criticism being seen as ‘subjective’. And, simply, I just don’t get his point here. First he seems to argue that, based on one definition of subjective, “subjective does not mean ‘not objective'”:

But in the case of convergence, it is consistent with the proposition that critical judgments are subjective (in the eighteenth century sense) that there could be bridging laws connecting the regular correlation of art objects with certain properties to uniform sensations across normal human populations (pg. 33)

Which makes sense, but then:

which laws, in turn, could be inter-subjectively verified and used as major premises in evaluative arguments

Which seems to me to be saying that “Many subjective views, if agreeing, constitutes an objective one?” While I agree to the extent that there may not be any other way to form an actual basis of criticism without some sort of common ground or reaction to artistic stimuli, isn’t this still in many ways just a special brand of subjective?

And then when he takes the “modern” interpretation of subjective, he argues against the “I like X, you like X, Neither of us is “right”‘ types of appreciations of arts:

…disagreement is what is being advanced as evidence for the incommensurability of what are said to be our broadly divergent appraisals of artworks. First, along with the evidence of a diversity of critical appraisal, there is also a perhaps even greater amount of data showing converging appraisals… Moreover is it not clear that, once we have an explanation of these convergences, we will not have logical grounds for the possibility of maintaining that some critical evaluations are objective and some not

…No? It’s not clear to me I suppose. This sounds to me like “Yes, we disagree on who we enjoy but there’s a consensus which is ‘better’, and that’s what’s important.” Which seems dismissive and perhaps elitist – and sure, Carroll is saying that critics are supposed to be curators and educators of value and meaning, showing us deeper insights into art – but to do so he’s dismissed and ignored the negative reactions in order to focus on the more dominant positive consensus.

I mean, I certainly agree that arguments back and forth over whether Mozart or Beethoven is “better” are entirely pointless and uninteresting – But if one person finds negative value in a work of Mozart where the Mozart lover does not, can’t both have perfectly fine reasons as to why? If both criticisms are based in Carroll’s layout (description, classification, contextualization, elucidation, interpretation and analysis) and yet come to a differing conclusion, what answer is there other than subjectivity?

I guess what I’m saying is that the “subjective” that Carroll puts out is almost a straw-man “subjective”. A touchy-feely “You like this, I like that, let’s get along” type thing, where it seems to me that in a very real level, two top of the line brilliant art critics could critique the same piece which they’re both intimately aware of, look at the same value or look at it through the same lens, and still come out with different readings. And still neither would be “Wrong”. It seems as though he’s divorcing the art from something personal, or asking objects to be read from only two of Folkmann’s three pieces of aesthetics.

Moreover, why the need to be objective at all? I guess it seems to me that to serve Carroll’s role as critic – one who educates and enlightens the rest of us on meanings and values within artwork, he’s distancing himself from perhaps the biggest reason we each engage in art in the first place – our personal understanding, and how that fits into our individual lives.

But then again, I haven’t read the entire book yet. (And could be way off in my understanding!)

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