Original art by Jordan Frazier.
Towards the end of 2020, many people were angry when they found out that Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” had been nominated for a Grammy. People on online forums like Reddit started asking questions like “did the Grammys lose any credibility?” while some claimed that the Grammys never had any credibility. Regardless of where they stood on that, people seemed to agree that “Yummy” did not deserve a nomination. This raised a greater question: how are people supposed to judge art? Are they supposed to look beneath the surface and judge the deeper meaning, or can they just look on the surface to see if it’s enjoyable?
Some people believe that they should judge art based on its inherent meaning. In the case of a song specifically, they would be judging the song at least partly on the lyrics. A senior at WHS, Aditi Thanekar, says that she cares more about the lyrics of the song than the melody because “[she] loves being able to connect to the lyrics of a song as that makes [her] feel like it’s speaking directly to the emotions [she’s] feeling at the time.” Songs with meaningful lyrics can form a strong connection with the listener because the words sung can be relatable to the listener. While lyrics help reveal a song’s meaning, things like an artist’s statement can help reveal the artist’s intended message from a painting. Anna Xiao, a senior says that “there’s always a deeper meaning to the art [she] makes” and while “there isn’t always some symbolic meaning with a deep life lesson, it could just be a bit thought-provoking.” However, not everyone creates art with the intention to make ambiguous art with countless interpretations: some want to really give one specific message. For example, a painting like Guernica by Pablo Picasso has a powerful and moving message about the bombing of Guernica in 1937, but it might not be as visually appealing to everyone.
While it would be unfair to judge everything solely based on the message it’s trying to convey and ignoring the technical craftsmanship behind it, it would also be equally unfair to disregard the message and only look at how beautiful something looks.
On the other hand, many kinds of art can be appreciated simply by looking at the art’s beauty on the surface, without needing to look at what the artist is trying to say. The beauty of a painting can be seen through the skill and techniques that the artist used to create it. Something that requires more technical skill to create will most likely look a lot better, even if it doesn’t have any message or statement it’s trying to convey. Another WHS senior, Ethan Huang, says that he tends to judge art based on looks initially because “if something looks terrible, I don’t think it matters how good the meaning is.” No matter how good the art’s message is, sometimes it is so visually unappealing that the message cannot save it. Other times, art can be very well made and beautiful but lacking any meaning or intention. There might not be any deep meaning behind it, but while looking at it, the art would be more visually appealing and enjoyable.
But how should people judge art in general? Being too extreme in anything is bad, especially when it comes to judgment. While it would be unfair to judge everything solely based on the message it’s trying to convey and ignoring the technical craftsmanship behind it, it would also be equally unfair to disregard the message and only look at how beautiful something looks. However, enjoying art is a very personal thing, as people might have different reasons to enjoy the different aspects of art.