Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Effect of Objective Criticism on Taste

In response to Jenna St. Hilaire's: The Effects of Taste on Objective Criticism

"In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is because there is a mystery in all great writing and that mystery does not dis-sect out. It continues and is always valid. Each time you reread you see or learn something new."

Literature, by which I mean writing as an Art, must be objectively beautiful. To be beautiful, it must contain both Truth and Goodness. The standards for beauty, despite common misconceptions, are objective, and the study of beauty - Aesthetics - is somehing that can be undertaken by anyone, and is necessary for any serious writer to have at least a working knowledge of. In Literary criticism, an objective understanding of beauty is often what stands in the way of a purely subjective response to the work.

Aesthetic standards tell us what to look for in any work of art, whether written, sculpted, painted, or lived. When these essentials are missing, the work is artistically flawed. Unlike the laws of grammer, which can be broken to create a necessary effect without damaging the literary merit of the writing, the standards of beauty cannot be broken and still produce beauty.

I am not a critic, when I read, I read as an artist, and when I judge the works I read, it is as they measure up to beauty. Critics can be concerned with grammer, sytax, and cultural significance, these are all aspects of Objective criticism, I'm concerned only with the objective criticism of artistry. In many ways, despite the objective Aesthetic standards, which tell us what is no art, the understanding of what is art can remain murky. The nature of beauty is like the nature of God: it is much easier to say what it isn't than to define exactly what it is. Like God, beauty is a mystery that "continues and is always valid." To be art, writing must fulfill the Aesthetic standards and continue onward into the "mystery in all great writing." It is writing in pursuit of the Divine, whether the author herself recognizes it as such, and we need to be able to recognize its value, even if we can't love the form it takes.

Which brings me to Taste. Taste is like any other appetite. It varies from person to person and time to time. Some tastes, formed in a habit of laziness, need to be purged or pruned, or redirected entirely. Other tastes - a taste for the good, ought to be continually nourished. Jenna is right when she writes that "trends in education and philosophy [can] reflect elite blinders and even instill prejudices" in regard to taste, and sometimes this prevents us from seeing the beauty in a work that is not quite our style. This is where objective criticism comes in to train the tastes again and again in pursuit of the Good. The nature of Art is to last, to be eternally valid, whether its form is in fashion or not. But weakness in education and philosophy have helped to produce a population that, while considering itself educated has never taken an educated look at its tastes. A person may say "I know Hemingway is superior to Dan Brown, I just like Brown better." without ever going on to ask why he prefers bad writing to good, weak ideas to strong ones, and banality to beauty. Developing within himself a strong sense of the standards of Objective criticism makes it possible for him to understand the flaws and weaknesses in his own tastes and develope a stronger attraction to Beauty.

Taste is fluid, changeable, and flawed in all of us, like all attractions. It needs to be developed carefully and lovingly to avoid allowing it to overwhelm our better judgement and lead us ever downward into stagnation.


  1. Well played. Especially the title. And you gave me so much to respond to that I suspect I'll have a hard time keeping myself under a thousand words again next week. :) But I'll hold till then; these thoughts need time to simmer. Just wanted to come by and acknowledge an excellent stroke in the game.

  2. Thanks!
    I had a hard time limiting my writing mouth too, so I can understand. I'm glad you enjoyed it though. All these discussions are really giving me a lot to think and write about, it's fantastic. I feel like I'm back in school, without the expense or the required reading!