An objective look into the subjective

Fattah Fathun Karim
36 min readMay 21, 2020


“Paris abducting Helen”, Artist — Gavin Hamilton

Oh god not this debate again!

Back at the end of my uni days, i engaged in a lot of surrogate activities with my long term partner Mrinmoy and many other friends. We had a lot of taste in common, in the field of entertainments mostly, but apart from that we had another thing in common, an aptitude for debates. There were a lot of other friends with whom i used to discuss interesting issues for nights long, but those could never reach the heights of adrenaline rush as it was with Mrinmoy. It was mostly due to his adamancy that others lacked, and it also pointed out to me that i need to organize my thoughts more and gather around adequate amount of concrete evidence to come forth with a convincing argument. Not that i couldn’t convince the guy, i could in most of the times, but some of the invested time and energy could have been spared had my opinions been more organized. And what better ways are there to satisfy this need other than writing and noting things down… well i for once can’t think of any, so i came here running in just to do that.

Dream Theater or Opeth? Nights and nights went debating but yet no concluding answers. I always opted for DT and Mrinmoy took Opeth. The reasoning of him was that Opeth could convey more emotions in him but DT could not which evidently makes Opeth better musicians than the DT. I disagreed and prefered DT to be better musicians than Opeth. My reasoning was, relatively speaking, that DT was technically more sophisticated, had more structured songwriting and the members had more command on their instruments while playing live. Also, DT has speed, techniques, melodies, harmonies and can render intense emotions. Opeth works on a certain mood mostly while DT’s ones are experimental and have mood switches in between which many people fail to keep track of. Both bands have signature tonality and comparing the emotions of their songs would be like comparing sweet and sour. But the bottom line i wanted to bring out is that, while feelings can be subjective, we can at least judge the quality of the musicians by the technical engineering of the song. How much intellect were invested and how much skills have had to be mastered for coming up with something like this. We can at least seek out some objective criteria like this to judge the quality of an artwork, at least that was my opinion back then.

I further laid my case by bringing up examples of beethoven, bach, mozart and the pioneering classical musicians. My buddy used to be a fan of Hans Zimmer and he used to think that Zimmer was better musician than the likes of Beethoven and others, since the feelings rendered by them were not remotely close to Zimmer’s, he used to say. But does that make Zimmer good? I mean, many people like many things, but without a sound reasoning should we accept anyone’s version of criticism of such artistic expressions? In that case, many girls who like Taylor Swift can say that too, “ I am touched and moved by break-up songs (mind you, the woman made up 76% of her songs on breakup from what i could find in google). So just because the breakup songs touched more young girls, does that make Taylor swift a superior musician than the likes of Beethoven, Bach or others? Or Hans Zimmer? You can see the parallels in lots of other musicians. Kanye or Steven Wilson? Ed Sheeran or Vangelis? Drake or Josh? (pardon the pun: i meant Joshua from queens of stone age, of course). Now before you accuse me of comparing two different subset of people with two completely different musical genre, well that was initial point too, its not possible to compare the “feelings” rendered by two different genre, but at least we can compare the content that lies underneath them, the musical intricacies, the richness and diversity of the whole sound etc. At least that was my point so far back then.

But soon it kicked me, i maybe am just comparing someone’s technical skills, grammar sense and intellectual capacities, not the beauty of the thing. I read in Harari’s book about the concept of beauty first, that is, modern notion of beauty is that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. The term was coined by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, in the year 1878 and it gained traction since then. But similar sentiment before were echoed in Shakespeare's works, in Hume’s Works and of some other writers. But the term got its momentum after Hungerford coining it up and has remained like that since. This is the first argument you will see when you would come to analyze art and artistic substances. It is often a popular escape tactic which works by drawing a quick conclusion. The notion that art is subjective is both a good argument and also an escape route. In one hand it is an intellectually lazy position to take, and on the other hand it does have some legitimacy into it.

But, Beauty was not always in the eyes of the beholder. The subjective notion of art is quite recent as i expressed in my last passage. So what were the standard of beauty at the past? the aesthetics of art? the standard through which people judged creativity of others and drowned into an ocean of elitism? Lets take the help of history on how our perceptions of beauty and appreciation of artworks evolved through time.

A brief glance on the evolutionary timeline:

The Greeks defined beauty on many levels. Some Greek philosophers thought that beauty was to be associated with anything good, virtuous, noble. Anything that did not fit in that category was in fact not to be considered “beautiful”. Thus beauty got itself entangled with divinity, hypermasculinity and things alike. Greeks did not practice abstract beauty, instead emulated reality at its finest, even the notions of divinity were to be seen as hypermasculine, exalted reflection of reality. Heraclitus of Ephesus said,

To God all things are beautiful, good, right.

The reflection of all the noble standards of beauty are quite evident in the embodiment of the Greek gods, the Olympians, the pantheons and the overall sculptural representation of the gods and godly affairs.


As for the hedonist Greeks, happiness was the ultimate beauty, happiness being considered to be the ultimate pursuit by them. Theognis, a Greek poet, for example said,


Beauty is all that pleases.

Socrates categorized beauty into three parts, the ideal beauty, the spiritual beauty and the functional beauty. The ideal beauty reflected nature, spiritual beauty was reflected through the eyes, and useful beauty had functional value. Plato considered beauty to be an extension of Pythagorean principle, that is harmony and proportion, added with splendour. Plato proposed the thought of inner beauty. Plato’s teacher Socrates was deemed to be hideously ugly by the standard of that time, so it’s no wonder that his devoted disciple would come up with such a concept. Plato told that the soul lies within the frame of the earthly body and therefore the beauty of the thing cannot be comprehended by all. So he said, beauty is a matter of intellectual insights and realization which requires intense philosophical wisdom. Plato therefore proposed to ban art in the contemporary schools which he thought was morally degrading to the youth since they were pursuing a delusional concept of beauty in those places. He instead proposed to stick to geometrical beauty, which was the Pythagorean school of thought on beauty.

Pythagoreans figured out that beauty was associated with mathematics. Pythagoras used to have a firm notion that all things had origin in numbers. Everything exists because they are ordered, and they are ordered because that’s how mathematical laws governed them to be. Through this mathematics springs up the conditions for beauty and existence. Pythagoreans assigned number to everything. And in fact every number had a certain physical or metaphysical representation. 1 was the number of reason, 2 was the number for females and opinions, 3 was the number for males and harmony, 4 was the number of justice, 5 meant marriage, 6 meant creation etc. One of the most interesting instance of pythagorean’s numerical notions was the Tetraktys.

Tetraktys in pythagorean periods

A Tetraktys has four points on each sides. Four thus represented strength, justice and solidity. The total points of the tetraktys’ sides, counted individually sums up to be 10. With the first 10 digits, all number can be represented. As number was considered to be the essence of everything, so Tetraktys was the representation of the condensation of universal wisdom, which held all the numerical marvel and numerical operations in within.
Pythagoreans analyzed music in terms of mathematics, they laid out the mathematical foundation of music with notational proportions, ratios, inventing musical scales, modes etc. The knowledge of the proportional principle was then later on manifested into greek architectures. The structures were built along to similar proportions that dictated the grammars of music.

Moving on to the medieval period, we start to see more evolved version of the concept of beauty. Thomas Aquinas laid out the idea that, for beauty to exist, not only does it need proportion, but also integrity. The thing should have a wholeness to it and all parts of its original self should be intact. Considering which, an amputated person or an animal would be ugly, for they lack the wholeness to them. Or a guitar without a pair of strings would be ugly, because its not in its absolute form. Aquinas gave some other conditions for something to be beautiful too. He added splendour and clarity to his already existing points too. He put an emphasis on colours. He implied that an object’s physical form should manifest at its purest to be considered beautiful and the radiance of the object is therefore as important as the structural part. But medieval transition to the concept was mostly steered by christian theological influences. Before Aquinas, St. Augustine addressed the matter of beauty along with being, as both being rooted in the Creator of the Universe. It is the creator through whom comes goodness, virtue and beauty. Through a rational understanding of all God’s creation can we earn divinity and purification. And also the concept of light being an integral component of beauty gained pace too. Since, god is associated with light and demons are associated with darkness, hence light is beauty and darkness, irradiance is not.

With the dwindling romance with christianity and god, the thinkers of the later age scrutinized the concept even deeper, and with a more ungodly but materialistic viewpoint. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century, beauty was seemingly an affair between invention and imitation. An artist could imitate the reality of nature for as it is, keeping them scientifically accurate. They were also granted the freedom to imagine and create non existing artifacts, keeping logical coherence to the whole thing. The revival of neoplatonic ideas, and new art techniques, perspectives, flanders etc guided the path of the understanding of beauty in such times. Leonardo Da Vinci was from this age. He said, imitation is a study of nature while inventiveness remains faithful to nature while picking up elements from nature itself, to create something new and unique, keeping consistency with logical coherence. To him, inventiveness breeds technical innovations as well, like sfumato technique which was developed by Da Vinci. Sfumato technique was used to blur the borders whereas previously the painters used to paint clear outlines on the subjects to give more realistic, sharp outlook. But vinci blurred the outlines giving his paintings a more gleamy, dreamy, glow in the middle image.

(left) crop of Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, (right) crop of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”
Flying machine by Leonardo Da Vinci

To quote Vinci here,

The painter is master of all the things that may come to man’s mind, and so if he wishes to see beauties of which he may become enamored he has the power to make them, and if he wishes to see monstrous things that terrify him. or clownish and comical things, or truly pitiful things, he is the lord and creator of them.

As the renaissance movement was moving forward, lots of experimenting could be seen in the artists with more nuances getting integrated in. The period took the “Grand Theory” or proportional theory towards more precise heights. It perfected the concepts of proportions and then moved onto the next stages. As exists in academia, the period was categorized into classicism, mannerism and baroque. All these are styles of arts that were in hype between the artists of this period. Classicism was the remnants of the “classic” age which were the concepts of the greeks, the roman principles etc. Mannerism was distinguished by the intellectual sophistry that was put into the artwork, the architecture as opposed to early renaissance artworks with relatively simpler approach. Mannerism exaggerated the conventional balance and proportional techniques into sophisticated asymmetries, artificial and unnatural elegances. Soon Mannerism was replaced by Baroque styles of art. This artwork had the characteristics of contrasts, movement, exuberant detail, deep colour, grandeur and surprise, the combined aim of which were to generate wonder in the viewer’s eyes. This style emerged to provoke more intense emotion towards a person than anything else.

Oath of the Horatii (Classicism), Deploration of Christ (Mannerism), Triumph of the Immaculate (Baroque)

Moving on towards the eighteenth century, Eco Umberto tells us to see the events of that time as stanley kubrick portrayed in his film Barry Lyndon which was a parallel existence between the commendable and the condemnable. This age was marked as the blooming age for logic and reasoning. From Hume to Kant to Hegel, all had investigated into the concept of the beauty and came up with their versions of studies. The dialectic of beauty were steered by an adherence to monarchy or bourgeois fantasies with a melancholic, dark, disturbing line of artworks, theatrics working in parallel. The likes of Immanuel Kant vs the Likes of François de Sade, as if two complementary sides of beauty working side by side in their own realms, but with the same appeal. Now to state an interesting fact, David Hume was the first to see beauty in a subjective way. On the subjectivity of beauty Hume had this to say,

Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. To seek the real beauty, or real deformity, is as fruitless an enquiry, as to pretend to ascertain the real sweet or real bitter.

Hume’s idea echoed the Galilean sentiment that hot and cold is a subjective experience depending upon the subject who experiences the thing. Also the subjectivity of bodily taste, like the bitter and sweet experiences of certain foods influenced hume’s ideas in a way. He took the idea of this and stretched it to spiritual sense, or the discerning of beauty by men. Hume explains this in more details in his book on the standard of taste. It was not just him but such sentiment was picked up and echoed by other philosophers too. In his book, “ Critique of judgment” , Kant says,

The judgment of taste is therefore not a judgment of cognition, and is consequently not logical but aesthetical, by which we understand that whose determining ground can be no other than subjective. Every reference of representations, even that of sensations, may be objective (and then it signifies the real [element] of an empirical representation), save only the reference to the feeling of pleasure and pain, by which nothing in the object is signified, but through which there is a feeling in the subject as it is affected by the representation.

It was during these times, that the concept of the sublime started to gain traction. Though originating in the classical era through the likes of Longinus who explained the sublime as something awestrucking in the human soul, the idea started to gain grounds on the eighteenth century. John Dennis and Joseph Addison were two such British Writers who explained some essence of the sublime which they got to experience from travelling through the Alps Mountains. The expedition, in their words, was a feast to the eye for them, a pleasure to the sights but the experience of this beauty was not full of delight but intertwined with horror and grandeur. They reckoned that this has to be something more than beauty itself. They didnt coin the term sublime, didnt use any such nomenclature but their experience was further extrapolated by Edmund Burke who wrote “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” to illustrate the new concept of beauty, “The Sublime” into rigorous detail to define such experiences. To understand the Sublime, this BBC short cane be referred to, which presents the idea in a short and comprehensible, introductory way

Thus beauty got a new dimension. Lets be real for a moment, we don’t enjoy anything unpleasant or harmful, but yet we do. We enjoy horror films, we enjoy frightening artworks, we enjoy looking at nature at its wildest appearance. But why? Burke explains, terror and fear is only beautiful if they are stripped of the harm it can cause. He retorts, pain and terror are parts of the sublime, but only when they are detached from the harmful impact on the subjects that view it as the sublime. Same was with beauty previously. It could be please one without inducing any need for possession or desire. The indifference towards the object of art is what connected beauty and the sublime. Both could be just sensed for pleasure through the eyes or the ears, without a potential to have an effect or a desire to possess. As for Kant, he says, beauty is disinterested pleasure, universality without concept and regularity without law. It’s kind of like two different dimension working in parallel, with a invisible partition that separates each other from being able to interact, thus creating an indifference. And this indifference yields out the experience of the beauty, for both the beauty and the sublime.

At this point of age, we reach the inception of romanticism.

Lord Byron on the shore of the Hellenic Sea

Romanticism was a set of ideas which driven the world of art, literature, architecture towards a new direction, starting from the mid eighteenth century. Romanticism was a reactionary movement. It was for one, a reaction towards the enlightenment, and the rationalisation of everything. It was the time when industrialization was taking offset. A whole new different world was forming and at a very faster pace than could be fathomed. Railways were connecting places, easing commutation of labour and fueling industries. Scientists were inventing patents after patents, leading to the expansion of these industries and even making way for new ones. Businesses began to boom, so did the materialist civilization all across the europe. This is when some writers, poets, artists, novelists started to move away from society and listen to their heart. the idea rejected the preconceived notion of the academy which acclaimed historical or mythological artwork. Or that art has to follow certain set of rules. The romantics instead focused on the mind, projecting the feeling of the artist towards into the art. The romantics moved towards nature for inspiration, portrayed highly of whatever they found around them. the romantic visual art started off as painting landscapes. Soon, human subjects started to emerge into the artwork, and their feelings were emphasized before rationality, by the artists. The positive emotions, wonder, mystery leaping out of the ordinary were enhanced and the were embellished by visual hyperboles and perspects. Thus appreciation for nature and surroundings came into being.

Stemming out from the opposition to classicism, enlightenment,romanticism another art style came into being, which was Realism. Realism was the portrayal of the ordinary life just as it is. Whereas, romanticism underlies the same theme dealing in portraying reality, the difference lies in the emotional appeals. Romanticism is usually positivity inducing and takes an optimistic approach at reality, nature and the past. It is an appreciation of the human feeling a whole. It can work with something bigger, greater than the person or the subject of the art. It can contain mystery, heroism, innocence, unnatural events, or exciting expeditions, adventures, or in another word, a look into the deep dungeons of the sublime but with an exaggeration to fit the artist’s emotional narrative. On the other hand, realism portrayed the surroundings just as they were. There were no ornamenting or sugarcoating anything, just a simple presentation on what the simple eyes can see. It was a reaction against art requiring to be imaginative and reality enhancing. While romanticism offered the room to distort or exaggerate reality and create emotional overdrives, realism challenged it and portrayed reality in a more truthful and honest manner. The realists point of view was that reality need not be soothing and pleasing, it often can be just the opposite and it deserves to be preserved for the public to view just for what it is. The realists thought, there were much more than to just running away from the dystopian industrial and urbanized world, milking the imagination. And that’s why they took the step to portray life just as it was, without any optimist amplification. One effect of realism was that, it paved the way towards a lot of revolutionary movements, since it portrayed the regular life miseries in a non idealized manner, but with an actual portrayal. It highlighted the problems, miseries, exploitations within society and addressed them. Through these arts and literature, people drew inspiration for rallying against the system.

The Third-Class Carriage — Honoré Daumier

The third class carriage was one of such a realist painting which was a portrayal of working class parisians in the mid nineteenth century. The painter Daumier took an interest into the lives of the lower level, working class people who couldn’t afford first class or second class tickets. The overcrowded, smelly third class compartments were anything but pleasant. the painting and its abysmal aura captures this pretty well.

But can ugliness, melancholic times be beautiful? Let’s get back to the theory of sublime. If the misery cannot be touched or physically felt, if we are just a spectator detached from the reality of the painting then yes, it indeed can.

Then in the middle of nineteenth century another wave of artists start to pop up, the Impressionists.

Impression, Sunrise — Claude Monet

Named after the famous painting of Claude Monet, “Impression, Sunrise”, the art movement didn’t start off good. It was not well received by the critics when it popped into the scene. Impressionist style was associated with small, thin, often abrupt visible brush strokes to create a light transitioning effect and blurry portrayal of a scene focusing on the subject and the emotions of the moment, and not on the details. It focused on capturing the light’s motion effects of a particular moment as impressionists thought that light impacts our mood and sends certain sensations. Since, detail and clear lifelike outlines were ignored, this particular artistic style were heavily criticized by art critics of that time for being lazy and incomplete. many even went on to claim that, this style of art was at best a sketch. But soon the style was picked up by other artists, like Sisley, Morisot, Pissarro, Édouard Manet, Renoir etc. These artists defied the academia and spearheaded the impressionist style into a style that have brought revolution in the art world, leading to the creation of immortal artworks like those of Van Gogh’s, Gustave’s and others.

Cafe Terrace at night — Van Gogh

As a reaction to all these conventional artworks which deals with logical reality, a counter style evolved which saw things in a different way. Some idea from the romantic period, like mysticism, spirituality started to get revived. Symbolists believed that art should represent the absolute truths in an indirect manner. Thus one of the pioneers in this field Jean Moreas wrote a manifesto, “ They Symbolist Manifesto” noting popular big shots like Charles Baudelaire, Paul verine etc. But this symbolism was only the revival of some imaginary elements from the romantic period. It was not analogous to emblem, which denotes to allegorical representations representing a certain idea.

Death and the Grave Digger — Carlos Schwabe

Moving on, in the early twentieth century, inspired from Dada movement, which was a reaction towards the world war, Surrealism started to get a cult following. Surrealist outlets, Surrealist bureaus, Surrealist manifesto and lots of other similar things started to surface. Surrealism was an antithesis to reality as in the sense of the logical physical world. It entailed the juxtaposition of nonsensical objects or random shapes to create a nonsensical artwork, often with a meaning to point out to the absurdity of the institutions which brings forth the catastrophes like those of world war I. Surrealists were influenced by Freud’s work, like Breton, who thought that we repress our unconscious minds by our conscious one, which is driven by or restrained by logic and reason. Unleashing the unconscious in the art was one of the surrealist’s goal. A popular practice was to record dreams and trance-like events. Some surrealists integrated texts to their artworks, giving art a new perspective. Rene Magritte was the one who showed how linguistics can shape art and its perception through his groundbreaking artwork, “The treachery of images”. Surrealists altered our notion reality and provoked our thoughts through nonsensical paintings.

From left; Treachery of images by Rene Magritte and The persistence of memory by Salvador Dali

In the middle of twentieth century the world of art took another steep turn, entering the world of Abstract Expressionism. spearheaded by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko and others.

Convergence— Jackson Pollock

Before Pollock, Klint, Kandinsky and others contributed to the development of Abstract Art but, Pollock’s work was what strengthened the genre of abstract art and solidified its base. Now with Kandinsky and precursors of Pollock there were at least some distinguishable lines and objects (even if they are real or not). But with Pollock all barriers broke down and there were nothing but a random motion of colours and abstract expressions. This is why many attribute abstract expressionism to Pollock’s, though the idea came good long before Pollock entering the scene. Now many can cast doubts on pollock’s works. like how can this be art? In fact Pollock’s floor of his workstation was infamously claimed to be more artistic than pollock’s abstract artworks. But to a layman it’s normal to feel like that, but considering history of the development of art, the context of the artwork and the emotion it renders, Pollock’s artwork is no less than that of a genius. To understand the timeline of the development of art from classical to Pollock in a more visually comprehensible way, i recommend this short video essay by nerdwriter which is a very brief but a precise case study.

kandinsky used to say, abstraction is not an antithesis to realism, it is realism. There are many things real that we cannot see through our eyes, for example, the consciousness and the emotions. Abstraction is a lens to view or experience those intense feelings within us. This is why abstract artists don’t use any objects from the real life but instead resort to random shapes, lines contours, textures to come up with their visual aesthetic.

Now let me tell you a story of a banana.

A woman satirically posing before “Comedian”, an artwork by Maurizio Cattelan in the year 2019

Comedian was a artwork which generated a storm in the world of art. The reason is understandable. It is just a banana taped to a wall, and displayed as an artwork one of the most prestigious galleries of the world. It might feel as a joke, which it actually did to almost everyone visiting it. And thus it became talk of the town. Tons of people gathered around to see the absurdity for themselves, took satirical selfies, made it go viral online, all over the world. It became the headlines for many news outlets, thousands of memes, twitter jokes, reddit threads started to burst out. Now, lets check back the name of the artwork, shall we? What was the name again of the banana? Oh yes “ The Comedian”. Whats the purpose of a comedian again? to make people laugh. And was he a good comedian? could it make people laugh? well, apart from all any other artwork presented there, i would say comedian lived up to its name. In fact, not just the gallery visitors, but it made the whole world laugh and made it laugh for days. The banana was just a part of the art. It was the whole world who turned the comedian into “The Comedian”. To learn more on the banana, you can check the video from the Art Assignment.

Comedian was a Conceptual art. And conceptual artwork are really notorious for creating controversies. Conceptual artworks can be traced back to Michael Duchamp who put on an infamous artwork as a display for an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. The fountain was regarded as the most influential and pioneering work in this field. Conceptual art was in a sense a critique to formalism, which implies the practice of studying art through analyzing its style and form. Although there are some valid criticisms here, for example, if we apply enough mental gymnastics we can turn anything into a work of art. One fine example is Pierre Brassau.

Left: Peter ( Pierre Brassau ) in 1964, Right: One of the four original pieces of Pierre Brassau (Peter) chosen for exhibition by axelsson.

Swedish journalist Åke Axelsson to fool art critics. Axelsson wanted to test if art critics could really differentiate modern art from a random stroke of brush that even a monkey can come up with it. He contacted Borås Djurpark zoo for this reason and convinced the zookeeper to use Peter, a 4 year old chimpanzee for his cause. The chimp was given a set of brush and a paintbox. The chimp created multiple artworks which axelsson publicized as the artwork for Pierre Brassau, a forgotten painter from the past. Most critics couldn’t realize the scam, but one who implied that the work seems to have been made by an ape. So this puts forth the question, is it even an art if a monkey can do it? or even i can do that? Well technically no, since the monkey art was a scam mostly but most modern artwork are not. These have context, efforts and thoughts ingrained with it that only the artist can create and render through his artwork. In fact, for Cattelan to come up with the “Comedian” it took him a year. He wanted it to be a sculpture of banana, but later, went on with an actual banana. Also the monkey does not have an artistic intuition, knowledge nor experience, making his work totally a product of the unconscious. But conceptual artists make their things consciously, with investing in it months and months if not years of thoughts. Most of the conceptual artists are in fact highly regarded professionals of their field with years of experience. The art assignment has a good case defense of conceptual art as a whole.

So, i think we have dived enough into the history and development of artworld. Pardon me for i skipped many other important artistic movement, especially Suprematism, Cubism, Constructivism, De stijl or Neoplasticism, Photorealism, Fauvism, Geometric Abstraction etc, because the article already is turning out to be hideously big, and it could easily reach the length of a mini book if i continued to do so. But one interesting book that i was taking most of the reference from was “On beauty” by Umberto Eco. The book is a magnificent read and i recommend it to everyone who is interested in knowing about the history of beauty in further details.

But what i wanted to show is that, the trend of beauty was shifting to the minds and thoughts. The world of art have got more broad, independent and versatile. Previously when academia defined art in terms of the overall construction of the art, the styles used, the processes it underwent, the theme it stood upon, and some other objective physical criteria, art slowly transitioned to its status today as a thing which provokes certain emotions and thoughts in the mind of the spectator. Something that pleases the visuals or the olfactories or triggers our notions, fires up our thoughts, makes us perceive reality in a different way. Therefore , art has become so broadly defined that disregarding a certain branch of artwork would be just straight on ignorant. Thus, evolutionary timeline only added dimensions, without dismissing any particular one.

Now though art has become more generous and broadly defined, many if not most of the people cling to some version of art while dismissing others, In the world of visual arts, modern art gets the most heat. When the world transitions to a new state of art, people have a hard time grasping it, and it reflects on their hour long rant on how we moved on from our glorious past to a dull, abysmal present, and towards a dystopian future. People put their rational self to work and connect many dots, makes theories as how there is a wide on conspiracy by handful to kill everything that is beautiful and wonderful. Just a quick youtube search would give you hours of video essays/rants on why modern art sucks.

Now you may complain why i included adam ruins everything here, for he does make some valid points, but lets be honest, his discontent with modern or contemporary art is super obvious in the collegehumor video. While its true that art market does have some loopholes and questionable business practices, but it definitely does not negate the art itself. Artnet produced a wonderful aticle explaining where Adam Conover gets art wrong and where he gets it right.

And adam is not even a conservative. Usually most of resistance against modern art is spearheaded by people from the conservative end of the political spectrum. Conservatives usually are the first ones who put up a resistance against any new forms or styles of art. Since Conservatism upholds traditional values and traditional social institutions, concepts hence the idea can be seen to extrapolated in all sorts of life, even in the world of art and lifestyles. For example lets check the conservative youtube commentator Paul Joseph Watson,

Now you may say, why i am using a youtuber as a representative for most conservative. Well, PJW is a quite popular among young conservatives and his videos hit millions. He echoes most of the conservative notion regarding anything moder, from visual art to architecture to music to almost everything. While there are more sophisticated, intelligent, educated conservative politicians or people out there, PJW represents and echoes the sentiments of the masses. Therefore i picked PJW as a representative figure for the commoners, who still dwells in the glorious past. Though many may like on or two aspects of modern cultural movements, but still the clinging to the past always stays somewhere beneath. The fact that most of this people miss out is that, they think art as something rigid and not expandable. They think that modern culture is devoid of intelligence of any sort, be it music or art or anything. But it is not. Most contemporary artists are experts in the art scenario. Many pop musical artists have a solid understanding on musical theories and its dynamics. Modern architects too are one of the professional experts who had to go through a rigorous learning process to become an artists. So that these people would engage in something hollow and unintelligent is a preposterous claim and also outright wrong. Despite being the more intelligent than the rest, these people show remarkably little understanding of any of the modern arts, be it visual art, music, architecture, fashion or anything. While they accuse them of being dumb and retarded, ironically it is actually these people who appear to be intellectually lazy. They don’t check the context of the what they criticize let alone understand the meaning they try to convey.

As much as modern art gets the heat, so does modern music. Modern music too have been more generous overtime. But likewise, the listeners hadn’t been. Most people usually subscribe to some certain genre of music while not being able to tolerate others. While Art gallery may not be filled with spectators from all over the world, music on the other hand is on everyone’s footsteps. Therefore the brawl regarding the music industry is more vivid than the art industry. A popular youtuber Thoughty2 uploaded a 20 minute long video about why pop music is bad, and he analyzed it using “SCIENCE”. So it has to be legit right? Because “SCEINCE!!!!!!!!”

Despite the video being filled with loopholes, it garnered a serious amount of popularity over the decade and the essence of the video was echoed by tons of other people and content creators on social media. It is a quite popular tactic for conservatives to use science as a tool to discredit their opponents because traditionally it was the counter culture activists who exalted science and targeted conservative notions using science. So conservatives use the weapon of their enemies against them. Although the science used in this particular video was taken out of context to fit a narrative, overlooking the outright misinformation about the musical industry, the video does put forward an interesting issue to ponder upon. Can a music be good enough if it is not crammed with sophisticated musical intricacies and instead have a simple or linear approach? The answer to this is of course quite simple. Music is a way to convey emotions to the audience, its an audible sensation. It can be composed in many different styles using as many or as little instrument as the artist want, or in fact no instruments at all. Though instrumentalists might get disappointed at this, but that’s just how it is. Only vocals can convey create an emotional audible sensation too. Is bird’s chirping music? well undeniably yes. Are fountain noises, leaves clamouring in the woods, or gushing of wind musical? Hard to disagree when there are tons of romantic poets romanticizing on nature’s audio harmonies. A traditional viewpoint for music was that, music requires harmonies, melodies, rhythms, rich timbre, dynamics. But that notion faltered down, with a lot of musical styles emerging out which excluded some aspect of these criteria, but were equally popular to the listeners. There are musics without discernible rhythms, or any particular beat arrangement, like the Gregorian Chant which has no particular time signature.

Then there are music without any particular melodies. Especially the ambient music genres, which people use as relaxing therapeutic tones to listen to while working. Melodies are a sequence of notes which form a tune, and these musical pieces are random undisciplined notes coming to the ear. Many of the Baroque Preludes are told to be devoid of melodies, since they are basically arpeggiated notes played over and over for a prelude. Bach’s Prelude #1 in C is also one of such an example. Lets check a work which has very little distinguishable melody in it, relying heavily on simple chord progressions.

Then there are music which can lack any harmony (harmony implying multiple notes played simultaneously to create texture of a song, or in other words chords). Music without harmony are generally known as monophonic music. Plainchant like Gregorian Chant, Armenian Chant, Byzantine Chant etc were monophonics. One popular monophonic was Erik Satie’s The four ogives, which was inspired by gregorian chant.

About Timbre, there are old classical country music which use a single instrument for the whole song, yet they are legendary even till today. Like those of Hank Williams for example. The songs focus mostly on the vocals and little on the music which only fill add textures of the song. Lets check another song for example which uses only a harmonica but equally wonderful to listen till this day.

So music couldn’t be restrained to a particular set of definition, instead had to be extended far beyond. So many proposed that music should be called a set of organized sound. But then again, many organized sounds like human speech, industrial machinery noises are not considered to be music. Then again, there are music which defy an ordered arrangement of sound, like noise music and musique concrete.

Noise music may seem to be deranged modern day product but it actually predates world war. With the new waves of artists questioning the status quo of art styles and opening room for new ones, the musical world wasn’t left too. Luigi Russolo, an italian futurist painter wrote a manifesto called “ The art of noises” in which he lays his case that technology will lead the way of music of the future, creating options for new sounds and a varied stream of timbre. Later on Arseny Avra Amov, Edgar Varese and others started to contribute to the cause. Another notable name in this field was Pierre Schaeffer who came up with the concept of musique concrete, which meant to abstract concrete sounds into a musical composition. A good introductory video on this was published by BBC in a documentary titled, “The new sound of music” in 1979, presented by Michael Rodd.

Slowly the world started to turn more experimental. The music definition industry was really being worked on and on. And then we found Silence. Silence got its way into being a musical piece too.

This may feel like a prank to many. But thats one of the pioneering musical piece considered till today. The art is the ambience that the player creates with his gestures. He gestures the opening, makes some gestures in between the score and uses an end gesture. The audience focuses on the player and his gestures. Everyone in the room together creates an ambience, which is the music. Cage’s point was to show that anything could be music. He drew influences from many places for this particular musical score of his. He took inspiration from Zen Buddhism, his visit in an anechoic chamber at Harvard, his friend Robert Rauschenberg’s series of white paintings and some earlier composition of his where moments of silence were parts of the scores. Thus the world got to see that even silence/ambience could be music.

In the late nineteenth century when EDM started to developed it just provided dancing beats to party with. With popular synthesizers entering the scene, electronic music started to soar in popularity. Finally Russolo’s prophecy was coming true. The future indeed started to see a transition in technology driven sounds. Samplers were analog before, but soon with the development of computers, it started to transition into the digital realms and become more widely available. Indie musicians popped on the scene. Let me introduce to vaporwave. Vaporwave music is slowed down repurposed music. It samples any particular and changes its tempo, adds effect to create some more dreamy, bubbly vibe to the music. It seems like a completely different musical piece. So can plagiarism be counted as a individual musical score? As i told earlier, musical world and art world is generous with room for any any to join. But of course with a valid set of reasoning. So what is the reasoning for vaporwave to be counted as music? Well, if sampling or repurposed musical bits can create something unique then the world shouldn’t be left of the charm that easily, should it be? Adam Neely lays a solid case in defense of vaporwave, which i recommend is a must check if you are interested into learning more.

Soon music started to get political. Rap music evolved in the African American communities as a hip hop culture (hip hop being a broader term including other cultural elements like breakdancing, graffiti painting etc. ). Now since the practice emerged from the marginal black and latino people, it was always a target for the white people. Most rap songs echoed the marginal sentiments and had anti oppression, fulminating lyrical contents. And consequently, it became a target for racists and white nationalists. But on the contrary, the popularity of rap music only grew far and wide, and became a voice for the people at the ghetto. Rap artists started to get neat records and major hits on the billboards, and its an irony that this genre was discredited for not being musical enough. Not just that the critics were clueless about what can be perceived as music, but for some of them, their were instances of subtle racism. Take a look at this research which highlights some of the racist undertones of rap critics.

If we talk about Rap and don’t mention Ben Shapiro, a political commentator, creator and host of the daily wire, it would be a grave sin. Here’s a link to his rant on rap music being gibberish nonsense and not music. Now he is a guy who isn’t worth paying attention to, but the reason i am using this is because he echoes similar sentiments, as he puts, apart from a musical case perspective, a cultural case too. That rap music doesn’t send out a positive family friendly message across its listeners. Now he says the same thing for rock genre, where he brings down the genre for being simply constructed, and quite sure, he condemns it for the cultural side too, because like rap, rock music too gained its popularity as an anti-establishment culture. So the cultural warriors, or the conservatives, take a heat on music in the guise of musical complexities but actually taking a beef with them for the cultural atrocities. John lennon’s “Imagine” was a target too for political commentators like them, because of the morally degrading “message” it sends across. Here’s a wonderful video essay that might be worth your attention.

Now, to not discuss about rock and metal music in terms of politics would be a far graver sin, since it was the most notorious music scene than any other could be.

There were multiple instances when rock and metal artists were sued to courts and even banned from performing. PMRC (Parental Music Resource Center) was such a name who struggled to take matters to the court and clean the music industry so that the children do not fall into the trap of degeneracy. Black Sabbath was one of the pioneering rock bands who were barred from performing in many places, like for instance, in England, because their tone allegedly resonated with the tone of the devil. Many churches took an active stance to boycott such “satanic” music. But things only got more extreme. From rock came heavy metal, and then on came thrash metal, death metal, black metal and what not. Now there are about hundreds of such derivatives of metal music altogether. The ones who cherished the new wave of music back then are the one now protesting against the avant garde music. The accusations are the same like any other. The new waves of musics are lazy, simple and repetitive. Also, some claim to be pure noise, nothing else. Lets hear this guy go on a rant against metal subgenres that he doesn’t deem to be music, because they are simple and incomprehensible. I don’t know if that may feel like an oxymoron, but yeah to simply summarize the whole video, that’s basically it.

So, avant garde music always took the biggest heat by the contemporary people and its nothing new. It is a practice that we humans have been doing overtime. Pop musics are now the scapegoat for public heat, while previously it was rock and metal music, long before that it was jazz music which got the heat, and before that classical pieces too. Beethoven was criticized for being indiscernible noises rather than actual music. Even Frank sinatra’s musics were discredited as being sung, played by some cretinous goons.

But what these people, or “critics” miss out is that, music is something that should invoke emotional response from within us. It’s not a circus show where you just show your mad skills and get some appreciation in return. The artistic skill set should convey some feeling towards the person enjoying that. If that can’t happen then it would be a mindless action. Maybe the work is simple and can resonate among the billions of people, maybe it can resonate with millions of people, maybe thousands, maybe hundreds but in the end it is a gateway towards exploring one’s feelings and drowning in an ocean of emotions. If this criteria can be met, then in my opinion things should be granted the rank of art or music.

Personal take

My personal takeaway from analyzing all the artistic trends is that, we cannot dismiss one over the other for it will be too shallow. We can judge artistic by their capability and the intellectual content they put to the work, but we cannot judge people’s reception which is totally subjective. Enjoying pop music is equally fine and respectable as enjoying technical death metal music. Both resonates to different group of people and it boils down to how these music trigger neurochemical activity in the brain.

Now i am not arguing that emotional responses don’t follow any trend, like they governed by some invisible force, well of course not. If that happened, then there would be no mathematical modeling for music. It would stop making sense, since all will be fell under the realm of subjective appreciation. but still, there is some subjective element to it, and apart from mathematics, our memories and environments, cultures, personalities govern a lot of emotional dynamics within us, so a matter of subjectivity tends to arise and sometimes surpasses the objective realm of our taste.

But we can at least judge a person’s dedication, merit and skills which do not need to be subjective. these are quantifiable and can be measured to judge the potential worth of a musician. Knowledge of the overall thing and able to implement them in real life i think can be a good comparing criteria, which is something i stick to personally. This is why many may accuse me of being an elitist while i am not actually disregarding or disrespecting a particular style of art or music, but rather putting some certain artistic expressions over the others for their impact and intellectual content within them.

(So yes Dream Theater is obviously better, DUH!!!!)

You can easily tell, given enough knowledge at your hand, if a work of art is intellectually driven or is it totally a random production without any talent investment. This is why we leave criticism to the specialists, check their reports and then come to a conclusions of ours. In my opinion it is better to leave the judgemental responsibilities to experts and as for layman like us, to just enjoy the show, and keep an open mind. Learning new perspectives can broaden our view of the world, and can enhance our creative self. Also kill our snobbish self while appreciating the efforts of others. It also helps us in another way, by not making us look like a whiny fool before a crowd of well-informed people.

I am not saying everything you see is a fine piece art, tons of them are totally rubbish actually but we should be more careful when putting our judgements, look at the contexts, and meanings of whatever art, music or forms of entertainment we come across. We should not be totally out of touch with the world just as the likes of Ben Shapiro, Paul Joseph Watson are. And enjoy whatever our feelings respond to, after all its a free world.

I for one am a fan of conceptual art. I love anything that provokes the mind, makes you think deeply over something and derive a meaning. The works that are visually splendid but lacks substantial thoughts are something i do enjoy but don’t blow me away or linger in my thoughts for days. To me, agitation of thoughts generate more emotional response than mindless acrobatics. For music it’s totally different. I am kind of an omnivorous in this field, but i prefer intricacies over simplicities. They just kick my neurons even harder.

Think my brothers, think!!!!!!

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The end

(Oh i forgot to add another reference, my bad fellas. Do check one of the videos that inspired me a lot to look more deep into the matter. The concept of the ideal critic is pretty interesting. Do have a check).



Fattah Fathun Karim

Love to explore and learn interesting things. This blog is a way to organize my thoughts on certain topics and communicate them with my friends and peers.