Lately I’ve been thinking about art criticism.
"Men do not know why they award fame to one work of art rather than another." --Thomas Mann
Mann is correct because an aesthetic absolute, against which works of art may be evaluated and placed in a hierarchy of value, does not exist. Therefore art criticism can be nothing more than expressions of personal preference. To which ALL--however brilliant or stupid--are entitled.
Related to this is that virtually any work of art--or proposition, for that matter--can be successfully defended or attacked, provided one has a sufficient grasp of rhetoric. Smoke & mirrors, in other words.
An absolute aesthetic theory is one that is sufficient, can't be refuted, obtains in all cases with no exceptions, and therefore requires no amendment. Personal preference, on the other hand, is rarely sufficient, easily refuted, obtains in only a few cases, and never stays the same.
Can it be said that an aesthetic absolute existed in late 19th Century Europe? Hardly. There was this chap Van Gogh. You know the story about how many paintings he managed to sell in his lifetime. So obviously the creation of an aesthetic absolute came afterward. But exactly when? Where? And by whom?
Those who insist an aesthetic absolute exists never take the trouble to prove it. They make vague allusions to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but without citation. Even intelligent and educated people desperately cling to this absurd notion not because it exists, but rather because they WISH it did.
A true artist doesn’t bother with any of this. She picks up a brush, and paints. She finds what is entirely HERS and thus is entirely comfortable with it. She does not second-guess herself because she knows doing so would be toxic, and would eat her heart out. Second-guessing is what critics do. They feed on the works of artists. They are the parasites of culture.