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Art criticism

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M005-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

To criticize a work of art is to make a judgment of its overall merit or demerit and to support that judgment by reference to features it possesses. This activity is of great antiquity; we find Aristotle, for example, relating the excellence of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex to the excellence of its plot construction. Criticism became a topic in philosophy because reflection on the kinds of things said by critics generated various perplexities and in some cases encouraged a general scepticism about the possibility of criticism. Two general and related problems in particular have taxed philosophers. The first is the question of whether criticism is a rational activity, that is to say, whether critics can give reasons for their judgments that would persuade potential dissenters of the rightness of those judgments. The second, a matter to which Kant and Hume made notable contributions, is the problem of the objectivity of critical judgments, it being widely believed that critical appraisals are wholly subjective or just ‘a matter of taste’. Arguments that use deductive or inductive reasoning to demonstrate the possibility of proofs of critical judgments are generally agreed to have failed. Another approach redescribes the critic altogether, not as someone who uses argument to prove their judgments to an audience, but as someone who aims to help the audience perceive features of the work of art and understand their role in the work. This entry will concentrate on the issues of the rationality and objectivity of art criticism.

Citing this article:
Lyas, Colin. Art criticism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M005-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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