Art is not subjective

creative cultivationThe argument has gone on my whole life—probably longer than my life. It seems the less visually educated a viewer, the more prone they are to say “the judgment of art is subjective.” Yet the number of well-educated professionals that say this is alarming. The argument between subjectivity and objectivity makes me angry.

There is a difference between a professional opinion and a personal one. Perhaps the biggest failing of most bad decision-makers is not knowing this difference. The smart creative person who serves this kind of confused client is smart to deduce their capacity immediately. In a preliminary discussion, I always ask about what design a client responds to and why. (I can’t infuse their company aesthetics into a concept without understanding it.) The explanation can reveal the kind of client who chooses yellow because the spouse likes it. Or my favorite: the client who chooses the colors for a graphic based on what they wear.

If I am choosing a painting to hang in my house, I will make a personal choice. If I am buying a painting to hang I my office, I will choose based on the style and philosophy of the business. If I am choosing a painting to publish in a book or online, I will choose what will inspire the audience. Each is a different level of projected judgment. Yet the number of business people who can’t distinguish these opinion nuances are the ones most guilty of using the subjective argument to justify what amounts to a narcissistic view.

Usually an executive who does this is additionally difficult in other ways—displaying autocratic, micromanager, or control-freak behavior. Decision-making style is particularly revealed in the development of communication design.

Interacting in neutral benign environments such as serving on a committee or attending a cocktail party, the conversations can expose limited thinking. The subjective argument is a red flag of a belief demonstration that deserves assassination. To squelch:

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Talk about how people make decisions. What criteria do they use? How many decision-making styles do you confront? (See my posts about decision-making: “Decision Dynamics” and “Dealing with Decision-Makers.”

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Investigate before any decisions are made. Request samples of graphics a client has collected. When showing the portfolio, ask them what they most respond to. Discover how and why they choose creative resources.

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Prepare revealing questions to determine levels of professionalism quickly. Then the project plan can most accurately predict progress.

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Study audience reactions and support with research and facts.

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Converse in several styles—especially ones different from personal taste. I don’t prefer hip hop or opera, but I can perceive which performances are the best and why. Learn what is revered to gauge quality.

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Sniff out the Subjective Thinkers and go to battle. It is better to challenge at the cocktail party or the coffee shop than in the conference room.

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Articulate choices to spread the example of Objective Thinking—based on cultural perceptions and standards.

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Expand vocabulary to cross-examples between disciplines. The upcoming launch of the Sebastian Study is a great place to explore visual considerations and analysis.

Leave the wall of subjectivity behind and embrace the psychological science of visual response. What I do in my house is purely subjective. What I do in business, the less it has to do with me and the more it has to do with communication, the better.

On a mass-level, subjectivity is meaningless. Responding to trends adds objective criteria, though the judgment will change or evolve. Objectivity does not imply consistency. How do you make the distinction between?

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer

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2 Responses to “Art is not subjective”

  1. Morgan Harper Says:

    These are very good points. As an artist (painter, photographer, and musician), I am often frustrated with the low standard of what’s considered “art” these days, and often find myself smiling and nodding and in my mind I’m thinking, “this is terrible. Anyone could have done this.” But as an untrained artist, I understand that there are others who have said the same thing about my art.

    • wisdomofwork Says:

      Thanks Morgan. “Subjectivity” does support a low standard.
      Additionally, the easiest thing to say about a terrible work is: “it’s interesting.” This means the viewer doesn’t understand the piece or doesn’t like it. I always watch out for that statement and try to reveal which it is. –Liane

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