My Criteria For Art

Basically speaking, my artistic ideals are works exhibiting the following major attributes:

1. Expressed Emotional Conviction

Whether the artist is "acting" (such as performing theatrically) or invested in the material on a personal basis, I prefer it is expressed with a high degree of emotional conviction.

I also want to stress that by "emotional" I am referring to any emotion or emotions. Whether the expression is angry or cheerful or depressed or enthusiastic or spiritual or grieving or mysterious, suspenseful or violent, I am referring to any of these emotional experiences or any others, as well as combinations thereof. I am interested in experiencing all different kinds of emotional content, and am interested in it to the degree that it is being expressed with conviction, or even further, extraordinary degrees of conviction.

Some "Top Tier" examples of "Expressed Emotional Conviction":

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor "Choral" - Beethoven (1824)
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor - Beethoven (1808)
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor "Appassionata" - Beethoven (1807)
In the Aeroplane Over The Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel (1998)
The Doors - The Doors (1967)
Astral Weeks - Van Morrison (1968)
The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady - Charles Mingus (1963)
A Love Supreme - John Coltrane (1964)
Ascension - John Coltrane (1965)
Metropolis - Lang (1927)
The Passion of Joan of Arc - Dreyer (1927)
The Godfather - Coppola (1972)
Sistine Chapel (Ceiling & The Last Judgement) - Michelangelo Buonarroti (1541)
Guernica - Pablo Picasso (1937)
Fall of the Damned - Peter Paul Rubens (1620)

Anyone could say these are either good or bad works of art but who could truly argue against these displaying a high degree of "expressed emotional conviction" from their respective artists?

2. Ingenuity

When I say ingenuity I mean, ideally, "an expression that took singular intelligence to conceive". There are reasons why there isn't another Beethoven waiting in line to write a symphony, or another Orson Welles directing films, or another John Coltrane playing the saxophone, or another Michelangelo preparing to paint the next "Sistine Chapel". These are each artists that truly embodied singular visions of their respective arts and are virtually inimitable. I also want to acknowledge that, to greater or lesser degree, each and every artist could be considered "singular", as there are no two that are exactly alike. So one could say that any intelligent artist easily falls under my definition above. This is technically true, however, I am looking primarily for the most extraordinary, most singular and impressive examples. An example of what I don't mean is that even though it may be a "unique achievement" to record an elephant's fart, I would not care at all if this was done even if it had no historical precedent. Because it clearly does not take much ingenuity to do so, perhaps just some patience and bravery.

Some "Top Tier" examples of "Ingenuity":

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor "Choral" - Beethoven (1824)
Rite of Spring - Stravinsky (1913)
Symphonie Fantastique - Berlioz (1830)
Trout Mask Replica - Captain Beefheart (1969)
The Velvet Underground & Nico - The Velvet Underground (1967)
Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan (1965)
Escalator Over The Hill - Carla Bley (1971)
Bitches Brew - Miles Davis (1969)
Free Jazz - Ornette Coleman (1960)
Citizen Kane - Welles (1941)
Persona - Bergman (1966)
2001: A Space Odyssey - Kubrick (1968)
Sistine Chapel (Ceiling & The Last Judgement) - Michelangelo Buonarroti (1541)
The Garden of Earthly Delights - Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1500)
Metamorphose de Narcisse - Salvador Dali (1937)

Anyone could say these are either good or bad works of art but who could truly argue against these displaying a high degree of "ingenuity" from their respective artists?

Combined, what do "Expressed Emotional Conviction" and "Ingenuity" equal? In a word, depth.

When I assimilate a work of art that is high on expressed emotional conviction but low on ingenuity, I may find it to be exciting or exhilarating upon my first, or first few, experiences with it, but it is unlikely to stay with me very long after that. It would likely decline in significance (or wouldn't be considered extraordinary to begin with) upon repeat experiences. Similarly, a work of art that is high on ingenuity but low on expressed emotional conviction would also be unlikely to hold much depth for me over the long term.

Another interesting point is that each factor seems to be dependent upon one another to reach its highest states. For me, a work of art can only be so emotional without a certain degree of ingenuity involved. Similarly, a work of art can only have so much ingenuity before an extraordinary emotional investment and conviction starts becoming evident from the artist. How much awe and wonder and other strong emotional reactions do the most singular works of art across history still inspire?

ALL the choices on my lists are a representation of is my opinion of #1 (Expressed Emotional Conviction) and #2 (Ingenuity) in greater and greater collaboration. The higher the rating/ranking, the greater the collaboration of these two factors.

Taking those above two factors into full account as the major prerequisites in my criteria, a reliable formula for my ratings and rankings could be as follows:

Accumulation of the degree and consistency of expressed emotional content and ingenuity within the time frame or space of the work of art.

The differences in rating and ranking are determined by a precise attempt at measuring the degree of amazement or awe inspired from the experience of the whole work while it is being assimilated. Experiences tend to differentiate -- even if slightly -- from one to the next, so the rating is an attempt to determine as precisely as possible the sustained peak of its experience. Therefore, I will tend to assimilate a work several times (particularly in the higher ratings) before I really settle in to a more "permanent" rating and ranking for it. Of course, even then, these are subject to change, but usually I can sooner or later come to terms with a very close estimation of its sustained value within my criteria and in relation to other works of art. After that, there are still variances with that work, from one experience to the next, but in most cases they are so minute that the rating usually doesn't change much, if at all. Please note that 6.8/10 would be the lowest point where amazement of any lasting value would be attained (below which, it tends to be increasingly superficial). At 7.3/10 and above is when a work starts to be truly extraordinary from an "all-time" historical perspective.

My Ratings Scale:

5.0 - AVERAGE/MEDIOCRE

6.0 - GOOD

7.0 - VERY GOOD

7.5 - EXTRAORDINARY ... At 7.3+ the experience begins to be truly extraordinary (increasingly as the rating rises), no matter how many of the greatest works of art one has experienced before.

(Note: Definitions of extraordinary being applied: "Highly exceptional; remarkable" and "Beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established." --Dictionary.com / The Free Dictionary.com)

8.0 - AMAZING ... At 7.8+ the experience will be thoroughly extraordinary (or averages out as such) and, overall, the work will be an amazing experience. Most works from here on up will tend to be one of the singular works of its medium. An 8/10 is roughly twice as amazing as a 7.5/10 (with variations to that between 7.8/10 and 8.2/10).

(Note: Definition of amazing being applied: "To affect with great wonder; astonish." --The Free Dictionary.com)

8.5 - AWE-INSPIRING ... At 8.3+, the experience will be thoroughly amazing (or averages out as such) and becomes a truly awe-inspiring experience. An 8.5/10 is roughly as amazing as an 8/10 and 7.5/10 put together (with variations to that between 8.3/10 and 8.7/10).

(Note: Definition of awe-inspiring being applied: "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like." --Dictionary.com)

9.0 - ALL TIME MASTERPIECE ... At 8.8+, the experience will be thoroughly awe-inspiring (or averages out as such). These works will tend to be the most singular, powerful and compelling expressions of such emotions and experiences in the history of the medium. A 9/10 is roughly twice as amazing as an 8/10 (with variations to that between 8.8/10 and 9.2/10). By 9.1/10 that probably escalates to something on the order of an 8.5/10 and an 8/10 put together, and by 9.2/10 it would probably be nearly twice as amazing as an 8.5/10.

9.5 - SUPREME MASTERPIECE ... At 9.3+ the experience enters the realm of the "impossible". It is an achievement so astonishing that, regardless of the type of emotional content, it holds the overwhelming power and inspires awe comparable to a life-changing religious experience, and does so in an utterly singular manner (or, nearly so). Here, the artist thoroughly enters the realm of the miraculous, begging thoughts such as: "How is it possible that this work was conceived? How is it possible that this work exists?" To be ultra-specific, a 9.3/10 is roughly as amazing as a 9/10 and an 8/10 put together. A 9.5/10 is roughly as amazing as a 9/10 and 8.5/10 put together. A 9.6/10 is probably roughly twice as amazing as a 9/10. A 9.7/10 is probably roughly as amazing as a 9.5/10 and a 9/10 put together.

10 - IMPOSSIBLE? ... A rough approximation for conceiving a 10/10 could be the following: think of the most incredible, overwhelmingly powerful and miraculous work ever produced in the history of art. Let's say that's a 9.5/10. Now, double how incredible and how powerful the awe inspired by that work is. That's roughly a 10. On my scale, a 10 would essentially be a 9.5 accumulating in power until it has doubled, or, if it's easier to think with, two full 9.5s, one after the other (though each part of the same work). To be ultra-specific, a 9.8/10 is probably on the order of a 9.3/10 and 9.5/10 put together. And, as described above, a 10/10 would indeed be twice as amazing as a 9.5/10.

NOTE: All of the above descriptions are pretty close approximations, but only meant as rough guides to thinking with my ratings and rankings. The qualitative increase from 7/10 upwards tends to be exponentially greater and greater, therefore an exact, uniform math is difficult to apply in combinations of two lower ratings precisely equaling a higher one.

Author Comments: 

Open for discussion, questions, etc.

I find it hard to disagree with your criteria, which to me says that a movie should be 1) sincere and 2) good. I would say those are roughly my own qualifications for great art as well. The only complaint I have is that you make no room for your personal responses to art. Now this may just be an introvert's lament, but I would think everyone has their own individual tastes and this naturally has an impact on what movies they like more than others. Scaruffi for instance, while arguably being the best Rock critic ever, has massive bias against certain kind of music, and he seems to often hide this behind a supposed wall of objectivity. He seems to have no time for pop music in general (for instance, which is why Christgau is the ying to his yang), anything mainstream is out, if it's mainstream pop - NOPE, not gunna happen baby; despite that being an extremely rich tradition with lots of brilliant song writers working in it! So I just want to know, do you think a person's personal perspective clouds their ability to recognize objective quality, and do you think this is something that happens to yourself? I don't mean to project or anything, but for me it's definitely a problem in being objective, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't think many others have that problem as well :O).

This is a thoughtful response, and without venereal disease, so I'm not afraid to touch upon what you've said (if Parable/Parablesque ever reads this, that was my "Pun O' The Day!" for Jan 26 2011!!!)...

The only complaint I have is that you make no room for your personal responses to art.

But that's the thing: those 2 factors define my personal responses to art. They are what I most want to experience in a work of art (music, film, etc). My lists really are the order in which I like them (or more like, "unwaveringly love" them). I make no differentiation between "best" and "favorite". They're the same thing.

Scaruffi for instance, while arguably being the best Rock critic ever, has massive bias against certain kind of music, and he seems to often hide this behind a supposed wall of objectivity. He seems to have no time for pop music in general (for instance, which is why Christgau is the ying to his yang), anything mainstream is out, if it's mainstream pop - NOPE, not gunna happen baby; despite that being an extremely rich tradition with lots of brilliant song writers working in it!

While what your saying has some solid ground, I think you may be slightly off in your assessment. I can't truly speak for Scaruffi but I can say that my own viewpoint is as follows: the genre doesn't make a difference to me. It's just those two factors above that matter: expressed emotional conviction & ingenuity. If Mariah Carey or Celine Dion, or anybody else, made an album that held those two standards than I'd love it sincerely. It just so happens that certain musics such as country, rap and pop don't have too many albums where this is that evident. I don't have any pre-supposed vendetta against these genres at all - if any one of them started spitting out masterpieces in the vein of my standards above, I'd love 'em. I'm sure it could be done, but I think in pop it would take an incredible vocalist to pull off - and I admit that true ingenuity within the pop format is quite a feat - but it's there to be done: ideas are potentially infinite. I think if one combined all of the following Beatles songs and some Neutral Milk Hotel onto one album, sequenced such as: Tomorrow Never Knows, I Am The Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, Across The Universe, Two-Headed Boy Pt. 1, Oh Comely, Holland 1945, Two Headed Boy Pt. 2, A Day in the Life, Revolution 9, you'd have something approaching a masterpiece and it could still be considered a pop/rock album. Different albums in Rap contain aspects of a masterpiece (such as Eminem, Beastie Boys (Paul's Boutique), Public Enemy, Clouddead) and I think if the strongest elements of each of these were combined into one work you could probably have something at or near the level of The Vampire Rodents' Lullaby Land while still falling under the genre of "Rap/Hip Hop" music. With country, I dunno - The Rolling Stones + The Band + Gun Club, or something.

So I just want to know, do you think a person's personal perspective clouds their ability to recognize objective quality, and do you think this is something that happens to yourself? I don't mean to project or anything, but for me it's definitely a problem in being objective, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't think many others have that problem as well :O).

The truth is I rank what I rank only when it hits a certain level for me on a personal level. BUT if I can tell that a film or album has those qualities but I'm just not 'getting it yet', I will definitely use that as impetus to continue listening to it or watching it until I do - and if it's there, I will always develop a personal love for it sooner or later (but usually right away, especially these days), simply because that is my ideal. But that's just me, that's not "objective" - those are my ideals, and apparently they're pretty darn close to Scaruffi's ideals as well. The reason I found Scaruffi in the first place was because I was looking for a rock music list which followed my ideals for all the greats in classical music I'd long since fallen in love with, and then I stumbled upon him via a link from one of lukeprog's pages on listology, tried Desertshore and Third, and couldn't believe there were other rock albums on the order of Beethoven, etc, besides Astral Weeks and a few others.

Would you say you're an essentialist?

I dont know, I think I have all sorts of different views on different subjects and I probably can't be defined by any one "ism".

I don't really want to go further than this as it's not really a subject I have time to get into much of a conversation about presently -- it's too time consuming -- I generally jump on and off listology to post things here and there from day-to-day. Perhaps one day I'll thoroughly define and post my views on life in general but the last time I said anything along these lines it turned into an impossibly long-winded conversation/argument within a small group of users here that never amounted to anything constructive -- these days I'm a different person and I'd approach it totally differently than I did then though...

I'll reply here so as not to rudely cut off our conversation, though I admit I am a little uncertain how the discussion took the trajectory it did. As far as I was concerned your personal criteria was never under question; rather, I was responding to the dialog opened by georgejetson about "tough" art, and wanted to throw in my 2c that boiled down, essentially, to agreement, with some caveats about what constitutes "difficulty". I was asserting that while great art can seem readily comprehensible and accessible it is not necessarily so, but instead always carries difficulties of its own.

Like you said, I don't think we're in general disagreement. However, I'd say our taste diverges insofar as much 20th C music is concerned, and while we tend to like similar films, I would note that our, for example, favourite directors lists differ in numerous, significant ways (e.g. I would have Satayjit Ray, Fassbinder, Cassavetes and Mizoguchi while there would be no Bergman, Hitchcock, Kubrick or Kurosawa). More related to the article on hand, "What I Look for in Art", Hitchcock is, I think, a good example of where our criteria sharply differs in that I recognize the proficiency of his work--he was a brilliant formalist, who knew exactly how to assail one's unconscious and manipulate mood--but his films were often so intellectually stunted that I cannot canonize him. You describe emotional conviction and ingenuity as constituting depth, but you're leaving out what is, for me, an equally important consideration: intelligence. As Ray wrote, in his wonderful, succinct essay "New Wave and Old Master": "The fact is, Hitchcock was not prepared to accept a position [bestowed by Cahiers] in the hierarchy of film makers which he believed did not belong to him. As he had himself said on many occasions, he thought of himself primarily as an entertainer, peddling a unique brand of suspense spiced with horror and leavened with humour... [T]he genre that Hitchcock chose for himself, debars by its very nature the kind of seriousness one associates with the writers Truffaut mentions [Kafka, Poe and Dostoevsky]... Hitchcock is obliged to deal with characters who are supposed to exist on a level of everyday reality, and yet have no existence beyond the needs of melodramatic plot designed solely to generate maximum suspense. Admittedly, the creation of such suspense calls for ingenuity of a very special kind; but such ingenuity can never be a concomitant of serious art ". His films are certainly--axiomatically--emotional, but Hitchcock rarely has much to say about life. That said, Rear Window is a great one.

These differences are, of course, a good thing as far as I'm concerned, as "Art lives upon discussion", and if we all liked the same things in the same ways it would be awfully dull.

Re: trajectory ... it was confusing due to my initial, distracted, in haste response. I wasn't arguing, though my "state of confusion" (and replying by phone), might have made it seem that way. I was merely (trying to) describe how what he says about depth seems to match my criteria closely. I am pretty sure I agree with his distinction, and yours, between "difficulty" and "density".

Re: leaving out intelligence ... I think you may have missed this part:

'When I say ingenuity I mean, ideally, "an expression that took singular intelligence to conceive".'

...but no worries :)

Hitchcock might not have much to say about the real world around most people, but I would definitely say that hidden just beneath the surface of his entertainments is often a helluva lot to reveal about himself (even if he may have never expected people to realize it), his state of mind, his conceptions of things, his feelings, his paranoia... etc. I may be wrong, but I don't think he wanted or expected people to "see" this aspect of his films. It's so consistently evident that I think he hid these in his films in a conscious attempt to play (often twisted or paranoid) "games" with the viewer (and probably, critics too), who did not conceive of their depth past their surface entertainment. His films are their own universe, a universe of his own making, "purely cinematic". His characters and plots are "lost", "trapped" in the "world of cinema". They are trapped and dictated inside Hitchcock's game, completely under his control, in his own cinematic universe. This "cinema" is really Hitchcock's state of mind revealed, enveloped and obsessed by cinema. He is like an unabashedly entertaining, apparently lucid, highly organized David Lynch -- even if that at first seems like an oxy moron!

Rear Window is, indeed, one of his most masterful examples!

Re: differences being a good thing ... I absolutely agree! :-)

Ahh, gotcha. Perhaps because of the term "ingenuity", and examples of artists who were enormously innovative from a technical viewpoint, I took "an expression that took singular intelligence to conceive" as referring to formal intelligence, opposed to vision of life. But I think I follow now! Good chat!

Aha, thanks, glad we figured this all out! :-)