It has been recently observed that there are no completely objective ways to judge the exactitude of art. Much of Science, too, is an art that begins with observation colored by certain personal factors that are not as objective as we are led to believe in school. Charles Darwin began his theories with pure observation, lacking the exact measurement of genes and chromosomes… and even the molecular beginnings of genetic research will fall into the nature of art if you look long and hard enough. Still, (most of us) find his conclusions very conclusive today. Observation is an inexact process and can be wildly different from one position to another, so there will always be a few who trust traditional poetic insight over keen observation (cf. “the Bible”) or read this essay “Art and Artifice”:
This effect was part of the subject matter of a recent episode of “Bones” (The Doctor in the Photo) and it reminded me of how much our experience is colored by the very ground of our everyday “seat of the self.” The “self” is a composite not only of accumulated knowledge and experience, but of just how we are feeling at the moment. In this case, the main character identifies with the victim of murder that she is certain that the photographs and recordings of the victim are _exactly_ like her. It is only later, when she fully comprehends the events leading to the death, that she realizes there are only coincidental similarities. Her immediate experiences change due to the depth of her new understanding.
There are art experts whose job is to decide whether a work is actually the product of a particular artist. What they rely on is a huge body of referential material that is generally accepted as ‘genuine’ and using their own judgement of the details of these will determine if the work in question is one of a series by the same person. Handwriting analysis, for example, is not a science, but a technique of keen observation and good guesses. Art experts employ the same kind of judgements, but a casual observer or listener- or smeller, in the case of perfume perhaps, will accept a counterfeit because their casual experience is all they need. They call in the experts when the stakes seem higher, but I ask “Isn’t the richness of their experience just as important?” So let’s get serious about this.
When it becomes an issue of worth and exchange, the art experts are brought in. Then the casual response goes immediately deeper. Nothing has changed, except the experience. (The casual observer is very gradually seduced into becoming an “art expert.”)
Some might insist that it is all ‘chemical’ in nature and certainly changes in body chemistry can make radical differences in our personal experience. It is also demonstrable that we can change our own chemistry, even using just our own minds. And sometimes the effect can be so slight that we don’t recognise it. We may never know for certain which phenomena leads the way to our somatic reference, the way our bodies affect our minds and ‘tother way round. If we know this to be true, then only time can reveal some certainties we can rely on.
This, and the impressions of a collective, like our families and friends (our own ‘art experts’) make a huge difference in our experiences. And once we are aware of how our response can vary with circumstance it is possible to have a truly aesthetic experience of a drawing, a painting, or of a musical work. It seems to me the personal response to artwork has to be a balance of an immediate impression, yet supported by cultural expectations, our previous experiences. It starts in a particular momentary impression, then stretches to the boundaries of culture.
I simply doubt that objective measurements can be used in art, or in science in any reliable way. I have electronic tuners that work much more slowly and precisely than my hearing, and I trust them more if I want to know what C sounds like. Yet art is all about illusion, isn’t it? By the time I play a note, the reference wanders again.