Art Opinion and the Value of Art

by John Link

Clement Greenberg convinced me the value of art is tied to the value sophisticated art opinion places on it. He assured me that his essay "Can Taste Be Objective?" answered the question in the affirmative, that the best taste ultimately gets it right and that's why we can rely on the consensus of such taste to provide credibility for the choices major institutions finally make in selecting which work to present and preserve. The fact taste is objective does not mean it is provable or even measurable, only that it evaluates something that exists independent of the mind, according to a scale that can be trusted. Thus, the best taste is accurate and therefore good in its verdicts, while bad taste is inaccurate and therefore bad. Of course, he would note, there are exceptions in which the consensus goes awry (El Greco, for instance) but even they tend to work out correctly over the long haul. The consensus of taste can be trusted.

When I asked him about an artist, such as Warhol, whom he did not believe to be good, yet possessed a growing reputation, Clem would assure me that art opinion about Warhol would soon change, in 10 years, say. That was in 1980. Thirty years later the value placed on Warhol is much higher, not lower, than it was then. Art opinion about Warhol today is almost 100% favorable. Prices are stratospheric. Museums all over the world clamor to add his work to their collections. Libraries overflow with books praising his achievements.

What could be a better sign of unqualified acceptance by sophisticated art opinion than a show at Versailles? Jeff Koons had such a show in September of 2008. Even You Tubers like it by a margin of 2 to 1. While it remains true that the aesthetic value of a thing is not apprehended until it is apprehended by oneself for oneself, should this not give pause to those who find Koons to be really really bad? Should they not look again, with open, unbiased eyes? If they persist with negative judgments, from whence do those judgments derive credibility?

This is a serious question that deserves a response. The "consensus of taste" no longer seems up to the task.

September 3, 2012

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