Tag Archives: Existentialism

The Guggenheim, Lee Ufan, and The Question of What Makes Great Art


Lee Ufan's "Silence Room"

“Art” is just something different – something hard to characterize or categorize. Even the law makes exceptions for it. Under typical contract law, the parties to the contract can have a “satisfaction clause.” This means that that the performing party has not legally fulfilled their obligation until the other party is satisfied with their work.  There’s a catch, though. This  “satisfaction” is tested objectively. That is to say, if the average person would be satisfied with the work, then the “satisfaction clause” has been fulfilled. This is true even if the actual person who made the contract is incredibly disappointed with the work performed.

There is, however, one big exception – contracts to create art. When it comes to paintings, portraits, and sculptures, the person who commissioned the work can reject each attempt until they receive something that fits their own personalized expectations. The reasoning behind the exception is that art is something so individual, so specific to the person seeking it, that the law cannot impose the same sort of generalized expectations that govern the typical sort of agreement for goods or services. As recognized even in the legal world, art is something apart.

Which begs the question – how do we reach any sort of consensus as to what makes great art, when art itself is so inherently subjective? From the curator deciding on the next exhibition for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to the little girl picking out her Lisa Frank pencil box, everyone approaches expressive imagery with their own taste in what they find pleasant, moving, or appealing. In the face of such a wide diversity of not only perspectives on art, but of schools, movements, and varieties of art, how do we decide what deserves uniform praise, and what is merely one man’s preference?

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Posted on by Andrew Bloom | 6 Comments