Ars Adriatica

Evalutive Descriptions of Art

Abstract

Taking into account the fact that, throughout history, certain artworks have been considered as “worth of watching” (according to the Greek etymon ἀξιοϑέατος / aksioteatos), preservation, or theorizing, while others were not, one is led to investigate the various types of evaluative descriptions. Those artworks that are more valuable than others, or simply valuable in themselves on the basis of rather specific features, have always represented the paradigmatic model for the evaluator, thus revealing the identitary nature of value as different from one epoch to another. Our aim has been to discern, with regard to this starting point, the way in which the process of evaluating artworks fits the general matrix of the universal theory of value, with its clearly distinguished levels of evaluation, beginning with value descriptions, continuing through the features of evaluation or abstract qualities of values extracted from these descriptions, and ending with value norms or systems of accepted generalizations in evaluation. Value standpoints in such an evaluation matrix represent dispositions or preferences in procedures, which reflect the norms or signifying concepts of the time. Corresponding procedures, or applications of the hierarchicized signification of artworks, are manifested in all known forms of artwork assessment: attribution, institutionalization, and setting of priorities in terms of exhibition, conservation, acquisition, restoration, and so on. Research in the history of European art-historical ideas has corroborated the hypothesis that, prior to the late 18th century, clear normative patterns were applied when it came to the evaluation of artworks. However, with the emergence of early Romanticism, this could no longer be done in the traditional way. Before the period in question, visual art was created (regardless of some stylistic discrepancies between individual authors) and classified according to well-defined thematic areas and functions. Such qualifications made it possible to distinguish clearly between major stylistic periods, creating the impression of development regardless of the later evaluative classifications of individual cycles in historical production thus understood. A comparison between the axiological matrix and the features of individual historical periods has revealed, on the one hand, a stable relationship between the functionally nomological features of artistic productions and the cultural instrumentalizations of art, and on the other a stable relationship between the overtly semantic conceptualizations in the epoch of modernism and the ostensibly structural mode of artistic expression. In the postmodern period, all that was once understood as the stylistic language of form, or the autonomy of the artefact, has been transformed in the evasive media multiplication of the postindustrial epoch into a whole series of reproductive languages, replicas, transfers, copies, or simulacra, and forced into a relationship of permanent detachment with regard to the “original” (source). Thus, instead of an artwork in context, the context itself is now presented as an artwork, structured all over again according to some of the possible principles in the theoretical choice of interpretation. The impossibility of defining precisely the boundaries of the medium, and its increasing dematerialization, have made it more difficult to apply universal evaluative criteria to a particular artwork, which has led to a conflict between cultural evaluation and the subjection of experience to the semantic functions of evaluations. Nevertheless, recent research on perception in the field of neuroscience has indicated that the sensory perception of the external world and the assignation of meaning to those perceptions indeed happen simultaneously, and that these processes cannot take place separated from one another. The conclusion shows that the modern evaluation conflicts are largely a consequence of an irreversible and entropic state of culture in the 21st century. We should therefore aim at a revision, not so much of the hitherto accepted and standardized values, but rather of the present systems of evaluation and the ensuing evaluative descriptions of art.
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