Connecting Thursdays

Objective Progress

To what extent can subjective biases in the arts be objectively measured?

Most people have accepted that the arts is a domain riddled with weird and wonderful combinations of objective and subjective judgements that we will never be able to fully entangle.  

The subjective part is pretty obvious: anyone who maintains that he’s found a way to unequivocally assess artistic beauty or musical genius or theatrical excellence is immediately, and quite rightly, met with an archly-raised eyebrow.  The notion that such things can be rigorously defined, let alone measured, is wholeheartedly counter to virtually all of our experiences, from the diversity of cultural values to the changing winds of artistic fashion.

And yet, there is Titian, and Beethoven, and Shakespeare, to name but three – artists whose achievements are universally recognized as transcending those who came both before and after them.  Few would venture to adopt the unbridled relativist position that these are just three guys who somehow managed to squeak into the cultural pantheon just because they happened to have been at the right place at the right time.

So most of us, prudently enough, recognize the fundamental intractability of the situation and move on with our own personal solution to the subjective/objective artistic divide. 

But nonetheless, if we force ourselves to think sufficiently critically, there are still real opportunities to make progress here.  Take award-winning violinmaker Joseph Curtin’s quest to disentangle “the secret of Stradivarius”.

It turns out that, as Joseph went on to show in several groundbreaking studies with his colleagues, it’s hard to justifiably claim that the “secret of Stradivarius” exists at all.    

The real secret, in other words, is our willingness to question our biases and assumptions.   Which shouldn’t, of course, be a secret at all. 

For additional examples of how TOK overlaps with music, see Ideas Roadshow’s TOK Connections Guide for Music, directly available in the Teacher Resources and Student TOK section on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal plus the resources highlighted below. 

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