Art is Subjective

Posted in Weekend Grab-Bag


“Money is something that can be measured; art is not. It’s all subjective.”
– Jerry Saltz

“Art is subjective” – we hear this phrase quite a bit, particularly in response to someone that has made a disparaging comment about a particular artist or piece of work. While the statement about subjectivity is true, what does it actually mean?

We all know what art is, or at least have a fairly good idea of what it is; the textbook definition of art is “the expression or application of creative skill and imagination, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” So that makes sense… but then what does the word “subjective” mean? It means that an individual’s reaction to something is based on and influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

So there you have it; art – which is created for beauty and emotional reaction – being appreciated by individuals, using personal feelings and tastes to form an opinion.

The important word in that last sentence is “personal”, because any type of art speaks to each of us in very different ways – even multiple people who might appreciate the exact same piece of work. For example, a group of individuals standing in front of a painting may all agree that they appreciate the artwork. But each one of them will appreciate the piece in different ways and for different reasons – no matter how subtle or broad those differences are – because each of them has had different life experiences that have brought them to that place and point in time. Like snowflakes, no two people are exactly alike – even identical twins will still have varying subjective opinions and thoughts on things.

This is one of the reasons why I’ve always found any type of “professional critic” within the arts to be a strange thing; sure, they can be trained with years of objective schooling in all the elements and basic protocols for a particular style of work… but no matter how long they have been reviewing and studying art, their opinion is simply that; it’s _their_ opinion – a subjective viewpoint – based on personal taste and feelings. Their viewpoint and opinion on Chagall’s brushstrokes, the latest rendition of “The Wiz” or Justin Beiber’s latest hit single is still just that; it’s their opinion, and should be regarded as such.

“Art and life are subjective. Not everybody’s gonna dig what I dig, but I reserve the right to dig it.”
– Whoopi Goldberg

The bottom line of this official kick-off post is simple; don’t let someone else’s subjective viewpoint sway your viewpoint, when it comes to art; your mind knows what moves you, and your heart knows what it loves… and if your heart loves Justin Beiber music, put your headphones on, crank it up and dance like no one is watching. If your heart loves the works of Van Gogh, go to a museum and study his paintings, from 10 feet away and from 2 inches away, until tears roll down your cheeks. Don’t be bashful, don’t hold back – LET ART MOVE YOU. Let it move you to the very core of your being; that’s what it’s there for… that’s why people labour over it, and spend their lives creating it… it’s there for you to take in, to appreciate and to connect with, on a very personal, individual level.

And if you feel really inspired? Make art yourself.

It’s with these thoughts that I welcome you my blog at The Zen Orange – a place that focuses on the arts, in it’s many forms. Some of it you may be familiar with, hopefully some of it is new to you and expands your horizons… because I want to open your world to various forms of art that you can connect with, on that basic emotional level – whatever emotion it may elicit, it’s there to bring those emotions to the surface; to make you feel, to make you think, to inspire you and to move you. If you feel strongly about something I share in the blog, be sure to comment and tell me why; what it means to you, how it affects you… share your passion. If you make art, send me a link and maybe I can feature it here in the blog, to share with others as well.

While this may initially sound contrary to everything I just said, I will do my best to share an objective standpoint on the information I share; my goal is not to sway your opinion, or to impose my subjective thoughts onto you… my goal is to only share the art with you. If you wish to see my personal thoughts or feelings on a particular piece, I will sometimes offer a hidden “My Opinion” section on posts, that you can click on to read… but I suggest that you only do so after taking in the art on your own, and forming your own opinion.

My current plan for the blog is to focus on certain overall fields of art on certain days. It may or may not stay this way, but here is the current plan:

Sunday “Science Sunday” art in science and nature
Monday “Music Monday” music and dance
Tuesday “Inside & Out Tuesday” architecture and interior design
Wednesday “Commercial Break” commercial arts (design, photography, fashion, etc)
Thursday “Thespian Thursday” stage, books, movies and theater
Friday “Fine Art Friday” fine arts, studio arts
Saturday “Weekend Grab-Bag” random – anything goes


I would encourage anyone that wishes to comment to not troll by saying “such-and-such sucks” — as I stated before, it’s fine if you don’t like something, but your opinion is simply that – your opinion. Be constructive and quantify your statement with “I don’t like this piece, and here’s why…” – because while you are always entitled to your opinion, it’s not the art… it’s only your perception of the art.

I look forward to sharing my love of the arts with you! If you like what you see here, you can show your support by following The Zen Orange on the various social channels being used, checking out and supporting my sponsors, and even buying me a cup of coffee from the sidebar (I may be biased, but I’m really partial to that last option).

Be well, and take care of one another,



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Add Comment.
  1. Steven

    September 25, 2015 - Reply

    Hey man, I just wanted to say, awesome defense of logic. People would like to think of art as if it were some discipline like physics, but it’s not. Flat out, or else we wouldn’t appreciate a schizophrenic’s paintings in light of the Dutch masters, and people wouldn’t find pop music appealing. As a fan of classical and heavy metal (among pretty much everything else), I find so much elitism between these two genres it sickens me. Thank you for the hope given with this post. Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in a world that is a nightmare filled with illogical arguments and prejudicial affairs… which it is… but posts like these remind me that I’m not alone.

  2. Elis jones

    November 1, 2015 - Reply

    Great read with a fascinating insight into art and subjectivity. I’ll be sure to keep up to date with your future posts.

  3. Bradley Kell

    June 18, 2017 - Reply

    I think some people are using this ‘subjectivity’ wrong.

    I have a friend who is an Art Major, and we have this argument all the time. Art is subjective in that you can think it’s good and I can think it is bad… and neither of us is wrong. That is the subjectivity of it.

    He seems to think this subjectivity means Art can not be misinterpreted, than any and every interpretation is correct. That the intent of the Artist has no bearing. I disagree strongly with this.

    He tends to weave opinion, emotional response and interpretation together as the same thing… when they are not.

    I will say there IS Art that is completely subjective, there purely for the viewer to make their own. That Art indeed does exist and I would never deny that. That, however, is not ALL Art.

    If I write a Poem about the struggle of lower class Americans and the challenges they face, then that is a Poem about low class Americans and the challenges that they face. You can have an opinion about my Poem, and that opinion can not be wrong. You can have an emotional response to my Poem, and even if the response is not the one I intended it can not be wrong. However, you can interpret my Poem… and if you misinterpret it you can absolutely be completely wrong. Saying your interpretation of my Poem is that it is about the fall out after the Viet Nam War would be completely wrong. There is nothing about Art being subjective that suggests that every interpretation is correct.

    I try to explain this to him, but somehow despite his being his major, he doesn’t grasp the very basic concept. I’m not sure how else to go about this, and would love for some one to be able to show him the difference in misinterpretation as opposed to opinion or emotional response.

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“Arguments led by subjectivity are a waste of time. And, if they take place online, add to that, a waste of one’s keyboard.”
- Mokokoma Mokhonoana