That alone, I think, suffices to justify my claim.
However the second part of the case I treated rather lightly, though in fact I think it the more important aspect. I wrote: 'I would also argue that some forms of art are (when well executed) intrinsically better than others (even when well executed).'
I then exemplified that by citing The Beatles and P.G. Wodehouse (chosen because in terms of personal taste, they are favourites of mine) in contrast with Mozart, and Shakespeare.
However, I did not argue that case. So here I propose to do just that.
This is, of course (and particularly in our current intellectual climate - a fact I find very significant) a much harder case to make. Arguments of the 'What is Art?', and particularly of the 'What is Great Art?' variety are notoriously difficult.
The modern temperament on this topic is admirably captured at the start of the film Dead Poets Society, when the hero (John Keating, played by Robin Williams) tears up, in contempt, the opening pages of a worthy book on literature that attempts to do this by saying that one can determine great art by multiplying the greatness of the theme by the quality of its execution.
Keating's view, as far as one can gather, is the more fashionable one that great literature is literature that moves one, and that is finally a subjective judgement. That is, I think, the great Romantic conceit: the elevation of personal sensibilities to be the supreme measure of judgement.
That is not to say the the potential of a work of art (including literature or music) to move one is irrelevant: far from it. But it is not the only criterion, any more than 'greatness of theme and the quality of its execution' are the only two.
Since discernment is all the vogue these days (and my readers know how important it is to me to stay with the fashion) I thought I would offer a few criteria for discernment when trying to think about whether a particular work, or indeed a genre, is great.
I offer these with some trepidation, and am certainly open to suggestions for criteria I have missed, or better expression of the ones I have identified. And I make the claim for these criteria that Stoppard makes for the cricket bat in the passage I quoted yesterday: they do not exist because of some conspiracy by the academy, but rather because experience has demonstrated that they work...
My first draft criteria for evaluating a work of art as good:
- It does what it sets out to do skilfully
- What it sets out to do is worth doing
- It moves the audience/viewer/reader/listener
- It moves the audience/viewer/reader/listener repeatedly when engaged with on second and subsequent occasions
- It both demonstrates and provokes insight
- It makes demands on the audience/viewer/reader/listener
- It has some element of novelty or originality
- It mediates truth and beauty (though that may be in the negative way: eg demonstration of evil at work etc)
I think that interesting, as one can then see both why a successful soap opera or a good pop song works (eg it does what it sets out to do skilfully, it has some element of novelty or originality, it moves the audience) and also why it is unlikely to be watched or listened to again by succeeding generations (it may not meet many of the other criteria).
I am also interested in the fact that many people will find this a difficult argument to swallow, but want to think further about that before I write too much more.
And I am also interested in the link between this argument, and C S Lewis' The Abolition of Man, but again, I want to reflect further on that before committing myself (others, of course, think I should have been committed years ago, but that's another story...)