How do people form, and change, their judgements about good art?

Some artists are unappreciated during their lifetime, but subsequent reevaluation of their work means that they come to be considered as good or even great. Other artists' work is very popular during their lifetime but they don't last the test of time. What changes, and why?

Dunedin School of Art Lecturer Ed Hanfling has been exploring the process of art criticism in his research. He was interested in how his own judgement of art was changing, as he began to appreciate more diverse works:

"It's only you and the art work, but how you think about it and look at it is shaped by all sorts of factors, and that creates commonalities between your judgement and someone else's."

Likewise our personal differences mean that we don't always agree on what is good art. Some art works raise dilemmas and help us explore questions of judgement. Take for example Diane Prince's 1995 artwork comprising a New Zealand flag on the floor with a sign saying "Please walk on me": is it a cheap stunt or good art? Ed finds it helpful to consider "interpretative communities":

"What's considered good or bad is neither objective nor individual but somewhere in between."

Of course it is not just art that we make judgements about; we are constantly evaluating the world around us. It is helpful to have an understanding of the process of criticism and how we form judgements in order to appreciate that a different community will hold their different convictions, about art or food or politics for example, as strongly as you hold yours.

September 2018

Image credit:, used under Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0