The average person's inability to distinguish good art from bad art
Submitted by Duion on
After thinking about my last blog post "Why most people seem to prefer inferior quality games now" it came to me that the answer is quite obvious, at least to me: It is because the average person has no or very little ability to distinguish good art from bad art in the first place, at least not consciously, but we will come to that now.
Video games are a form of art and I would say the highest form of art there ever was, it is not just painting, modeling, music, acting, writing etc it is everything together. So the choice of video games is a choice of art to consume, well it is not exactly a choice of the consumer either, but I will address that later as well.
As an artistically gifted person I already wondered about that as a child that almost everyone else seem to really suck at art, while it actually it is really easy. I'm not that skilled technically at any art form, but if there is a will there is a way to do it and that is how I do art. Ok lets get to the point, let me make an actual example, when I was a child I knew someone who was very talented at art and he also was at an actual art school, because he wanted to become a professional artist. After some time he quit, because he was just frustrated, because he spend so much effort into making high quality art just to see some idiot who just made a few specks on the canvas could sell his "art" for high amounts instantly, while he was struggling, even though his art was objectively far better. Now over 20 years later I see the same story repeat in the video game world not only in others, but actually in myself.
In our world who succeeds at art is more kind of random, well not exactly random, but random in terms of actual art quality. Since the average person does not seem to be capable of distinguishing good from bad art, being a good artist is more about your image, about painting yourself as a good artist, rather than make good paintings which will show you being a good artist. Well this may sound a big confusing, let me make it short, you are a good artist, if you can convince the masses that you are a good artist, the actual art you produce then is not so important anymore, since you define what is good, because you are the authority through mob rule.
I already touched that mob rule issue in the last blog post where I wrote that in the past the most common source for video game ratings were PC Gaming Magazines you bought physically in the store, where they had experts which did nothing else their whole day than to test and rate video games, based on graphics, sound, controls, gameplay etc. The magazine I was buying had very fine gradients like 0-100% where it was really hard for video games to reach 100%, well nobody really ever did, but it was also hard to get really low ratings, most were around 50-95% really really good ones also reached a score a bit higher than 95%. Now we just have consumer reviews with 0-5 stars or just "good" or "bad", or thumbs up or thumbs down.
There is a fun additional example from my real life regarding that, I already gave that example about the guy at art school, but I just remember I have an even better one from my time at elementary school, which was even earlier in my life. When I was in elementary school at 4th grade I think we had to make a group project and one task was, we needed a picture of a certain kind, I think it was a nature scene, so the teacher said "Well we need this etc and to make this, everyone will paint a picture and then everyone views everyone else's painting and then he can vote for which he thinks it is best." So we all draw our painting and then the other children voted on it, as predictable with 25 people and 25 paintings, hardly anyone got much votes, maybe 2-3 if it was good. Which was already a bad system by the teacher, but it got worse. When the votes were done a painting from one of the girls won, because the girls were friends with each other and they were like 4-5 and they told each other probably "Let us just vote for one of us and we will win" and that of course worked, because nobody else cheated that way or had that many friends. Even for me as a 10 year old child the scam was totally obvious to me as well as the really poor design of the lesson by the teacher, but to my wonder nobody else realized any of the problems, not even the teacher and he was an old man that should be much more experienced in life, especially at his job, but in reality he was screwed over by 10 year old girls. The issue may look trivial now, but as a child this was a lesson for life to me I will never forget.
What this example shows that is not about the actual quality of who made the best painting, but about who can cheat the system better and of course my painting was one of the best by far. The teachers in general also were not idiots and in my whole school time I had only A grades in art class, except one half-year, where we had a feminist art teacher. So objectively I was the best at art, but it was not rewarded in an actually field test where I could have proved my skills.
So the main difference is, the average person thinks good art is what is more popular, because he has no actually skill to determine good art from bad art, but he goes with the "others", only the trained expert can actually distinguish good art from bat art, but even them in many cases have problems with that as there are many charlatans running around. The problem now is, that the average person of course thinks he is super skilled in anything and would never admit he made a wrong choice or rated something wrongly and he will stick to his wrong choice even more, if you prove him wrong, so no chance to beat that.
Of course there is a so called intelligence of the masses or group intelligence, where it is like that, if the most people go with a certain thing, it cannot be that bad, this is true to some degree. So if you follow the masses you cannot be that wrong, at least in most cases. So if you chose a popular consumer product, you can be assured that you don't get real bad quality, at least in most cases. On the other hand however, if you act that way, you also can be almost assured that you also do not get a real good quality product either, because to determine what is actually good, one must be an expert and the average person is certainly not an expert, so you certainly do not get the level of expertise you would get from an actual expert. Expertise also cannot be multiplied or added, more experts are not necessarily more expert than one expert. So if you get higher number of experts together the result will not necessarily be more intelligent, it may actually get worse.
This is the problem I as an artist face all the time, I do creative things, but there is hardly anyone around being able to tell if it is good or bad. People see it is good to some degree, but on the other hand they see that it is not very popular, so they back off again and because my art is different to anything else that exists, because it is unique, they also have nothing to compare it too. The "professionals" also do not care, because I just do it for a hobby, so I'm kind of stuck in between.
Now I'm rambling off topic again and tell stories from my life, but that is the nature of things, it is a topic that follows me around for all my life now. It is only now that the puzzle pieces finally come together to form the full picture. It was also kind of my mistake to ever take the masses seriously, you cannot expect any kind of expertise from average people. When you create things it is natural to show it to people to get some kind of feedback, which you of course will get, but in a very superficial way mostly, only when you ask an actual expert in the field, you will get an actual feedback that will help you for real.
Now let us come to the conscious and unconscious aspect, which I promised to talk about in the first sentence of the article. I said that the average person has no or little ability to distinguish good art from bad art, that is about their conscious ability, but every person also has unconscious abilities and with those unconscious abilities all or at least most people are able to distinguish good art from bad art very easily. Some people call this "emotional intelligence" even though something like this does not exist, it is more a mix out of their unconsciousness and emotion. Let's say you create a piece of art and show it to the average Joe and if the average Joe is honest he will likely instantly respond with either "looks good" or "looks bad", this is because subconsciously every or almost every person knows what looks good and what not.
Art is a representation of reality and every time you look at art, your brain will automatically compare it to your previous experiences of reality and tell you through feeling if everything is alright or something is wrong. Reality is based on strict principles of mathematics and as an artist you need to know the math to make realistic good looking art. For example when I learned how to model trees, I found that there is software that can model trees for you based on mathematical algorithms and you need to stick to those algorithms otherwise your tree will look ugly. Your brain subconsciously compares art with reality and if the math of the artwork does not match up with the math of reality, the brain will tell you something is wrong. The average Joe however will not be able to tell you consciously why he thinks what he thinks or what mathematical algorithm you violated that make him feel emotionally bad, but subconsciously he "knows" it.
So if every person is so intelligent subconsciously why do they still make so many wrong choices? Well this is because there are many more factors and tolerance levels. If you subconsciously feel something is wrong or bad, but still continue to believe it is right or good, you will encounter a feeling that is called cognitive dissonance, which is an emotion that kind of tells you, your view of reality does not match up with actual reality and it usually makes the people experiencing it feel bad and angry. The problem is, many people constantly live with different levels of cognitive dissonance and they suppress it or convince themselves it is normal. Often those people later release their anger in hate reviews or customer feedbacks, but they just use this as a vent for their anger, they are not actually trying to improve things. One of the biggest reasons they do it is probably to fit in socially. I mean I had to play soccer as a child, because the others also played it and you had the choice, play soccer or have no friends, so I played with them, but actually I hated it, simple mechanic and most people do things like that all their life. Now I'm no longer forced to play soccer to fit in, but ugly video games that probably cause eye cancer or something like that.
This example also shows the holistic nature of humanities problems, they will follow you around through almost all ages and all areas of life. If you think video games are just a free time activity and it does not matter, well I just told you the issue from that perspective, but as said the issue goes through more aspects of life, think about the people working a job they hate, because they think they have to fit in or need the money, even though their subconscious tells them that it is bad, or think about people living in ugly houses in ugly areas that suppress their subconscious telling them that they live an ugly life in ugly surroundings. Imaging now an ugly person, working at an ugly job he hates, just to fit in with people he does not like either, to earn money to pay for a house that is ugly and stands in an ugly area and now to escape all that ugliness he spends money to play video games that are also ugly like everything else in his ugly life, so don't you think that at the very minimum people should be able to have something nice in their life at least in their free time?
Well sadly I think the trick the system plays on people here is, that it makes everything equally ugly and then claims ugly is nice and ugliness does not exist and everything and everyone is equal anyway, so there is no need for different things. That is probably the reason we cannot have good art in our society, because it will remind people that life could be better and they will no longer be satisfied with their bad life. This can even backfire and people can come to hate good art aka the things that remind them of their bad life and then they come to hate the good art and fight it, I experienced it myself as I was attacked many times by people that really hated me, even though I'm just an artist that likes to create things other may enjoy and on top of that I even give everything away for free. On the other hand I saw corporations that produce inferior products compared to their budget that treat their customers like shit being loved by their customers. It is really kind of a weird world.
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