Is Quality in the Eye of the Beholder, or the Creator?

by vernsanders on June 21, 2010

Last week, in my Monday Morning Email newsletter, I posed the following question.

I’ve been thinking about quality lately. Is quality in the eye of the beholder, or the creator? If the creator believes in the quality of of the creation, does it matter what the beholder thinks? Do the difficulties of the creation process have a bearing upon the quality judgment in the eye of the beholder? Should they? What do you think?

I had a number of replies.

Here’s what Tim Mayfield had to say:

Quality is not only in the eye of the Creator (“…and God said ‘it is good!’”), but in the eye of the one(s) for whom the creation was done in the first place! (God created not only for His own pleasure, but because He wanted man to enjoy it.)

When I write music or a concert format or a drama it’s for my pleasure, but it’s also for others to enjoy and benefit from.  If it’s not good no publisher or performer will ever see it, but only the shredder and waste-basket!  However, my expectations are probably higher than those of most people, so it is then a matter of “who is the beholder.”  In the case of God…it’s WHO is the beholder, and nobody could have any higher expectations than HE!

Gwen Wyatt wrote me about the difficulties involved:

Though the difficulties involved in the process of creativeness should be recognized, respected,  and appreciated, it should not be the qualifier and/or judgement of the creation.

Twyla Lunn checked in with these thoughts:

If the creator believes in the quality of the creation, does it matter what the beholder thinks?
I say it does matter what the beholder thinks because he/she has to behold it and if the creator wants it to be enjoyed, then he/she needs to be concerned about that.  If the creator is just creating and doesn’t give a flip if others enjoy it, then it doesn’t matter.
Do the difficulties of the creation process have a bearing upon the quality judgment in the eye of the beholder? Should they? What do you think?
I would think that would be a tendency.  However, I don’t think the creator should automatically think his/her creation has great quality due to the time and effort put into it.  That isn’t always the case.

Finally, Tom Kraeuter offered this extended excerpt from his book Times of Refreshing: A Worship Ministry Devotional which somewhat addresses Twyla’s first point: (I have edited the excerpt slightly to fit the space available)

Not long ago my wife and I visited the St. Louis Art Museum. It was an impromptu outing, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together. However, I must admit that I was a bit taken aback by some of the “art” objects at the museum. One was a blank white canvas, about eight feet square, with a straight red line that was maybe eighteen inches across running from top to bottom. Nothing else. In another room there was a “sculpture” that was simply old car parts stuck together in no particular order and forming no particular shape. Let me explain why I was amazed at finding these things at the art museum. You see, from the beginning of time, art has been revered because it is not something that just anyone can do. Real art takes both ability and the discipline to develop that ability. Natural inclination and plenty of hard work are both necessary ingredients.

Go buy yourself a canvas, some oil paints, and some brushes and try to make a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Betcha can’t! Or try picking up a violin and playing like Itzhak Perlman. It’s just not going to happen. How come? Because those artists are not only gifted, but they spent years practicing and perfecting their abilities.

Not just anyone can create true art. That’s why we all are so enamored when we encounter the real thing. We are keenly aware that it took that person a long time to get to be so good at it. We are impressed that someone would be so gifted and also disciplined enough to develop that gift. That is not something just the average guy on the street can do. That is true art.

So now you understand why I found some of those “art” pieces
objectionable. If my ten year-old son could create that piece with no lessons and no real effort, it is clearly not really art. Painting a straight line down a piece of canvas is hardly a major achievement. Throwing together some old parts from an automobile does not take any particular discipline. I would suggest that, more likely than not, the person who would create such “art” is unwilling to pay the price of true discipline to create real art. Perhaps their attitude is, “What is the least amount of effort I can get by with and still have someone think my work is worthwhile?”

I’ve seen people involved in church worship ministries who appear to have a similar attitude. “It’s only church. It doesn’t need to be that good.” Many church instrumentalists only ever play their instrument at the worship ministry rehearsal or for actual services. How do they ever expect to become more accomplished on their instrument?

My mom is a quilter. She has been quilting for years. Recently she won an award for a wall hanging quilt she had designed and made. I think in part it’s because she’s been at it for a very long time, but also because she spends time working on quilts almost every day. The first quilt she made years ago probably would not have won an award. However, because she has worked at her skills for years, she is now reaping some rewards for her diligence.

What about you? Are you regularly working at your abilities. Are you endeavoring to “play skillfully” as Psalm 33 says we should?

Don’t just have a “this is adequate” mentality. Do the best you can to honor God with your abilities.

Now I’ve been involved in some “abstract” and other “weird” art/music performance pieces, and my opinion is slightly different than Tom’s on the question of “what is art”? But I don’t disagree a bit about the need for discipline and time spent developing an artistic craft in order to produce “quality.”

What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

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