Fuse Commentary: Meditating on Excellence in the Arts, High and Low

Editor’s note: Fuse Visual Arts Critic Franklin Einspruch recently delivered an engaging talk about excellence in artistic achievement—the issue of value is a vital, but surprisingly neglected, part of our conversation about the arts. The Arts Fuse promotes serious discussion about creativity and culture, so I invited Franklin to write a short intro to the piece and provide a link to his speech. Those who want to comment are strongly invited to come back to The Fuse and post their 2 cents.

By Franklin Einspruch.

Franklin Einspruch, LILIES, HYDRANGEAS, AND WILD APPLE, 2011, watercolor, 11 1/2 x 8 inches

Last week I flew from Boston to Augusta, Georgia to deliver the keynote speech for a two-part series at Augusta State University. The topic, selected by the series organizer, was “High and Low: What is Excellence in the Arts?”

Well-trod ground, to be sure, and yet this hoary problem remains one of the least understood. After the talk, an audience ranging from freshmen to full professors asked the basics. What makes one opinion better than another? (Some opinions have been challenged more than others. Tested opinions are worth more than untested ones.) Can’t one enjoy an aesthetic experience without having to put it into words? (Absolutely, but those of us who write art criticism don’t have the luxury.)

Which is fine. Maybe, like ethics, we need to keep revisiting these basics, pondering whether our circumstances have changed since the last time we considered the problem, thus obliging us to change our positions. This is one of the points of my talk. To stay in a state of goodness, we have to keep doing something a little different than the last time.

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