The aspiration for premodern art was God Himself, defining beauty as transcendent. Therefore, God Himself was the standard for artists, looking toward His creation or nature as the model. Whatever described the work of God should also explain the work of the artist. God alone is Creator and man is an imitator. God is of the Highest value and in Beauty (Psalm 27:4) because of the perfections of His attributes, His glory. What He creates proceeds from Him as beautiful and He desires beauty from His creation. The garments for Aaron as high priest were for "glory and for beauty" (Exodus 28:2).
Value is judgment proceeding from imagination. The values correspond to the attributes of God. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). God revealed Himself in what He made. What God made is beautiful in that it reflects His nature. The criteria for beauty begins with the qualities of God's creation and these allow or cause the apprehension of beauty in the mind.
Before the Enlightenment and modernism, art correlated to objective measures of beauty, found in the words actuality, proportion, order, dimension, form, concord, unity, harmony, integrity, and clarity. These arise from the manifestation of God and His beauty in and through His creation, which is beautiful in that it reveals His beauty. Men can know beauty based on their knowledge of God through His Word and creation. Creation itself is a language that expresses the qualities of beauty.
Since we understand God in our imaginations, our values should accord with what is beautiful. Using the guidelines God has revealed, we value what is highest. We do not remain indifferent. The contemplation of beauty affects us so that we love what God loves and hate what He hates. We be done with lesser things.
In the nineteenth century the definition of art was changed, or put another way, the idea of art was revised. Most people don't care, because it seems like a side issue to them. As I have so often said, the art department of the university rests on the other end of the campus from science, the subjective side in contrast to the so-called objective sides. Today, in many cases the science is so-called science and itself subjective, like the university considers its art. One should wonder how critics could judge art to be better than any other, since subjectivity reigns. Perhaps the only criteria is popularity or personal taste. Roger Scruton summed up the perplexity in his book, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, with the question, “If anything can count as art, what is the point or merit in achieving that label?”
Obviously "art" is an English word, and art itself existed previous to the English language. However, how people have used the word reveals their understanding of its meaning. Previous to 1800 the English regularly used the word "art" in such a phrase, "the art of" something, like "the art of poetry," "the art of cookery," "the art of swimming," "the art of navigation," or "the art of painting." Described as such, one had achieved "art" when he had reached a high level of skill at whatever the particular performance. In the 11-12th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, art was defined as "skill at doing anything as a result of knowledge and practice."
Martin Archer Shee, a protege of Edmund Burke, was a portrait painter and ultimate president of the Royal Academy. In 1809, he wrote Elements of Art, "including strictures on the state of the arts, criticism, patronage, and public taste," where he described art:
The student reviews his progress, and proceeds with increased ardour--having ascended, through a course of preparatory studies, the prospect of Art begins to open before him, and he looks with confidence to the highest elevation of Taste.The elevation of taste did not mean personal taste, but taste that corresponded to an objective standard. Someone developed the skill to reach an acceptable standard and elements that could be considered art. Elevating taste meant correlating what pleases you with what pleases God. He says many other helpful statements, which mirror what Burke himself said in his, A Philsophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Going back further than the English language, Aristotle in his Works said:
Pleasures are an impediment to the energy of prudence, and this in proportion to the delight which they afford; as is the case with venereal pleasure; for no one, when engaged in this pleasure, can intellectually perceive any thing. Again, pleasure is not the offspring of art; though every thing which is good is the work of art.In his prefix to Scottish poet James Thomson's The Seasons, eighteenth century doctor and writer John Aikin writes in 1811:
When a work of art to masterly execution adds novelty of design, it demands not only a cursory admiration, but such a mature inquiry into the principles upon which it has been formed, as may determine how far it deserves to be received as a model for future attempts in the same walk. Originals are always rare productions. The performances of artists in general even of those who stand high in their respective classes are only imitations; which have more or less merit in proportion to the degree of skill and judgment with which they copy originals more or less excellent.Modernism shifted from God to man as measure. Art became a matter of personal taste. Value was not found in the object, but in the participant. Art is now the experience of the viewer or hearer. With that, anything could be art, and it eliminated the objective standard, beauty in the eye of the beholder. Heidegger, agreeing with Hegel's Death of Art, in his Epilogue to "The Origin of the Work of Art, described:
Aesthetics takes the work of art as an object, the object of aisthesis, of sensuous apprehension in the wide sense. Today we call this apprehension experience. The way in which man experiences art is supposed to give information about its nature. Experience is the source that is standard not only for art appreciation and enjoyment, but also for artistic creation. Everything is an experience. Yet perhaps experience is the element in which art dies.The experience becomes the standard of judgment. Did I feel anything and how did I feel? Did I like it?
Postmodernism brings truth is your truth, goodness is your goodness, and beauty is your beauty, eliminating judgment or criticism, except as either a matter of personal taste or against intolerance of personal taste. The best art is now popular. It's good because the most people like it. They like it not because it is better, but because how it makes them feel, making them to feel like they want to feel.
Man is diminished by merely feeling like he wants to feel. He should admire and be moved by what is best. He should also shape his affections to God's attributes.
The knowledge of God includes beauty. God is beautiful. The beauty of God is found in Himself, seen in the revelation of Himself in creation. Man comprehends God in his imagination.
When men determine beauty on personal taste, understanding of beauty changes. Something other than beauty is valued. God is not comprehended. Men love something other than God. God is not worshiped. Worship itself no longer conforms to God, but to popular culture.