How to be an objectivist about art

I am an objectivist about art. That means I think some works of art are better than others in a sense that can't be dismissed with "that's just your opinion" or "let me enjoy things" or "but I prefer the worse one". I call the opposite position nihilism because there is no better definnition of nihilism. Also, I'm using the word "art" here to include music, stories and games.

The logical next step is to explain what I think this sense is, but I find some foreword appropriate because my belief in it comes before my understanding of it. I've believed this my entire life despite knowing I had no understanding of what the sense is. You might think that's irrational, but I disagree because this isn't a matter of logic so much as a matter of *chosen allegiance*. After all, without a definition of good and bad, I'm not claiming any particular proposition, I'm making a choice about what to support. Those don't require a logical basis the way a proposition does, even when they aren't directly about morality.

I also want to address a possible feeling that my position is not really objectivism, and labeling it as such is my way of refusing to accept that the objectivism I wish I could believe in is untenable, by moving the goalposts. Of course my definition of good and bad is still going to be in terms of a work's effect on the emotions of the consumer, and of course it depends on the consumer's instinct so a work that I call objectively bad could be objectively good to an alien mind (the relativity of game depth is a good example). Any attempt to ascribe quality to a work itself independently of the consumer is *technically* only a heuristic. But my position is still objectivism because my definition of good is more complex than "a good work is one people enjoy".

Anatomy of a soul

The relativity of game depth


Good music is good not just beacuse it's moving, but because of the directions it moves. The term "holy" may be more appropriate here. The Lost Odyssey title screen music is holy; I listened to it hundreds of times during the earliest formative years of Protagonism despite it causing me great pain and it's no exaggeration to say that without it, I probably wouldn't have been a Protagonist.

Lost Odyssey title screen music

In a phase where I spent most of my time on recreation and thoughts of future potential in reality were crushed by the dullest environment I could imagine other than prison, this music kept me restless and fixated on the idea that I would use my life for something much greater than an ordinary person. And I have continued toward that end.

Are you starting to see where I'm coming from?

If that particular piece doesn't strike the same chord at all for you, that doesn't mean we can't agree. I still know very little about the nature of the translation from music to emotion, but I do know it can be affected a lot by personal history and associations.

"Bad" music moves in the opposite direction. Most music that would be described as "jazz" or "pop" is "bad". This doesn't mean such music is "sinful" to listen to, or to make. Exactly what relationship it has to morality itself is beyond the scope of this article.

Example to avoid arguing over nothing

There is another sense in which art can be "good", unrelated to this article but I must explain it so you don't confuse the two: fitness for a particular purpose. For example, RPG town music can be "good" without being particularly moving in any of these ways. To be more accurate, it can be *good RPG town music* without being *good music* in the sense this article is about.


Let's move on to a different form of art. There are certain practices of plot that could be described as "unfair", such as failed foreshadowing, or the protagonist lying to the audience. These make a story worse regardless of whether they bother the majority of people. I shall add that my theory for why it doesn't bother some people is that those people lack self-respect.


Protagonist lying to the audience

Another important sense of "good/bad" applies to stories, which is based on messages. That's also unrelated to this article.

Messages in stories

Game design

Games have *unfairness* in a similar way to stories; it manifests as randomness, trial and error, and persistent punishment; and again, I claim that people who aren't bothered by these aren't bothered because they lack self-respect. These mechanics punish the player for what isn't their fault or violate the right to retry.


Trial and error

Persistent punishment

Games should also not have pseudo-interactive sequences like the finishing moves in The Force Unleashed, or the many scripted sequences in Jedi: Fallen Order and every Assassin's Creed game. These sections replace the game's rules with an alternative set that is much shallower, and which is predicated on the idea that narrative spectacle should never pass without some token form of interactivity.



This concludes my explanation for now. I still think artistic nihilism is a reasonable position, but if it's yours, don't waste your time trying to change my mind. Remember, my belief in this precedes my understanding of it.

I also have one request from artistic nihilists. This is important. Do not argue with the specifics of my philosophy. If you think there's no such thing as a "bad" work, don't object to the specific reasons I give why one is bad. If I say that Friday Night Funkin is deeper than Taiko No Tatsujin, don't say "You can't say it's deeper because some people like Taiko more". Admit your position and its implications up-front.

A similar position I've heard is that objective quality *does* exist but only a narrow range of factors (usually depth and a narrower concept of fairness than mine) affect it, and the reason other things (like quality of difficulty) don't matter is because those things are... subjective. This position is less reasonable than artistic nihilism because any qualitative difference between those things is an illusion (see again the example of the relativity of depth; no other attribute I value is any *more* person-relative than that).

Cheap difficulty

Finally, note the following fact: even if you are a nihilist about art, it may still be worth reading my opinions, because if there is no true good and bad then the goal of art, when not to please yourself or to send a message, must be to please others. My ideas may help you decide how to please the most. Just, if you're going to read me, translate every instance of objectivist language to a form describing my personal preference.


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