'I saw an exhibition yesterday.'
'Oh, how was it?'
The last word could also be 'bad', 'great', 'terrible', 'amazing', 'horrible', 'alright', 'so-so', 'not bad' and so forth.
This is a common way to speak about artworks. When talking about art and artists we encounter, these expressions of value judgements are commonly accepted as a sort of shorthand for more rational and logical arguments.
This became clear to me when a curator recently expressed the wish to place my work in the vicinity of an artist in an exhibition. I was not particularly predisposed to this artist's work and thus I had my reservations against our works being linked together in such an obvious way.
My knee-jerk reaction of course was to use the shorthand; I don't like this person's works, they're not very good, so my work will suffer when it's placed next to it.
Beside the obvious objections related to general social interaction, it also struck me that although these are my opinions, they express little to no factual argumentation. Therefore I tried to see if I could formulate where the difference lay that made us incompatible. After a while I realised that the work of the artist unanimously consisted of assembled parts that are readily available in any hardware store. My negative view of the work was thus shaped by my own belief that an artwork, any artwork, is in some way related to the specifics of its production and thus a work that insufficiently accounts for other possibilities for producing objects merely touches on an important aspect in a superficial manner.
From that it quickly followed that the time and effort I spend making things which only have the appearance of the commonplace will be lost when placed in direct relation to works that do not do this. My objections lay within this difference, not the idea that the other person's work was 'bad'.
Every time somebody says that art is good, bad, or otherwise, it bothers me. Not because I believe everbody is an artist and all things are worthwile, but because these hierarchial judgements hide a logical system wherein things are measured against an unspoken and often ill-defined set of rules. Unless you make clear what your yardstick looks like, any kind of judgement is useless and it should be good to keep this in mind when we speak about the next exhibition we'll see.