Why do we have to deem universally acknowledged masterpieces, masterpieces?


Works of art such as the Monna Lisa, the Starry Night, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon are incredibly famous.

My question is: are they famous because we like them, or do we like them because they are famous? What is it that makes us say ‘Right, I’m in London, I HAVE TO go and see this picture at the British Museum’? Are we sure that it is only becausewe think they are extremely beautiful, and that we totally agree they are breath-taking?

Just imagine this situation: a girl enters the Louvre and claims that after all she doesn’t really see the point in Amor and Psyche. Seriously, she has looked at it over and over again, she has read the museum tag, and she even knows some facts about Canova, but she just can’t help finding the sculpture frankly meaningless. What would ourreaction be? Would we try and convince her that the amazingness of that masterpiece is simply inexpressible with words (which would mean you can’t tell her how beautiful it is, and so you wouldn’t be able to persuade her – nice job), or would you respect her opinion?

The issue at stake is, I believe, aesthetics.
Here is the definition: Aesthetics is

  • a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty
  •  the branch of philosophy which deals with questions of beauty and artistic taste

(on-line Oxford English Dictionary)

If we look a the latter definition especially, it becomes clear that beauty and artistic taste are ‘questions’ not ‘truths’. I think that what really matters is not what the entire world deems beautiful, but what we think it is. Sometimes masterpieces appeal to the whole humanity, but there might be cases in which they don’t. Why after all should they? I think it’s important to remember that we are entitled to think that not everything that is famous is necessarily beautiful, just like not everything that is unknown is ugly and unworthy of being discovered and appreciated.

Aesthetics is, more than anything, seeking beauty in everything that may be worth it, regardless of its renown.


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