Excellence. It seems like this word has an objective meaning. Well, appearances can be deceiving. You have to understand when it comes to the concept of excellence, the word is more familiar than their reality. Let’s put it this way. When you take two people and you throw the word excellence to them, they probably would immediately visualize in their minds something that is excellent. Sounds good so far, right?
This is how most people operate. This is how most people react to the concept of excellence. Unfortunately, this situation plays out like your high school philosophy class. Think back to your first philosophy class. Think back to the concept of perfection. I’m not talking about a new concept here. I’m not talking about some sort of modern day philosophical issue. This has been going on for thousands of years. In fact, this has greatly influenced our definitions of religion, God, beauty, the good life; you know, the important stuff in life.
Ultimately, the issue boils down to what is more real. Things that we can all agree on? Things that we can idealize? Or things that we have actually experienced? The answer, of course, boils down to who you’re talking to. People who like to make decisions based on what they can see, hear, taste, smell and touch would definitely be focused on an experience-based definition of reality and truth.
In other words, they would say to your face that if they cannot slice and dice it using math and logic and they cannot test it, it doesn’t exist. Fair enough. However, the concept of beauty doesn’t exist either. The concept of justice, fairness, human rights – they don’t exist either. If you were thinking that this is crazy, that there is such a benchmark for human rights, fairness and just punishment, you’d be surprised.
Dial back history, let’s say 3,000 years ago, and lighting a person on fire or slicing that person into four quarters and having horses run away with dismembered arms, legs and other limbs, would be in the mindset of people living in certain societies within that certain historical window be completely fair. To them, that’s human rights.
If this sounds crazy, please understand that one of the oldest legal codes on the planet, the Code of Hammurabi, was considered legal reform at that time. It was groundbreaking. It was cutting edge legal technology because people were just blown away by how awesome or progressive and forward thinking the Code of Hammurabi was at that time.
What do we, modern humans, label the Code of Hammurabi? That’s right. We call it lex talionis or the law of the claw. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Sounds brutal, right? Sounds barbaric almost. Well, you have to think back to how people were thinking 5,000 years ago. Back in those days, if you were a rich man and you knock somebody’s eye out, you just have to pay a small fine. That’s it. You kill somebody in front of their children, you throw a few coins at the “aggrieved” party. That was perfectly fair in the minds of people.
If a slave would try to kill his master or ended up injuring his master, it wasn’t enough for the slave to be killed and tortured first. The slave’s children, grandchildren, possibly even neighbors and extended family members would also feel the pain of death. That’s how people operate back then. That was considered perfectly fair and square back then.
Fast forward to Hammurabi where he said, “If somebody, regardless of their class, regardless of how much money they have, regardless of how politically connected they were, were to harm somebody, that exact same harm must be visited on them.” This blew people’s minds. It’s like the ancient world’s version of the Enlightenment and the American Declaration of Independence. Crazy stuff.
I bring all these up because definitions play an important part in determining what excellence is. It’s like trying to hit a moving target and it changes from person to person. This is why you really cannot say that there is one absolute truth. The best that you could do is to focus on what is true for you and the greater context in which you’re operating and make the best guess possible.
Accordingly, what would be excellent in terms of print art in one setting may make no sense at all in another setting. It might seem amateurish. It might seem very basic. In fact, to some people, it might even seem like the artist didn’t put in much time and thought at all. It may well have turned out that the artist actually poured his heart and soul and emotions into the work of art.
What we’re left with really is a power struggle. The things that are considered beautiful today, the things that are considered worthy – all of them are products of essentially a political process. Who calls the shots? Who determines truth? Which version of truth is beamed out and disseminated to the most people? In other words, fraud, deception, manipulation, power struggles, funding – all of these flow into each other and create what, for better or worse, we consider practical reality. That is the essence of print art excellence.
If you want to be excellent, understand that there is really no basic fundamental truth here. Focus instead on what people could agree on and work from there. That is the beginning of true art understanding.