The only truly functional and accurate definition you can give art is that art is something that was made with expressed intent of being art. This basically works out to mean than everything that has ever been created and will be created can be art. It also means that, functionally, there is really no such thing as art at all. Art, in the general sense of the term, is completely subjective in every way. Any attribute that someone could define as objective could have possibly been the intent of the creator, and even if it wasn’t, as long as someone considers it good art it is good art. As Richardson says, “Readers are too apt at first sight to condemn as error, what an author may have found after laborious, and tedious enquiry to be truth.”
Because of this, the art critic must realize that nothing he says or thinks is either right or wrong. Criticism of art in general cannot escape the realm of the subjective, for any medium that calls itself art (as we have already understood to possibly anything) is the result of a subjective evaluation. It is because of this that prejudice when consuming art is not only inescapable but wholly necessary. Because of the failure of art to elevate itself past the subjective, to consume a subjective perspective of art you must find those who most closely align with your prejudices. Perhaps you like landscape paintings, or strong lines, or melodic structures, or dissonance, or long shots from a camera, or strong acting, or angular architecture, or smooth and rounded angles on sculpture, etc. None of these preferences or prejudices can be objectified in any way, they are wholly the result of your subjective experience.
In general terms, this idea is what we refer to as “taste”. What do you like and what do you not like? You can decide this, or you can let someone else decide this, or you can choose to not care altogether. That is the beauty, and not in fact the limitation, of art in its purest form. Art, in general, is a window into the soul, a way for the preferences and prejudices of the individual to express themselves in tangible and communicable forms so that others who have identical or similar prejudices (see: taste) are able to consume and digest another’s expression.
Humans are social creatures who thrive on communication, and art is simply another method through which we communicate, simply in more abstract terms. It is neither good nor bad, worthless nor valuable. It simply is, and you can take for whatever you like. That is what makes it interesting if nothing else.
As for my own personal taste, I’ll stick to criticizing music since that is what I’m most used to at this point (all i could say about visual art was that I liked it or I didn’t).
Autechre is my favorite musical act at the moment, but at the risk of sounding like a pompous ass it’s music that would be rather difficult for most people to truly appreciate. It’s abstract, cold, dense, and difficult, but I think that’s what pulls me in. I’ve listened to so much music in my life that I’m unfortunately bored with most traditional forms of music. Like most of everything else i consume I don’t do it for pure entertainment, and as a result most music i just fond sort of banal and vapid. The guitar, drums, and bass are all annoying, I don’t like the human voice except on rare occasions, and I’d rather listen to music that doesn’t have lyrics.
Autechre make music that i still can’t figure out. I listen to it and I don’t know how it’s made and that makes it all the more alluring for me. Some people would describe it as emotionless but i wouldn’t agree, it is music that simply evokes a response that we’re not used to, and maybe that resonates especially with me, but I can’t get enough of it. And on top of that, Autechre’s music is unique because it is, at this point, the furthest abstract music has been able to go while still being listenable. What Autechre have perfected is the ability to create abstract sounds without completely alienating the listener, because after all you have to like the music you listen to to be able to listen to it.
I generally don’t listen to or criticize music i don’t like because i think it’s a waste of my and everyone elses time, but I can’t stand The Beatles. It’s everything I find annoying in music turned up to 11. And not only that but the fact that they are deemed the greatest band of all time simply because they we’re popular (especially seen through the cloudy lens of nostalgic revisionism). The Beatles did nothing of importance for music aside from use some revolutionary recording techniques. They made popular music that everyone could like and had great success doing it, but calling them the greatest band of all time for anything other than recognizing what people wanted to listen to and giving it to them is quite shortsighted.