Some people have the ability to recognize good art instantly, without the need for conscious evaluation of any kind. How can this possibly work? How do we know if they are right?
First let's put aside some fallacies:
On what basis then can we assign objective aesthetic value? Any potential set of criteria would no doubt fall into one or another of these fallacies. One method is to wait and see what remains valued over a long period of time. The danger is that objects once valued, collected, sold and resold, tend to increase in value, while those lost and forgotten remain so, thus distorting the consensus. Nevertheless, I contend that there is a sketchy but undeniable degree of consensus about some works of art.
For example, I have acted as one of a group of judges for an art competition involving several hundred works by school children. The three judges independently chose several favourites, and then compared notes. While the selections did not match exactly, there were a remarkable number chosen by all of us, enough to award prizes with a considerable degree of confidence.
I have an acquaintance that visits art galleries frequently. He does not pretend to expertise of any kind, yet makes instant (less than one second) judgements about the work. In my estimation he is usually right, that is, his evaluation matches that of others whose opinions I also respect. On occasion he might pass over something that I consider to have significant value, and sometimes, after more prolonged consideration, concedes its worth. If he does give something the thumbs up, it is definitely good.
How can this be? He does not take the time for conscious evaluation or analysis. The impression is instantaneous and intuitive, so it can't be about details of execution. It is not about style or content, since an extremely wide range of is included among his selections. Indeed, the decision must be based solely on an impression of the artwork as a whole, or on its immediate impact at a subconscious level.
This is consistent with an archetypal and spiritual theory of aesthetic interaction, which I will outline, in a future article.