Art has lots of passionate followers. I often imagine CNN style debates with one person saying “That’s not art, my child could do that!” and retorts like “Only an idiot would pay X Millions for that piece of garbage.” The truth is, at its most basic definition, art is anything which a) transcends the media that it is executed in and b) causes a reaction of some sort.
Let's talk transcendence. I often hear from certain corners of the population that essentially if it's not a realist painting that is easily understood, it's not art. In the same breath, some people in this camp will acknowledge that they “get” impressionism but not modern art. First off, there are no wrong opinions when it comes to art, you like what you like….being able to understand why you like something is the important thing. People like realist art because in many cases there is no narrative except the image that needs to be understood, however these paintings satisfy the transcendence test because the works go beyond paint on canvas and through the media transform painting into a realist work. Yes, artist skill and execution are big parts of this, but the truth is that the artist coaxed the image out of oil paint and canvas. Let's also look at modern or later contemporary works. It may seem that there is less skill involved in executing an abstract work, but one could also argue that the skill in vision the artists who pioneered cubism (or any other abstract movement) had was at least as valuable as their predecessors. The ability to see the world differently and transfer that vision to canvas is transcendent, even if we do not understand how or why the artist “went there”.
This brings us to the reaction part of the definition. Good art should cause a reaction in the viewer...good reaction or bad reaction, it's still a reaction. I remember years ago my wife,
cousin and I went to a gallery that was full of an installation called “If Beavers Ruled the World”. Did I like it, no. Could I believe that anyone would like it, not really, but it was art. It transcended the media and caused a reaction. I do not like it, I move on...or do I.
So if one does not like a work of art. The best thing to do is not immediately walk away and bad mouth it, but rather to ask yourself “Why exactly do I not like this work?” Avoid the pedestrian answers and dig deep. For me with the Beavers, it was that I am not a fan of large installations that are composed of found (not artist manufactured) objects...I think that they are a cop out and although I am certain that the arrangement of the logs, chain link fences and sawdust was art...it was not for me. Even better than self examination is to find someone who really likes the work in question...ask them what they like about it and why. You just may get out of your comfort zone, with no obligation to agree and get another perspective.
Put another way, the contemporary art world is a vast world of exploration in literally hundreds of media and mixed media formats. There are huge numbers of artists producing work and trying to make a living at it. There is a lot of stuff, and no one will like it all. A Director of a large contemporary art museum once told me that if a visitor comes into their museum and loves more than 15-20% of the work on exhibition, he is not doing his job. 70-80% enjoyment in a museum is reserved for the huge Museums of record like the Met and the Louvre, where tried and true works are exhibited as part of documentation of the best of the past.
There are no right or wrong answers about what you or anyone may like in the world of art. I always try and figure out why I do not like something. It's easy to understand why I like things, figuring out why I don’t like things just broadens my horizons.