Quality vs Preference

There is a dichotomy that exists when considering artistic subject matter that I feel few people seem to acknowledge, let alone respect. This dichotomy is between quality and preference. This lack of acknowledgement seems to exist most prominently on the internet, where people will argue back and forth or simply trash something because they don’t like it.

When speaking of a subjective matter like art, I do of course understand that it is hard to pin down any aspect of a work as being objectively of quality. However, there is a good amount craft, tropes, subtlety, and complexity behind works that we consider to be classics today that we can use as indicators of quality. Generally, these components are widely agreed upon to be what makes piece of art a work of great quality.

I think that regardless of how we may feel about a certain book, for example, great writing craft can be recognized on its own. To give an example from my own experience, a few years ago I had to read W. M. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. It was an incredibly long book and was a tremendous effort to complete. For the most part I did not enjoy reading the novel at all. However, I can still appreciate and recognize its quality.

The problem people seem to have is that the difference between quality and preference is not recognized, and I’ve been there. There was a time, in my later teen years, if I heard somebody absolutely loved Twilight, I would probably dismiss them as having bad taste and be compelled to argue with them. I’ve learned to respect preference since then, however.

While quality can be argued — and I would still fervently argue against calling Twilight quality — preference simply cannot. I cannot argue someone doesn’t like something, when the fact is that they do, and I won’t argue that they shouldn’t like it so long as the subject matter makes them happy and doesn’t hurt anybody. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with liking something, regardless of its quality.

This does of course work the other way too. Twilight fans can and should love the series all they want, but that does not mean they are the best books ever written. Just because you love something doesn’t mean it’s an indicator of its quality — the two can be closely tied together, but one does not necessarily include the other.

I feel that when people argue about these sorts of things their reasoning is confused and misguided. These arguments often appear to be people preferring different things, and then arguing heatedly because this difference in preference exists. If you argument is just to convince someone they shouldn’t like something when they do, don’t bother. It’s a matter of preference, and it should be respected.

If we begin to treat quality and preference as more separate matters, it seems likely to me that discussion could be more civil. Some people can’t get past the idea of someone liking something they don’t, but most level-headed people are aware enough that you shouldn’t stress what you can’t help, especially when it really doesn’t affect you all that much.

Argument should be reserved for critically considering a work’s quality by analyzing its components and judging its merit based on them. You may still have disagreement, but at least it’s focused on more valid points of discussion.


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