How to Judge Art-Pt. 4

Having mentioned technical excellence, validity, and content, we can now turn our attention to Francis Schaeffer’s fourth and final general criteria for judging art: the integration of content and vehicle.

The last criterion judges how well an artist has matched her medium to the ideas that she wishes to express. Schaeffer offers T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” as a noteworthy example of this standard:

When Eliot published this in 1922, he became a hero to the modern poets, because for the first time he dared to make the form of his poetry fit the nature of the world as he saw it, namely, broken, unrelated, ruptured. What was that form? A collection of shattered fragments of language and images and allusions drawn seemingly haphazardly from all manner of literature, philosophy, and religious writings from the ancients to the present (Art and the Bible, 47).

Likewise, a work like the animated blockbuster The Incredibles (2004) is also noteworthy in this regard. One of the film’s central themes is that exceptional talents are not to be hidden or neglected, but rather used and enjoyed. It would be difficult to find a better medium for a message of that nature than a story about a family with super powers, particularly when cast in computer animation. Such a combination allows for visually stunning portrayal of this unusual family’s exceptional gifts, as well as situations in which they are compelled to use them. In this case, content and vehicle fit like a hand and glove.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll look at an example of applying all four criteria to a particular work of art.

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