All artworks have a unique internal narrative to be interpreted and understood differently by each and everyone one of us. But the best works of art don’t just provide different people with a different experience — they offer an ever-changing experience to every individual as well.
What I mean by this is that not only will 100 people experience the same work of art differently, even their personal experiences will change and evolve over time. It’s like Heraclitus’ Panta Rhei — as we change our outlook on life, our experience of life itself is transformed too.
And this (possibly) obvious fact can help us judge the quality of our work as well as the work of others in a profound way; while any piece of art will be able to provide us with an experience in some way, shape or form, only those of them that ring true to us on a personal level will be able to be captivating enough to intrigue us and propel us to want to know more.
The best works, if judged by the power of their narratives, are therefore those that posses enough depth; be it their composition is dynamic enough that they never really become dull, or their motif is captivating and complex enough that new meaning can constantly be formed by the viewer of the work…
Of course all these traits are subjective and not every motif will speak in the same manner to all people. The main point here is that all works should be judged primarily on the basis of how well they cater to our principal mental needs (obviously art can’t fulfil basic physical needs like shelter, food and safety, but I bet a lot of us artists wouldn’t mind).
And there are really only two main categories of human needs; lower needs that arise from deficiency and higher needs that strive for abundance. Either the needs for love and connection on the low end or the needs for aesthetic expression and self-actualisation on the higher end.
If a work of art is built upon either, its chances of being a great work of art immensely increase, albeit works that express a need for abundance will target a different audience than works that speak of deficiency (think high art vs. political art — more or less a never-ending conversation in the arts about this exact question).
If we incorporate these aspects into how we experience and critique art, it can become much easier for us to understand the fluidity of how artworks are understood by different individuals and cultures.
While each person is different in almost innumerable ways, we all follow the same basic modes of operation and have the same needs, so knowing these needs and understanding them on a deep level doesn’t just make us immensely better artists, but also incredibly proficient spectators.
And to excel in art, one has to be both.