One of the arguments used by cultural relativists is that it is impossible to divorce art from its context. What, for example, would a Trobriand Islander make of Don Giovanni or an Amazonian Indian of a portrait by Velázquez? If, as seems likely, they would make little of them, then the pretensions of art to human universality are bogus. And if art is not humanly universal, then context is all—and if context is all, then no art is good or bad but thinking makes it so. Thus one human artifact is as good as another, and one field of endeavor as important as another. Needless to say, if this argument is taken seriously, it does not exactly encourage the development of hard-won skills by would-be artists. Why learn to draw or paint when throwing mud randomly at a wall will produce something as good, or perhaps I should say “valid”?

Be all this as it may, it is undoubtedly the case that some artists are more...


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