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The philosophy of art is distinguished from art criticism, which is concerned with the analysis and evaluation of particular works of art. Critical activity may be primarily historical, as when a lecture is given on the conventions of the Elizabethan theatre in order to explain some of the devices used in William Shakespeare’s plays. It may be primarily analytical, as when a certain passage of poetry is separated into its elements and its meaning or import explained in relation to other passages and other poems in the tradition. Or it may be primarily evaluative, as when reasons are given for saying that the work of art in question is good or bad, or better or worse than another one. Sometimes it is not a single work of art but an entire class of works in a certain style or genre (such as pastoral poems or Baroque music) that is being elucidated, and sometimes it is the art of an entire period (such as Romantic). But in every case, the aim of art criticism is to achieve an increased understanding or enjoyment of the work (or classes of works) of art, and its statements are designed to achieve this end.
The test of the success of art criticism with a given person is: Has this essay or book of art criticism increased or enhanced the person’s understanding or appreciation of the work of art in question? Art criticism is particularly helpful and often necessary for works of art that are more than usually difficult, such that persons not already familiar with the artist or the genre or the period would be unable to adequately understand or enjoy the work if left to themselves.