You will see umpteen works of Greek sculpture throughout Greece, and even Italy, for Rome took Greek art as its inspiration and is bound by it to this day. But you will likely see these through the prism of your prior experiences, whether European or Asiatic. We appreciate all sculpture that we find beautiful, but cannot easily appreciate the spirit behind the form.
A western student of Greek sculpture may judge all sculpture by a Greek or Hellenic ideal, and find everything else below-par. Likewise, as an Indian, I may well walk in to a great museum in New York and being conditioned by South Indian statues, judge all the non-oriental work as mediocre. Sri Aurobindo highlights this difficulty of our nature :
It is clear that if we are to attempt a real seeing or experiencing, we must attempt to become aware of our own bias and implicit expectation from the thing seen.
Is there a universal standard by which art can be judged or critiqued? The modern, inquisitive mind knows the answer well, but is still tied to its fixed ideas and seldom accepts another way of seeing :
“In matters of art the Western mind was long bound up as in a prison in the Greek and Renascence tradition modified by a later mentality with only two side rooms of escape, the romantic and the realistic motives, but these were only wings of the same building; for the base was the same and a common essential canon united their variations.… The canons of Western artistic creation were held to be the sole valid criteria and everything else was regarded as primitive and half-developed or else strange and fantastic and interesting only by its curiosity…
The criticism of art is a vain and dead thing when it ignores the spirit, aim, essential motive from which a type of artistic creation starts and judges by the external details only in the light of a quite different spirit, aim and motive.
Once we understand the essential things, enter into the characteristic way and spirit, are able to interpret the form and execution from that inner centre, we can then see how it looks in the light of other standpoints, in the light of the comparative mind. A comparative criticism has its use, but the essential understanding must precede it if it is to have any real value” 3
Along these lines, we have below an insightful example of a critic who sees great spiritual sense in an Indian statue but sees only a sensuous or carnal appeal in a Greek figure and judges one superior to another. What ‘essential understanding’ could have been overlooked?