IN judging art, we too often assume that whatever corresponds to our own tastes and preferences must be good, and that whatever we don't like must be bad.
That, as I can attest from personal experience, just isn't so. I like the work of some artists I know to be very minor or hardly artists at all, and fail to like - or actively dislike - the work of others I know to be good, major, or even great.
I've never, for instance, liked the paintings of Mantegna, Signorelli, Poussin, David, Delacroix, Courbet, or Seurat. And yet I am sure the moment I see one that I am in the presence of major art.
I have no doubt about it. My mind, experience, and intuition insist that the work in front of me is first-rate - and yet I really don't care for it. And time itself does nothing to alter the situation.
Quite the opposite is true of work I have come to like and even to love after an initial negative response to it. Cezanne, for instance, bored me to distraction until one day in 1944 when I first really saw what he was about. And the same was true of Mondrian, Braque, Matisse, Miro, Klee, Pollock, and several others, all of whom either bored or angered me until that moment of truth when I both grasped and accepted what each was trying to do. Once that happened, they and their art became an important part of my inner being, and in a way became very much like friends.
That has not been the case, however, with Poussin or Seurat. Or for that matter, with the more recent Fernand Leger. I've admired and respected Leger's paintings and drawings, and have stood quite open-mouthed in front of his monumental (I would even say magnificent) ''The Great Parade'' and ''Three Women ,'' but I cannot honestly say I like his work, or would care to own it.
Many art lovers feel differently about him. One of my very closest friends, in fact, likes and respects Leger above all other painters of this century, and has done his best to get me to share his liking for him.
I've spent hours with my friend as he pointed out the virtues of Leger's paintings and drawings. I saw all he saw and agreed with everything he said. I too recognized and appreciated Leger's remarkable ability to orchestrate shapes, lines, colors, textures, and subtle formal relationships into a powerful and effective whole. I too was impressed by how he played curves against straight lines, solids against space, warm colors against cool, verticals against diagonals and horizontals, etc., etc. And I had no problem with his subjects or with his attitudes toward them. I agreed, in short, with everything my friend said and pointed out - and yet something deep inside me remained untouched.
The reverse is also true. I've spent as many hours trying to get my friend to like Redon, for instance, as he has spent trying to get me to respond warmly to Leger - and with as little success. He respects Redon as I respect Leger, but that is as far as it goes.
Two things in particular interest me about this situation. First, that each of us very much wants to share something beautiful and meaningful with the other , and will go to considerable lengths to accomplish it. (Neither of us has given up on the other, and probably never will.) And second, that the deepest and most personal appreciation of art obviously requires more than a full and true understanding of what an artist intended or accomplished. That it also requires a shared sensibility, philosophy, or point of view.
Now it is true that my friend prefers art that is exceptionally well structured, balanced, and ''final,'' while I prefer art that is expansive, emotive, and ''open.'' In the traditional sense, I suppose one could say that his tastes are more ''classical'' while mine are more ''romantic.'' Interestingly enough, however, we both agree on Cezanne, who was about as ''classical'' as one can get. And yet even here we diverge somewhat, for he speaks most highly of Cezanne's formal stability and serenity, while I respond most favorably to his ability to challenge me to perceive more holistically.
It is an indication of Cezanne's greatness that he fulfills the needs of more than one type of artistic sensibility - even though each may view his quality and importance differently. (I don't know many art lovers, as a matter of fact, who don't like or indeed love Cezanne's paintings.) Neither Leger nor Redon operated on so high or so grand a plane. In the great overall schemes of things artistic, they come closer to representing the beauty or significance of a facet of artistic truth, rather than providing us with a glimpse of the wholeness of that truth. The latter is left to the truly great, to those very few artists who can give symbolic form and expression to a perception, an intuition of the totality of life.
In the largest sense, both Leger and Redon were a bit too narrow and specialized. Leger put too great an emphasis on formal ''perfection'' at the expense of other qualities. And Redon zeroed in too exclusively on profoundly romantic coloristic effectiveness. Both were superb artists, but neither was broad or deep enough to be great.
I really don't care. I deeply love Redon's paintings and pastels, and that's that. And I know my friend feels the same way about Leger. Both of us will continue to try to make the other vulnerable to the special qualities we love in our favorites, but I doubt very much we'll ever really succeed.