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The arrival of Modernism in the late 19th century lead to a radical break in the conception of the function of art, and then again in the late 20th century with the advent of postmodernism. Clement Greenberg’s 1960 article “Modernist Painting” defines modern art as “the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself”. Greenberg originally applied this idea to the Abstract Expressionist movement and used it as a way to understand and justify flat (non-illusionistic) abstract painting:The definition and evaluation of art has become especially problematic since the 20th century. Richard Wollheim distinguishes three approaches to assessing the aesthetic value of art: the Realist, whereby aesthetic quality is an absolute value independent of any human view; the Objectivist, whereby it is also an absolute value, but is dependent on general human experience; and the Relativist position, whereby it is not an absolute value, but depends on, and varies with, the human experience of different humans

Disputes as to whether or not to classify something as a work of art are referred to as classificatory disputes about art. Classificatory disputes in the 20th century have included cubist and impressionist paintings, Duchamp’s Fountain, the movies, superlative imitations of banknotes, conceptual art, and video games. Philosopher David Novitz has argued that disagreement about the definition of art are rarely the heart of the problem. Rather, “the passionate concerns and interests that humans vest in their social life” are “so much a part of all classificatory disputes about art.” According to Novitz, classificatory disputes are more often disputes about societal values and where society is trying to go than they are about theory proper.

Somewhat in relation to the above, the word art is also used to apply judgments of value, as in such expressions as “that meal was a work of art” (the cook is an artist), or “the art of deception” (the highly attained level of skill of the deceiver is praised). It is this use of the word as a measure of high quality and high value that gives the term its flavor of subjectivity. Making judgments of value requires a basis for criticism. At the simplest level, a way to determine whether the impact of the object on the senses meets the criteria to be considered art is whether it is perceived to be attractive or repulsive. Though perception is always colored by experience, and is necessarily subjective, it is commonly understood that what is not somehow aesthetically satisfying cannot be art. However, “good” art is not always or even regularly aesthetically appealing to a majority of viewers. In other words, an artist’s prime motivation need not be the pursuit of the aesthetic. Also, art often depicts terrible images made for social, moral, or thought-provoking reasons.

The assumption of new values or the rebellion against accepted notions of what is aesthetically superior need not occur concurrently with a complete abandonment of the pursuit of what is aesthetically appealing. Indeed, the reverse is often true, that the revision of what is popularly conceived of as being aesthetically appealing allows for a re-invigoration of aesthetic sensibility, and a new appreciation for the standards of art itself. Countless schools have proposed their own ways to define quality, yet they all seem to agree in at least one point: once their aesthetic choices are accepted, the value of the work of art is determined by its capacity to transcend the limits of its chosen medium to strike some universal chord by the rarity of the skill of the artist or in its accurate reflection in what is termed the zeitgeist. Art is often intended to appeal to and connect with human emotion. It can arouse aesthetic or moral feelings, and can be understood as a way of communicating these feelings.