Colin Wilson is correct to defend Francis Bacon's art against attempts at a crude reduction (Feedback, Socialist Review, December 2008).
The letter got me thinking about the fact that we don't judge a work of art by its politics, which is also correct. But surely we do have something to say about, for example, a play with a reactionary message? Or surely we do judge certain popular songs to be mass produced pap and others to be worthwhile?
Frederick Engels was always clear to state that the economy created no new ideas but it gave ideas a new content. I find that the problem with a lot of Marxist art critique is that we tend to over-compensate for the mechanical Marxism of the Stalinists and end up with an almost "formal" analysis of art.
Every work of art has form and content but the artwork also acts (like a unit of language) as a form for the viewers' own conditioned content. The extent to which a work of art moves people is one criterion for our judgement but the extent to which it moves people depends on the artist's ability to connect with humanity's objectively determined joys and sufferings.
Good art is surely that which questions (even unconsciously) our position in the world, view of society and our relationships to one another in a critical manner. Bacon does, Shakespeare too, as do a hell of a lot of great popular songs.