Unfortunately, our forebears were never able satisfactorily arrive at a definitive answer to this question. Fortunately, we have James Lileks. In response to a book whose writer scoffs at modern art critics who believe modernism is inherently superior to classicism, Jimmy, who believes classicism is inherently superior to modernism, says:
There you have the voice of the modern intellectual, I guess: everything’s relative, and gimme a break. Well, some styles deserved to be ranked over others. Perhaps Spanish isn’t superior to Italian, but a language that has 16 tenses and 2 million words is superior to one that has only the present tense and 1500 nouns, because it is capable of expressing more, and expressing it with greater detail and precision. This is why Shakespeare is superior to a knock-knock joke. As for art, I am always amused by those who say that (modern art) is the absolute unqualified equal of (classical art). I’m not saying the former is bad; it’s different, it has different objectives, describes a different culture, but the latter is art, and the former is merely the something done by an artist.
He's not saying it's bad, folks! He's just saying it's not art!
Boy, I tell you. If I had a dollar for every conservative shitbag who completely misunderstood the whole concept of postmodern theory; and another dollar for every conservative shitbag who didn't seem to understand that the realization that no moral value is absolute doesn't mean you can't have any moral values, and that if you say no art is inherently superior to other art, it doesn't mean you can't personally rank art in whatever fashion suits you and your purposes; and another dollar for every conservative shitbag who didn't get, or pretended not to get, the notion that "different from" does not mean "worse than" (that is, a language with only one tense and only 1500 nouns is perfect for someone who only needs that much, just as Hemingway wasn't a better writer than Faulkner just because he used fewer big words); and another dollar for every conservative shitbag who was ignorant of the fact that utility plays as much role in art as does proficiency (that is, that Shakespeare is not necessarily superior to a knock-knock joke if one's goal is making an eight-year-old laugh); and yet another dollar for every conservative shitbag who doesn't realize that "art I don't like" and "not art" aren't interchangeable concepts...well, I just might be up there with these guys.