A few days ago I was reading Ayn Rand's "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" and I've made a connection between the objectivist theory of a product's value, and artistic value (Objectivism is a philosophical school of thought, attributed to Ayn Rand).
The idea is that a product's value always depends on the person who uses it, his education, backround, needs, social status, etc. There is no such thing as an "objective value" of a product, a value that exists outside the person who is involved. A janitor who buys a lipstick, but would not spend her money on a microscope, values the lipstick much more than she values the microscope. For her, the lipstick means the difference between self confidence or wretchedness, but the microscope is worthless to her.
So, the value of a product is set by the individuals who need that product. In the case of the microscope, there are obviously people in the society to whom the microscope is worth a lot, so in the end, the microscope will sell at a much higher price than the lipstick. Our conclusion here is that the value of the microscope is established by a specific group of people who need that product, and who are using that product.
The exact same thing is happening with the objects of art. The value of an art object is established by a select group of people who need it, display it, use it, etc. This select group of people is what we call the "art establishment": critics, high profile sponsors, gallery owners, curators,etc.
The "Urinal" may be worthless for a lot of people. For them, just like the microscope for the janitor, there is no use for it, because they don't see anything in it. But for a select group of people (the "art establishment"), there is a very high value for it. They see something invaluable in it (for reasons that are irrelevant for the purpose of this argument), and therefore the art object becomes extremely sought after.
This is why I believe that the art-ness of a work is established by a select group of the society. This is not done by force, but by the choices those members of the group make. To this group, a certain object of art is very valuable, so they become the standard, and there is nothing that the layman or the rest of the crowd can do about it. The layman has a choice to ignore the object in question, but that will not change the fact that others will pay millions for it, because they deem it invaluable.
There is no such thing as a universal criteria, to establish artistic value, or any value. That's because the concept of value is very different from one group of people to the next one.
People who demand that art should be defined, using one uniform criteria, are denying this basic law of the human society. And the objectivist philosophy recognizes this law very clearly. As soon as we try to impose a uniform criteria on art, we are acting as dictators, denying the rest of the individuals from exercising their own perception of values, based on their own human condition.
This is what happened in societies where one group of people decided to set moral standards: it resulted in totalitarian regimes. Stalin, Hitler, Mao were big fans of such standards.
Setting artistic standards would lead to the same results.