Knowledge isn't first acquired by a "method," but by direct experience. Methods may be needed later, depending on the sort of knowledge we're talking about. My knowledge that I'm improving a piece of music I'm composing when I strike out my introductory bars and substitute something more in keeping with the overall point of the work doesn't rely on any "method." …Your assertion that an artist is just doing what feels good and that no result has any more real merit or value than any other - after all, someone might prefer chaos to order - is, excuse my French, grotesque, inhuman, and dumb.
Direct experience only gives you knowledge of an experience, it does not innately explain or suggest the cause of that experience. Thousands of people have had near-death experiences, or “alien abductions,” or “seen ghosts,” etc. With such things I do not deny the experience, I just say that there’s no evidence for the proposed cause. It’s no difference here. You interpret your feeling when composing as some objective sense of good and bad, right and wrong, when it’s not. I don’t deny your experience, I question the cause and how you know it.
The result has “real merit and value” to the people (including yourself) who think/feel it has merit and value, and it doesn’t to those who doesn’t think that. As always, your subjective judgments (“grotesque, inhuman, and dumb”) do not impress when you can’t rationally justify them. They’re just expressions of your feelings, just like your “knowledge” of a compositional choice being right/better/best/etc.
So you really see no difference in truth value between the claim that Haydn was a better composer than Benjamin Franklin (he wrote string quartets too) and the claim that the world was created in six days and then drowned in a forty-day downpour, from which a pair of every single species on the planet was rescued in a wooden boat?
The problem with the latter belief is that it's obviously nonsensical. It contradicts our experience of the way the world works. Most religious ideas do. It's almost a requirement.
You’re now comparing different things. I was comparing your “sense/feeling/knowledge” (as above) with the kind of personal revelation/experience (ala Paul’s) that leads to religious belief; while you’re comparing the subjective opinion of Haydn being better than Franklin with a literalist interpretation of Biblical stories, a position that was rather unorthodox until about the last 150 years in America. Most people don’t come to believe in religion because of stories that were almost certainly meant to be allegories; most people come to believe in religion because they interpret their personal experiences as miracles/revelations from a deity. The point is that the kind of “personal experience” “knowledge” you’re talking about with composition is fundamentally no different (in fact is much less impressive) than what Paul described as his personal revelation/experience on the Road to Damascus.
So that's what distinguishes Nora Roberts from Herman Melville and Feodor Dostoevsky? I guess I'll have to take your word for it. Maybe someone else here has spent enough time with romance novels to show me their unsuspected depths and extraordinary aesthetic qualities.
Style, subject matter, themes… but you’re also picking apples and oranges. It would make more sense to compare Nora Roberts to Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, as at leas they’re in roughly the same tradition/genre. Ever read Fielding’s Tom Hardy? You could probably learn much from the opening essay, in which Fielding begins with a long simile relating his novel to food being served:
The provision, then, which we have here made is no other than Human Nature…
An objection may perhaps be apprehended from the more delicate, that this dish is too common and vulgar; for what else is the subject of all the romances, novels, plays, and poems, with which the stalls abound? Many exquisite viands might be rejected by the epicure, if it was a sufficient cause for his contemning of them as common and vulgar, that something was to be found in the most paltry alleys under the same name. In reality, true nature is as difficult to be met with in authors, as the Bayonne ham, or Bologna sausage, is to be found in the shops.
But the whole, to continue the same metaphor, consists in the cookery of the author; for, as Mr Pope tells us—
“True wit is nature to advantage drest;
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well exprest.”
The same animal which hath the honour to have some part of his flesh eaten at the table of a duke, may perhaps be degraded in another part, and some of his limbs gibbeted, as it were, in the vilest stall in town. Where, then, lies the difference between the food of the nobleman and the porter, if both are at dinner on the same ox or calf, but in the seasoning, the dressing, the garnishing, and the setting forth? Hence the one provokes and incites the most languid appetite, and the other turns and palls that which is the sharpest and keenest.
In like manner, the excellence of the mental entertainment consists less in the subject than in the author's skill in well dressing it up. How pleased, therefore, will the reader be to find that we have, in the following work, adhered closely to one of the highest principles of the best cook which the present age, or perhaps that of Heliogabalus, hath produced. This great man, as is well known to all lovers of polite eating, begins at first by setting plain things before his hungry guests, rising afterwards by degrees as their stomachs may be supposed to decrease, to the very quintessence of sauce and spices. In like manner, we shall represent human nature at first to the keen appetite of our reader, in that more plain and simple manner in which it is found in the country, and shall hereafter hash and ragoo it with all the high French and Italian seasoning of affectation and vice which courts and cities afford. By these means, we doubt not but our reader may be rendered desirous to read on for ever, as the great person just above-mentioned is supposed to have made some persons eat.
In short; the difference isn’t in what these works “have to tell us,” it’s almost entirely in HOW they tell it to us.
I'd say that the most universal aspects of the human condition are the ones we share with worms, warblers and wombats, plus some minimal level of rationality that may or may not function well. Not a very inspiring collection of traits for art to speak "profoundly" to. It's what I meant when I said, in response to your elevation of the great unwashed, "So the 'human condition' means whatever takes us along the path of least resistance for the least common denominator." Who cares if more people have read books with Fabio on the cover than ones with a white whale? I don't know those people, and I don't need to know them and what aspects of the "human condition" their soft porn speaks to.
So now the universal aspects of the human condition isn’t “inspiring” because we share them with other creatures? I don’t understand where THAT value judgment comes from. I’m just as interested in the “human condition” as an animal (which we are), including all of our “basest” instincts and drives, than I am in the “human condition” as in the ways in which we are different from other animals. Plus, if we speak of profundity as being the parts of our human nature that are buried most deeply within ourselves, as opposed to those more readily apprehended by our consciousness, I dare say those animal aspects ARE those “most profound” qualities; the rest are on the surface, and don’t require unearthing.
I don’t know many people who’ve read the Fabio books either, but your disinterest in them, and in the aspects of the “human condition” that leads them to prefer such things, just speaks to your lack of intellectual curiosity and empathy/sympathy for those who are different than yourself. Personally I find such people much more interesting than the people who love the “white whale” book because I AM one of the people who love the “white whale” book and I already know myself better than I know anyone else. People who are completely different from me are, IMO, much more interesting precisely because they’re a mystery.
I was drawn to classical music as a child because it appealed to the most exciting aspects of my own "human condition" - aspects like a growing aesthetic perception and an active imagination - that the stuff other kids were listening to seemed not to touch. I enjoyed silly popular songs too, like other kids, but I damn well knew the difference. I knew that some aspects of the "human condition" were universal, but as potentialities in us, and that great art could be both an expression and embodiment of them and a challenge to develop them further.
It appealed to the aspects of the human condition that YOU found most exciting, sure, I can believe that. The only difference between you and I is that my attraction to classical music was similar to my attraction to other unpopular forms of music in that they were new, novel, different… they offered aesthetic experiences that popular music did not… but the reverse is true as well. I also saw no reason (and still don’t) to rank one against the other, understanding very early on that the purposes and potential of both was different, not in “better/worse” ways, but merely different ways, the same way that the potential for a novel is different from that of a lyric poem, or a video game Vs a film, or a comic book Vs a photograph.
I still know the difference between Fabio and Moby Dick, and the difference between Meyerbeer and Wagner, and the difference between art that speaks profoundly and perceptively and art that tickles the surface of life or wallows in its refuse like a pig. There's room for art at all levels of depth - we need easy fun as well as spiritual enrichment - but we need to keep our perceptions and our values in order. Spare me your exaltation of the man in the street and his unassailable subjective values and exquisite artistic tastes. People are shooting each other in the street, waving QAnon placards, trying to overturn elections, and gunning for women who think they own their own bodies. Is there art that "speaks profoundly" to those aspects of the "human condition"? Roll over, Beethoven.
What you “know” is that some art speaks profoundly to your sensibilities, which you elevate to that of a God’s, and then enjoy looking down on all other art that’s different and the people who love that art. It’s the classical elitist attitude, which, in itself, is born out of the basest human desire to be better than others. Keeping “values in order” is a very good and useful thing when it comes to morality and politics; aesthetics are nowhere near as pressing a matter that can profoundly affect the lives of people depending on what art they love or detest. As to your bit about social ills, there’s also always been art that’s spoken to that, some of which happen to be unfortunate masterpieces, like Mozart’s Magic Flute, and Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Roger Ebert wrote a phenomenal, thought-provoking piece on the latter that deals with the crossroads of “aesthetic excellence” and the themes in which that’s in the service of.