Last summer I worked at an exhibition that was closed off to anyone over the tender age of sixteen and held works by famous and infamous artists alike. Whoever came in had the option to buy and show their love to the work they appreciated most. Most guests were between six and eleven. On my first day I thought, ‘finally, someone wants to purposefully overlook or research the aesthetics we were taught were good and proper.’ It questions our grown up aesthetics, it questions ‘taste’, as we see it.
The most popular picture was a horse nursing its foal, drawn in a rough and child-like hand, with a green polka dotted background. The least popular was a picture in muted colours of a dishevelled looking vase. The latter was obviously done by one of our most famous artists.
When the curator came by checking out the progress, I was left so disappointed to hear his disdain for the horse picture (which I loved) and praise for that one kid who chose that obvious famous picture. ‘What refined taste, he has!’
While high-fiving yet another six-year old that fell in love with the candid horses, all I could think was, ‘what thirteen-year-old has such dull taste?’ But that is my taste, I know it and I refuse to believe that either his taste or mine can be good or bad, it just is.
But why is a picture that is rudimentary drawn and communicates such a natural and pure beauty, considered ugly, tasteless? Why is realism so highly valued? Why is a cheerful polka dotted background childish? And why is a beige sad vase good and beautiful (because it was drawn by a famous artist?)
Of course this kind of dualist idea of taste is also applicable in fashion, language, and basically anything that has the dualist connotations of being able to be bad or good.
Taste is incredibly subjective and the meanings we give colours are obviously marked by the society and time we live in. Yet in this culture and time we find yellow and bright patterns cheerful and muted colours sad. Then why are we so hell-bent on raising muted colours (or rather yet no colour at all) to the statue of ultimate high-class taste? In very oversimplified terms; what kind of world finds sadness tasteful and cheerfulness tacky?
An example that shows our warped view of taste is Greek and Roman sculpture. In school we were taught to see the white marble, idealistic statues as the foundation and the prime example of good art, and good taste. Yet, when it was recently discovered that the statues were actually painted in bright colours and bold patterns many (including art historians) flat-out refused to believe our amazingly cultured Greeks and Romans, aka the supposed foundation of Western “civilised” life loved such a bold combination of colours, despite strong evidence.
In this video the last man talking says: ‘When you see these bright colours, you see how much more human this time was. People like bright colours. They, like, see stuff; they’re like oh that place looks cool let’s go in there!’
According to him, this culture liked cheerfulness and that makes it real, that makes them human. He says it with a sort of disdain as if living, breathing and feeling is in bad taste. A warped culture we live in.
I don’t even want to get into the implications our ‘good taste’ has on the way we see other cultures that value bright and bold patterns, colours and spirituality. (I’ll give you a hint: racism.)
Of course the world isn’t black and white. Neither is it only red, yellow and blue either. And though Western culture is dualist, our world isn’t.