Friday, February 17, 2006

"The Babbling Barista" or "Suspension, Suspension"

As a barista at North Tacoma’s most widely trafficked hangout, I have the misfortune of being privy to a spectrum of human “taste and apprehension” (Hume, 227). I tend to think myself sided with Scott in his argument that people with Taste are “better people,” even while being exposed to the tantrums of full-grown adults over, literally, spilled milk (Scott, 2.17.06). Yet, I was surprised at how strange it sounded to hear the proposed close relationship between aesthetic taste and moral behavior pontificated. It seems like a rather quick leap. As artists of one vein or another, we the liberally educated tend to try and believe in our lifestyle. If we were to “give art a chance,” we may be so lucky as to soon notice that it “saves lives,” and better enables us to “envision world peace” (per bumper stickers). But I find it difficult to defend the spray painting of walls and typing of words as fortified vehicles to moral good: especially when my economic equals back home are slaving in kitchens to support siblings; working combines to pay child support; and packing their duffel bags because the only the army will pay their white ass to get a degree.

Hume asserts that it takes sense, imagination, practice, aesthetic awareness, exposure, and a suspension of being for a person to even begin to acquire taste. But before all this, he defines taste as the thing we relay on when we judge “an act to be virtuous” as much as it is our touchstone when we “judge a work of art to be beautiful” (Hume, 226). The issue I take with this is that a.) It’s economically elitist in practice and b.) Those in the economic strata that have leisure to gain Hume’s taste, so called, don’t seem to practice the morality side of it. Now, this is a sweeping generalization. Let’s confine it to the café, shall we?

When I’m at work, I notice that the people who wear expensive clothing items tend to leave their dishes and newspapers strewn about the table, napkins on the floor, spilled coffee in puddles and sometimes, a nickel or two. Although busing your own table is a particularization of the golden rule, and not among the Ten Commandments, per say, it is an act of basic kindness. And one I would go so far as to deem “virtuous” when I’ve got a colicky staff to handle and a line of under-caffeinated junkies (Hume, 226). And granted, common sense dictates that if you’re wearing a white mink jacket (they do) you probably don’t want to risk a spill on the way to the dish bucket (they don’t). Let the lackeys do it. Simultaneously, these are the folks who can tell a late Baroque brushstroke from an early Rococo brushstroke, and deem one more beautiful than the other, per Hume’s theory of relativity. Don’t get me wrong. These multi-millionaires (yes) have plenty of sense—they know which vote will protect their 401K and which won’t. They have imagination—they find many topics of artful conversation to fill their café time. They practice aesthetic values by going to so many high-art events, and therefore appear, if not per their attire alone, to have aesthetic sensibility. They are most certainly exposed, and many practice art themselves; painting huge leather canvases, publishing photos taken with high-tech digital cameras, and accessorizing, nay, embellishing, their spacious offices and businesses. They belong to a social class, the economic understudy of George W’s social class, that propagates unmoral (in my opinion) acts. War, for example. As far as I can tell, they lack only one element. The suspension of being.

I’m not trying to say that being broke gives you more taste, though I might be saying that Hume wasn’t an economist. But mostly I’m trying to plug a hole in the defense of the relationship between aesthetics and morality in our gritty contemporary world. It seems to me that Hume may be on to something, and as our definition of art changes, as China noticed, maybe Hume’s road to becoming an aesthete becomes more accessible. This all because the art and the virtue seem to cover more ground now than in 1759, when America and all its inventions (i.e. hip hop) were just a twinkle in some patriot’s eye. Likewise, being well-exposed, well-trained and well-practiced doesn’t give or remove your quality of taste. It all pivots on this most consequential and final qualification of suspending being. Otherwise, despite the Vera Wang or the Fubu label, “Life is” merely “an imitation of Art” (Wilde, 40).


Blogger scottordway said...

Well put, Mary. And I appreciate your appropriate citation of my in-class comments :)

I'd like to add, per my most recent blog post, that if the mink-coated society dames (to the extent that Tacoma can offer) would consider the good or bad taste of leaving shitty tips and spilled beverages for you at the cafe, they would surely come to the conclusion that their actions are in poor taste. It is rather because they do not consider these things that they act as they do; their behavior is a component of a recieved manner of social interaction, namely the one prescribed by their social standing (to paint with a rather broad brush).

I have to go to (another) class, but we should take up a least a bit of class time in bearing out this discussion.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Jason "The Conch" Miller said...

I think classist issues were pretty far from Hume's mind (other than the fact that most art afficinados from his time were wealthy) when he wrote...i don't remember the name of the article. Notice in American society, to take up stereotypes, how persons of lower class are considered more 'down to earth,' and more understanding of culture. Take the film 'Bulworth' for an example: the inquity of political life was dissolved when a wealthy white guy started acting like a poor black person. Suddenly he was praised and heralded because he now had a more humanistic perspective. This is what, I belive, Hume was hunting for. If one constantly surrounds oneself with the creations of others (and other's creations as their conciousness of others) one starts to see a moral connected ness. Its just like any other empirical science.

I actually think Hume was just taking up a subject that happened to be envoge at the time. If you read anything else he's written you see that this is just his general system emposed on art.

3:01 PM  

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