Wednesday, February 22, 2006

On the importance of "good taste"

Since our discussion of Kant and Hume last Friday I have been fixated on the concept of "taste" as a means of societal betterment. Since the blog is essentially the World Series of personal opinonage, I think I'll take the opportunity to lay out some mundane, day-t0-day things that I find tasteful and distasteful; then I may be able to make a generalization about them or draw a conceptul line separating the different groups.

Some things that I (personally) find distasteful, though by no means expressly evil or wrong:

- lack of punctuality
- eating while standing up
- particularly informal and/or misspelled emails
- addressing strangers (such as when asking the time or for directions) using "hey" as your sole salutation
- asking a friend what a book they're reading is "about" before asking who it's by
- fast food

Some things that I find tasteful, though not necessarily virtuous or universally correct:

- good penmanship
- gift giving
- clean kitchens
- politeness to strangers and shopkeepers/ food-service employees
- good editions of paperbacks
- letter-writing (occasionally) in leiu of email or phone calls
- an interest in asking questions about things; also, understanding things that you don't really need to understand, simply because the workings of things are interesting, i.e. how a clock works or the rules of hockey (neither of which I understand)
- picture frames

Hmmm... before crafting this list I thought it would be much more... well, something. Anyhow, I think that if everyone considered "good taste," or for that matter any articulated aesthetic sensability something worth working toward, we couldn't help but be in a better place as a large group of people. As it is now, however, I get the impression that we're supposed to avoid concious decisions about how we speak, act, or dress on the grounds that they're contrivances and don't represent "who we really are."

Take, for example, a suburban 15-year old who comes across a Misfits record and, after some consideration, decides that, for whatever reason, the punk-rock ethos is preferable to his current way of looking at things and adopts the appropriate dress and reading material in a concious attempt to become a part of a movement to which he is otherwise unrelated. His actions would likely be labeled as pretension or artifice on the grounds that they were carefully and cerebrally considered beforehand. Conversely, the teen whose justification for wearing the same clothes, buying the same records, etc... was something like "I dunno, I just like it" would be seen as somehow more genuine.

The difference is that the first teen made an aesthetic decision, one that was a matter of taste (the punk-rock style appealed to his tastes in some way that his former style did not) , whereas the second teen has made no such decision, coming to his conclusions rather by some sort of cultural osmosis, but one that we would probably deem more sincere.

It seems to me that the concious cultivation of taste and aesthetic sensibily (in whatever form they take for you) would yeild a better, more interesting society. Our current "take what you've got and stick with it" approach appears limiting. People would probably enjoy more things if they were dedicated to approaching and understanding them as matters of good taste.


Blogger Jason "The Conch" Miller said...

You are 40.

2:48 PM  
Blogger China said...

Not necessarily agreeing with Jason, but in all truth, I read the first two lines of your post and said, "Why yes, this must be Scott's post." You have a very elegant way of writing; that's all.

On a separate note, your punk example reminded me of something I'd written down in class today as a tangential result of discussion. Quite some time ago, I'd actually considered this as it related to entertainment journalism and its influence on consumers (specifically, how a good review or membership to a canon will encourage consumers to buy specific records, books, movies, etc.). The canon came from a single human being at some point in time - one person dictated an object's greatness and others followed suit, leading a canon to be built and fanbases to continue growing. But loosely based on the differences between "agreeable" and "beautiful," a form of art or entertainment that one once considered personally agreeable has gradually become beautiful because of the emotional attachment getting lost in translation somehow.

The standardization of taste and beauty once stemmed from personal agreement, and what's plagued me for a long time is this: if the original person to dictate what is agreeable later developed a shallow following of those who found detached beauty in the once-agreeable, then would that original person lose credibility somewhat because he led people to believe that an art form was great for different reasons than he was attached to, or would he be on a completely different level from those people because he saw something in that art form that new followers would not be able to appreciate in the same context? I am, of course, assuming that these later people who find an art beautiful are merely appreciating it because they are expected to. Although...if every later follower were to have a genuine attachment to that art form (after the canon of beauty or some precedent had been set), then a great number of people would find that single art form agreeable, in which case taste would be based off agreeability and not detached beauty. Is that possible, based on what we've covered? Kant doesn't believe that emotional consideration should be given to taste, no?

...oh, and good penmanship and clean kitchens are tops.

7:57 PM  

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