Taste (sociology)

Taste (sociology)

Taste in the general sense is the same as preference.

Taste is also a sociological concept in that it is not just personal but subject to social pressures, and a particular taste can be judged "good" or "bad". This theory was first put forward towards the end of the twentieth century and ties in with the theory of aesthetic relativism. Before that, the notion of taste in aesthetics was associated with manners and good habits that are of innate nature, and also referred to one's appreciation for beauty.


The modern concept of "taste" is a product of the 16th century Italian style called Mannerism, named at the time for the "maniera" or "manner" in which a work of art was couched. More specifically, the idea of "taste" as a quality that is independent of the style that is simply its vehicle — though the style might be designated a taste, such as "the Antique taste"— was born in the circle of Pope Julius III and first realized at the Villa Giulia built on the edge of Rome in 1551 - 1555.

To the Enlightenment, "taste" was still a universal character, which could be recognized by what pleased any cultured sensibility. With the shift in perspective that Romanticism brought, it began to be thought that, to the contrary, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and could be individually interpreted, with results that might be of equivalent aesthetic value.

The significance of the term develops with the transition from its purely physical nature to being interpreted as an intellectual quality. It begins to be used in a metaphorical sense to refer to certain degrees of competence in relation to understanding of cultural practices. Taste is also closely related to the concept of discrimination, as being based on certain material experiences it can set distinctions between tasteful and tasteless or having a good taste or a bad taste, thus providing categories for social division and producing cultural hierarchy. [ Holm, Ivar (2006). "Ideas and Beliefs in Architecture and Industrial design: How attitudes, orientations, and underlying assumptions shape the built environment". Oslo School of Architecture and Design. ISBN 8254701741.]


The main critic of this idea is French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, whose main argument is based on the claim that individual tastes and preferences are socially produced. According to Bourdieu, individual tastes are shaped by certain aspects of social practices and position within society. People aspire towards "higher" cultural forms and produce their identities accordingly – they want to be associated with those who are considered to be more developed intellectually and artistically and therefore tend to consume corresponding cultural products. In this sense the notion of taste is closely linked to consumption and consumerism: the viewer or reader consumes various artistic products and then interprets them by the means of criticism that rests upon the idea of taste.

Defining good taste is difficult or impossible for most, and definitions can vary widely. For instance, this exchange between EC Comics editor-in-chief William M. Gaines and Estes Kefauver at US Senate hearings on comic books held by the Senate Subcommittee for Juvenile Delinquincy.

*"Kefauver": [holding up a recent copy of EC's "Crime SuspenStories"] "Here is your May 22 issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding woman's head which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?"
*"Gaines": "Yes, sir; I do, for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little bit higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody." [cite book | last=Wright | first=Bradford W. | title=Comic Book Nation | year=2001 | publisher=The Johns Hopkins University Press | location=Baltimore | pages=168 | id=ISBN 0-8018-6514-X ]

*"G.K. Chesterton": "Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us where all the rest have failed."

Bad taste

Bad taste is generally a title given to any object or idea that does not fall within the normal social standards of the time or area. Varying from society to society and from time to time, bad taste is generally thought of as a negative thing, but also changes with each individual.

Some varieties of black humor employ bad taste for its shock value, such as "Pink Flamingos" or "Bad Taste". Similarly, some artists deliberately create vulgar or kitsch works of art to defy critical standards or social norms. Some artists argue that the only things that is in really bad taste or that is vulgar, is the Kitsch, intended as a lack of "technical awareness". Despite the economic risks, some retailers also deliberately design and sell objects which would ordinarily be regarded as vulgar, relying on inflated price tags to instil an Emperor's New Clothes effect amongst customers.

Aristophanes, Plautus, François Rabelais, Laurence Sterne, and Jonathan Swift never considered "good" or "bad" taste to be a way to judge their classic works of art.

"Example;""(extract from an interview with Eric Idle at the Monty Python "Live At Aspen" reunion in 1998)"

"So we went to Germany on a writing recce, who's heard of a writing recce? They picked us up at the airport and drove us straight to Dachau. All the way there, they kept denying they knew what it was. 'What camp? There is no camp here'. And we got there and it was closing and Graham said 'tell them we're jewish'. And they let us in."



See also

* Kitsch
* Xiaozi
* Paul Graham's essay, [http://www.paulgraham.com/taste.html Taste for Makers] , on the importance of taste in design.
* Grotesque body
* Aesthetics
* Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten

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