Friday, 5 March 2010

A Matter of Taste

Define taste.

Hard, isn't it?

Looking it up in a dictionary, I was presented with over 20 different definitions. Just like the meaning, the word has so many different ideas attached to it, one of these being to perceive in any way. With such a broad meaning comes a large number of talking points. Why do we like something when others dislike the same thing? Why do we choose to follow a trend while others ignore? What is good and bad taste?

Breaking taste down into a number of categories, I was able to understand some of the ideas behind it.

We talked initially about language and the way in which we use it and interpret it, with a useful example being that of a designer and client. As designers there is nothing more frustrating trying to explain your idea to someone and them staring back at you blankly, completely missing the point and not understanding what you mean but why should they understand us though, if we don't understand them fully? Why do we feel the need to use all the design jargon that we have learnt and use it in such a context that people do not understand a word. A technique I find useful when presentations are looming is to 'perform' my crit to my parents, who bless are not design minded, but who are however critical. If they don't understand what I am babbling on about they will tell me so that I can look at how I can present the idea in a more understandable way. We are all, thankfully, not the same.

Immanuel Kant disputed that this was not the case, stating that 'Beauty is truth' he argued that people saw things in the same way. Bearing in mind though that Kant lived in 18th century, I suppose this claim is understandable as people did not have the same freedom of speech we have now.

Over the century's taste has evolved into something in which we can express power and status through. Something that Thorstein Veblen worked hard to prove was that behaviour was both socially and individually determined, with the wealthiest people trying to distinguish themselves from the rest. Choosing to buy things that did not conform with the popular taste, it was easy to see who had money and those that did not. An example of this trend being with French women, whose hair became the stage of boasting. The higher and weirder looking the hair the better - it didn't matter that this 'mess' took most of the day to build, it was the idea behind it. Showing that they didn't have to do anything, these woman flaunted the fact that they could afford to spend all day getting their hair done.

With these new trends though comes imitation and as quick as something comes into fashion, it can go straight back out. Trendsetters can kick start a cycle that others latch onto in the bid to become trendy but when too many people are similar to the trendsetter their taste changes and they start a new trend...a vicious circle.

It can be argued that taste is "driven by social factors" which I totally agree with. Depending on where you are in the country, you can (and taking fashion for example) see the different trends. While in London this week, it was clear that most of the trends above the border in Scotland are similar but there are subtle differences too, maybe larger stores or more access to the boutiques allow people to splurge out on designer pieces or could it be that they are more susceptible to celebrity influences down South? The list is endless...

People express their taste through a variety of ways and something that psychologist Sam Gosling talks about in his book 'Snoop' is some of the studies that he has conducted in understanding the way people present things like their music collection to others. He talks about how people display their music in such a way it is the first thing people notice when they visit and how we are guilty of deciding if we like a person or not purely on this factor. Talking about how some people place things in amongst other belongings so that we appear in a different way to others, Gosling discusses how sometimes we seek approval from others and deliberately place things to catch the eye of others - the judgements in which we take away is different depending on our gender.

From a young age girls are presented with a language which shapes them as females. Reading magazines as soon as they are able to has led to the accidental brainwash into females distinguishing what is 'good' and 'bad' taste. Magazines aimed at women still try to 'educate' us in matters and some people almost refer to these as The Bible. Boys lack the ability to describe like girls, probably due to the fact that they were not presented with trends from such a young age the same way girls were. Even now, an item that appears in a women's magazine can be in a men's magazine but be phrased in a completely different language.

Like Disney, magazines are used in educating us on how we should be as women. Bombarded with visuals and words we are constantly being told how to behave and generally conduct ourselves, something I had never really thought about. I don't personally read glossy magazines but I do know what sort of things appear in them and now more and more appear to have the latest diets on the front pages - leading women to think that they have to be skinny to be happy.

Exposing ourselves to these magazines, we are educating ourselves in different trends and are gaining an insight into what defines good and bad taste. We find it much easier to describe good taste rather than bad but is something that we have our upbringing on magazines to thank for, amongst other factors. Trying to define an individual taste is hard but I suppose my new definition of taste is that it is something that we all have the ability to express but it is how we choose to define it that is important.

With thanks:

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