Opinion, Value and Taste in Art

Part 1 of Opinion, Value & Taste series

Good Taste, Bad Taste and No Taste

The troika of opinion, value and taste are inextricably entwined. Yet, as with close relationships everywhere, they may be intimate and loving, distant and hateful or entirely indifferent to one another. Hopefully, I shall be able to explore a few strands of their relationship to see whether they talk the same language or, instead, deliver a babel of tongues.

One can readily become immersed in a philosophical debate about the meaning and purpose of art. However, you won’t find it here. It is a deep and complicated subject with numerous interpretations. The contours of art criticism through the ages are many and varied from ancient times, by way of the Renaissance, to the Enlightenment where David Hume and Immanuel Kant, precursors of modern aesthetic theory, first expounded their views on the nature of taste. I have no desire to engage in a highly analytical discussion as it has already been covered by commentators far more versed on the matter than I but, hopefully, I’ll demonstrate that what goes around comes around. There can be no more graphic view than that of the eminent scholar and writer, Max Friedlander, who stated that, in that regard, “every epoch acquires different eyes. We laugh at the mistakes of our fathers and our descendants will laugh at us.”

As I weave my way through the corridors of my senses, I do find taste dominates the troika, as its subjectiveness is so very powerful. There is good taste that many aspire to but few achieve, bad taste, that few aspire to but many achieve, and no taste, that is unable to spot the difference. It is often fascinating to observe how, in a museum or other public space, people grapple with what they think they like and understand with what is actually in front of them. If one enters an exhibition blind, so to speak, to what extent is the content and thrust of the catalogue the prime influence? Does one wish to be guided by expert opinion or pursue the concept of Baudelaire’s flaneur, following no particular path but merely one’s instinct and whim? Profound insight and meaning can heighten sensory pleasures but they can also diminish them. There is often a limit to what viewers may reasonably absorb at any one time, especially when the imagery sits beyond their visual boundaries.

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