Taste (Aesthetics )

In sociology, taste is an individual’s personal and cultural patterns of choice and preference. Taste is drawing distinctions between things such as styles, manners, consumer goods, and works of art and relating to these. Social inquiry of taste is about the human ability to judge what is beautiful, good, and proper.

Social and cultural phenomena concerning taste are closely associated to social relations and dynamics between people. The concept of social taste is therefore rarely separated from its accompanying sociological concepts. An understanding of taste as something that is expressed in actions between people helps to perceive many social phenomena that would otherwise be inconceivable.

Aesthetic preferences and attendance to various cultural events are associated with education and social origin. Different socioeconomic groups are likely to have different tastes. Social class is one of the prominent factors structuring taste.

The meaning of taste has varied from time to time. The taste was initially related to the criteria of beauty and the rules of art. The taste takes a prominent place in the xviii th century, with a connotation teaching by the idea of “taste education” (see Voltaire and Rousseau).

For Emmanuel Kant, in Critique of the faculty of judging (1790), taste is the “faculty of judging” beauty. A subjective faculty, but whose judgment is nevertheless of universal value. For the Englishman Shaftesbury, whose work is taken up by Diderot, taste is a natural and creative faculty, governed by his own laws.

Two fundamental aspects stand out at this time:

taste as a subjective, innate or perfectible faculty of judging the objective qualities of a work of art
taste as a collective phenomenon (social factors), by adherence to the aesthetic preferences of a group or an era (fashion phenomenon)
For the German philosopher Hegel (1770-1831), the criterion of taste is a superficial and external approach to art, tending to reduce it to the level of mere entertainment. In his philosophical system, the aesthetic idea must be true; Beauty, therefore, demands “the submission of subjectivity,” and taste is no longer connected with the beautiful: “taste recedes and disappears before genius. ” 4

From the xix th century, the taste takes on new meaning: the ability to enter modernity and historic character, with authors such as Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Valéry.

From the middle of the xx th century, the taste concept seems permanently abandoned by artistic and literary criticism for various reasons, including distrust standards (rules of beauty, institutional art) or the distrust of the subjectivity of aesthetic judgment. The social and economic mechanisms of taste determination have also been clarified by sociological studies. According to Anne Souriau, the contemporary analysis of taste tends to opposition two aspects 5: individual preference and finesse of judgment.

The concept of aesthetics has been the interest of philosophers such as Plato, Hume and Kant, who understood aesthetics as something pure and searched the essence of beauty, or, the ontology of aesthetics. But it was not before the beginning of the cultural sociology of early 19th century that the question was problematized in its social context, which took the differences and changes in historical view as an important process of aesthetical thought. Although Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790) did formulate a non-relativistic idea of aesthetical universality, where both personal pleasure and pure beauty coexisted, it was concepts such as class taste that began the attempt to find essentially sociological answers to the problem of taste and aesthetics. Metaphysical or spiritual interpretations of common aesthetical values have shifted towards locating social groups that form the contemporary artistic taste or fashion.

The arts
Valeriano Bozal, in the Introduction to his monograph on Goya, points out the difficulty for the elusiveness involved in the treatment of taste in the history of art. In the work of Goya, with the Enlightenment, with the French Revolution and with the decadence of Spain, the proclamation of the First Spanish Constitution in Cadiz, the confiscation of goods of the Church, Ferdinand VII, etc. There is a taste for pictures, grotesque, magic, denunciation of cruelty, violence and landscape, as can be seen in “Assault of diligence,” among others.

Clement Greenberg points out the different sense of the word “taste” at the moment with more mundane characteristic, and that of Romanticism, more meditative. On the relativity of taste, Leonardo da Vinci says: “Beauty with ugliness becomes more powerful next to each other.” Aesthetics helps to discriminate and elaborate taste, but “has not met the expectations when explaining tastes.” Who has “good taste” appreciates works that will overcome the passage of time. When the object to be perceived is related to morality, ethics help to elaborate the taste. There are authors who study the aesthetic taste along with the ethical taste.

Several opinions have been expressed about whether the taste is rational or sensitive, whether it can be learned or if it is innate, whether it is individual (or subjective) or universal (or objective). Emmanuel Kant, in the Critique of the Judgment, claims that the sense of taste is based on an undetermined concept and Montesquieu in his “Essay on taste” points to the indeterminate concept of “I do not know what”. In “I do not know what” Benito J. Feijoo refers to in two speeches, which are part of the work Universal Critical Theater while Stefan ZweigHe believes that “No artwork is manifested at first sight in all its depth and grandeur”.

In music, the most spiritual art, without “message”, without content, being a sequence of impressions, pleasure / displeasure is immediately manifested in the recipient listener, considering that the speed when deciding whether a representation is pleasant or not, it is a capacity distributed very irregularly between all the spectators. For Bozal, “to put in play the understanding is to intervene in the taste and to return to the past of Baroque classicism”.

Andy Warhol said that “If you want to know about Andy Warhol, look just at the surface of my paintings and my films and me. I am there. Further on there is nothing. ” The change in artistic formulations followed an itinerary (Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Neoplasticism, Orphism, etc.) which is known as avant-gardeism, which breaks with the previous forms, overcoming them. The trajectory or routing in these formulations is the source of discussions and controversies in what is called Postmodernity.

In the antiquity who determined how he wanted a work of art, he commissioned the artist, who had to do it at the pleasure of the powerful man who commissioned it. At the end of the Roman Empire this dynamics would last in the nobles, knights, warriors and landowners, along with the Church that took the role of organizer of the society with movements such as Paz and truce, and monasteries sheltered arose art as architecture, painting and music (eg Gregorian chant) that were maintained during most of the Middle Ages.

In the visit to a museum or in an exhibition the maximum silence is requested to the attendees that allows the concentration in the observation. According to Ortega y Gasset, modern art is unpopular in essence, it divides the audience among those who understand it and those who do not understand it, those who are able to look solely in aesthetics without regard to content or message, What he means, and those who do not want to see the meaning, do not enter.

Where works are exhibited on multiple themes, the observer contributes a priori to his own aesthetic interest. The repetition of visits to museums, concerts, academic studies, etc. It increases the discriminating ability of taste.

For GWF Hegel the taste corresponds to the ordering and treatment of the external appearance of a work of art. Because this external appearance of the work of art enters human perception Hegel discards the senses that are not the sight and the ear. David Hume, on On the rule of taste indicates the difficulty or impossibility of normalizing taste for the great difference between sentiment and judgment.

Kant studies the objects perceived in two areas: they can be beautiful and pleasant or they can be good and usable. When an object causes an immediate “sensation” it may be influenced by the a priori sensation for the observer. The taste of a beautiful object is recognized by everyone, it is universalizable and communicable. When there is a reflection on the “feeling” that the object has caused, there may be an interest in its use and then the taste, which still exists, is no longer in the aesthetics. As a sample of use, Luci Anneu Flor makes an observation on the behavior of Aníbal when writing down in his book on Titus Livithat Aníbal preferred to savor the victory to take advantage of. “With victory posset uti, frui maluit. ”

With the Enlightenment, the role of the Church begins by decreasing the value and judging. Art stops being aristocratic to become bourgeois. Later criticism, provocation, as for example in paintings by Goya, by Munch, Van Gogh is added to art. With modernity, since beauty is overwhelmed, there is someone who makes ugliness, obscenity present, to break with the previous classicism. The triumph of this revolutionary practice, Bohemian, puts in crisis the previous concept about what is the taste.

In a concert of classical music there are those who consider “bad taste” to applaud the movements of the concert and the distance to the performer is made clear. Otherwise, in a rock concert, the public participates actively and with pleasure. The spirit of collectivity is also found in unpublished cultures as seen in The Galaxy Gutenberg by Marshall McLuhan, citing a work by John Wilson for the African Institute of the Western University of London ” to point out that the African public watching a movie does not sit still, without participating, in silence African viewers can not accept our role as passive consumers. McLuhan links the literacy of society to the ability to link a perception to a concept and points out that in illiterate cultures the determination of taste is simultaneous to perception.

From the classic era, the rejection of new things is common, which breaks the traditional taste of things already known. We know that the works that are currently represented successfully by the public when they were released or made known were received with samples of rejection. This rejection involves the lack of study of a work when it is new. The small disposition to the critical study of new perceived works can be influenced by gregariousism, conformism, prejudices. The critical study in a perception allows to determine if this perception has aesthetic value.

Social classes
In the book The Distinction of Pierre Bourdieu there is a sociological study of taste, far from what he calls “cultures-cultured speeches”. Bourdieu describes social conditions that allow the generation of taste because education is related to learning taste. Use the word “capital” to describe the capacities or powers that each observer has available to examine and judge: school capital (knowledge and qualification), cultural capital (inherited from the family environment), social capital, economic capital…

There are “class” practices: frequenting concerts, playing mastery of musical instruments (the piano is perceived as being more noble than the accordion or the guitar), visits to museums and exhibitions, reading ‘comics’, etc. The word “distinction” means “separate”, “divide”.

Bourdieu points out three social levels in which they find different tastes: they are the first level who recognize composers such as Bach, Mozart, painters like Goya, Rembrandt, among others. The second level recognizes works by authors such as Gershwing, Bernstein, Albéniz, Granados and Impressionist paintings, naturalist paintings, singers such as Brel, Piaf, Bonet and others. The third level consumes light music of short life, or of more quality but devalued by the disclosure.

Bourdieu also points out the classist position in activities such as sports (golf, polo, athletics, football, boxing, etc.) that are usually acquired in the school and family, areas that are previously located in each social level.

What is known as a high-level social taste puts a certain public out of their goals. According to the American art critic Boris Groys, the current observer is not the judge of the work of art, but the work of art is the one judged by the public. Andy Warhol broke the distinction that the avant-garde artist had with the general public.

The history of fashion shows how the higher social class leaves a fashion when it begins to settle in the lower social class. In society divided into classes, fashion forms a “continuum” of union between these classes. In the case of art the union is fragmentary, discontinuous.

In his book The empire of ephemeral Gilles Lipovetski begins with the following phrase: “Between intellectuality, the theme of fashion is not taking place.” Among the few intellectuals who pay attention to fashion we can find Walter Benjamin (in his work Passages), Leopardi, Simmel. In the primitive society, where there was no State or social and economic structures very developed and, mainly, without the sense of individuality and autonomy, the fashion practically did not exist. The individualism has developed mainly in the western world since the nineteenth century have not appeared in many theoretical depth fashion.

“Self-pleasure”, known as narcissism, greatly increases the desire to improve appearance and fashion offers the individual the possible similarity to people who are admired for some reason, aesthetic, economic or other When fashion enters fields of substantial values, such as political criteria, religiosity, individualism, etc. This results in a humiliating disregard for the aforementioned value.

The unfavorable social position of women influences the interest they have in following fashion, since fashion accentuates equally parallel and individualization. Fashion is imitation of a given model that mixes with the need to distinguish itself, to emphasize, to change on the model that has been chosen.

In the Middle Ages, courtiers and courtiers imitated the whims of kings in clothing, furniture, and residence. As the economic structure became more complex, this desire to imitate the appearance of upper class characters was extended to all levels. Fashion became a demonstration of the place that was occupied on the social scale and the place that was being pursued. In the reign of Louis XIV Haute Couture appeared and luxury became a market. Lipovetski mentions the aesthetic individualism that allows consumers to adapt an object (clothing, motorcycles, etc.) to the taste of each individual, partially modifying it. In English there is a word that defines this individuation: customize, And in Catalan this fashion is known as “customize” (colloquially ‘customize’).

At the moment the tastes in the world of the fashion are inconstantes, ephemeral and unpredictable. In the markets that have some role in the creation of tendencies, there is computer science, materials manufacturers, the cosmetics industry, advertising, show producers, vehicle manufacturers, lobbies, etc.

In 1984, 20 million copies of a Michael Jackson album and 10 million of Prince’s albums were sold, fervent in their audience. During the auditions of these songs, passion was generalized, the fervor that accompanied the transgression of traditional norms, the daring to change the conservative model. But the transgression in tastes and fashion is already integrated into today’s society with the role of compensatory size, balancing compliance.

There is currently an increase in individual freedom confined mainly to the fleeting fashion scene, being profitable by the narcissist. For Lipovetsky the present individual is characterized by a “historical indifference”, one of the features of postmodernity.

The market
In music, the taste market rests in 4 arms: the performers, the managers of agencies and audiences, the record companies and the critics. In many concerts the companies select the works according to the history of the revenues they have had at the box office. These dimensions influence the artist in some way by prescribing what he has to do to join the current taste of the public.

Studies are made about the taste experienced by the public in front of various works accumulating statistical data, surveys, etc. These studies can be used by producers (of works of cinema, novels, songs, advertising, etc.) leading to perhaps unfortunate conclusions.

For Joan DeJean, who initiated the fashion market in the world was Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), under the reign of “King Sol” Louis XIV of France.

In the interpretation (music, performing arts), there is mainly the possible effectism that it seeks to cause approval in the public and admission, ephemeral, in its own right.

Who has “smell” to find immediately at the first glance a work of art is the true fan of art. This smell is the result of education. The market for works of art, authors, and genres focuses the value on the social brands that accompany the place where they are consumed, where they are published.

The taste does not form an intrinsic part of the world, it is not immutable, it is created initially and has an end. The formation of a taste can be from a successful market.

Taste and consumption are closely linked together; taste as a preference of certain types of clothing, food and other commodities directly affects the consumer choices at the market. The causal link between taste and consumption is however more complicated than a direct chain of events in which taste creates demand that, in turn, creates supply. There are many scientific approaches to taste, specifically within the fields of economics, psychology and sociology.

Definition of consumption in its classical economical context can be summed up in the saying “supply creates its own demand”. In other words, consumption is created by and equates itself to production of market goods. This definition, however, is not adequate to accommodate any theory that tries to describe the link between taste and consumption.

A more complex economic model for taste and consumption was proposed by economist Thorstein Veblen. He challenged the simple conception of man as plain consumer of his utmost necessities, and suggested that the study of the formation of tastes and consumption patterns was essential for economics. Veblen did not disregard the importance of the demand for an economic system, but rather insisted on rejection of the principle of utility-maximization. The classical economics conception of supply and demand must be therefore extended to accommodate a type of social interaction that is not immanent in the economics paradigm.

Veblen understood man as a creature with a strong instinct to emulate others to survive. As social status is in many cases at least partially based on or represented by one’s property, men tend to try and match their acquisitions with those who are higher in a social hierarchy. In terms of taste and modern consumption this means that taste forms in a process of emulation: people emulate each other, which creates certain habits and preferences, which in turn contributes to consumption of certain preferred goods.

Veblen’s main argument concerned what he called leisure class, and it explicates the mechanism between taste, acquisition and consumption. He took his thesis of taste as an economic factor and merged it with the neoclassical hypothesis of nonsatiety, which states that no man can ever be satisfied with his fortune. Hence, those who can afford luxuries are bound to be in a better social situation than others, because acquisition of luxuries by definition grants a good social status. This creates a demand for certain leisure goods, that are not necessities, but that, because of the current taste of the most well off, become wanted commodities.

In different periods of time, consumption and its societal functions have varied. In 14th century England consumption had significant political element. By creating an expensive luxurious aristocratic taste the Monarchy could legitimize itself in high status, and, according to the mechanism of taste and consumption, by mimicking the taste of the Royal the nobility competed for high social position. The aristocratic scheme of consumption came to an end, when industrialization made the rotation of commodities faster and prices lower, and the luxuries of the previous times became less and less indicator of social status. As production and consumption of commodities became a scale bigger, people could afford to choose from different commodities. This provided for fashion to be created in market.

The era of mass consumption marks yet another new kind of consumption and taste pattern. Beginning from the 18th century, this period can be characterized by increase in consumption and birth of fashion, that cannot be accurately explained only by social status. More than establishing their class, people acquired goods just to consume hedonistically. This means, that the consumer is never satisfied, but constantly seeks out novelties and tries to satisfy insatiable urge to consume.

In above taste has been seen as something that presupposes consumption, as something that exists before consumer choices. In other words, taste is seen as an attribute or property of a consumer or a social group. Alternative view critical to the attributative taste suggests that taste doesn’t exist in itself as an attribute or a property, but instead is an activity in itself. This kind of pragmatic conception of taste derives its critical momentum from the fact that individual tastes can not be observed in themselves, but rather that only physical acts can. Building on Hennion, Arsel and Bean suggest a practice-theory approach to understanding taste.

Critical perspectives
Consumption, especially mass consumerism has been criticized from various philosophical, cultural and political directions. Consumption has been described as overly conspicuous or environmentally untenable, and also a sign of bad taste.

Many critics have voiced their opinion against the growing influence of mass culture, fearing the decline in global divergence of culture. For example, McDonald’s has been seen as a monument to the cultural imperialism of the West. McDonaldization is a term used to describe the practice among fast food companies of extending their franchise worldwide, causing smaller ethnic enterprises and food cultures to disappear. It is claimed that the convenience of getting the same hamburger can reduce consumers interest in traditional culinary experiences.

The Western culture of consumerism has been criticized[according to whom?] for its uniformity. The critics argue, that while the culture industry promises consumers new experiences and adventures, people in fact are fed the same pattern of swift but temporary fulfillment. Here taste, it is suggested, is used as a means of repression; as something that is given from above, or from the industry of the mass culture, to people who are devoid of contentual and extensive ideologies and of will. This critique insists that the popular Western culture does not fill people with aesthetic and cultural satisfaction.

Social classes
Arguably, the question of taste is in many ways related to the underlying social divisions of community. There is likely to be variation between groups of different socioeconomic status in preferences for cultural practices and goods, to the extent that it is often possible to identify particular types of class taste. Also, within many theories concerning taste, class dynamics is understood as one of the principal mechanisms structuring taste and the ideas of sophistication and vulgarity.

Imitation and distinction
Sociologists suggest that people disclose much about their positions in social hierarchies by how their everyday choices reveal their tastes. That is preference for certain consumer goods, appearances, manners etc. may signal status because it is perceived as part of the lifestyle of high-status groups. But, it is further argued, not just that patterns of taste are determined by class structure. because people may also strategically employ distinctions of taste as resources in maintaining and redefining their social status.

When taste is explained on account of its functions for status competition, interpretations are often built on the model of social emulation. It is assumed, firstly, that people desire to distinguish themselves from those with lower status in the social hierarchy and, secondly, that people will imitate those in higher positions.

The German sociologist Georg Simmel (1858–1918) examined the phenomenon of fashion – as manifested in rapidly changing patterns of taste. According to Simmel, fashion is a vehicle for strengthening the unity of the social classes and for making them distinct. Members of the upper classes tend to signal their superiority, and they act as the initiators of new trends. But upper-class taste is soon imitated by the middle classes. As goods, appearances, manners etc. conceived as high-class status markers become popular enough, they lose their function to differentiate. So the upper classes have to originate yet more stylistic innovations.

The particular taste of the upper classes has been further analyzed by an economist Thorsten Veblen (1857–1929). He argues that distancing oneself from hardships of productive labour has always been the conclusive sign of high social status. Hence, upper-class taste is not defined by things regarded as necessary or useful but by those that are the opposite. To demonstrate non-productivity, members of the so-called leisure class waste conspicuously both time and goods. The lower social stratum try their best to imitate the non-productive lifestyle of the upper classes, even though they do not really have means for catching up.

One of the most widely referenced theories of class-based tastes was coined by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002), who asserted that tastes of social classes are structured on basis of assessments concerning possibilities and constraints of social action. Some choices are not equally possible for everyone. The constraints are not simply because members of different classes have varying amounts of economic resources at their disposal. Bourdieu argued that there are also significant non-economic resources and their distribution effects social stratification and inequality. One such resource is cultural capital, which is acquired mainly through education and social origin. It consists of accumulated knowledge and competence for making cultural distinctions. To possess cultural capital is a potential advantage for social action, providing access to education credentials, occupations and social affiliation.

By assessing relationships between consumption patterns and the distribution of economic and cultural capital, Bourdieu identified distinct class tastes within French society of the 1960s. Upper-class taste is characterized by refined and subtle distinctions, and it places intrinsic value on aesthetic experience. This particular kind of taste was appreciated as the legitimate basis for “good taste” in French society, acknowledged by the other classes as well. Consequently, members of the middle classes appeared to practice “cultural goodwill” in emulating the high-class manners and lifestyles. The taste of the middle classes is not defined as much by authentic appreciation for aesthetics as by a desire to compete in social status. In contrast, the popular taste of the working classes is defined by an imperative for “choosing the necessary”. Not much importance is placed on aesthetics. This may be because of actual material deprivation excluding anything but the necessary but, also, because of a habit, formed by collective class experiences.

Criticism of class-based theories
Theories of taste which build on the ideas of status competition and social emulation have been criticized from various standpoints. Firstly, it has been suggested that it is not reasonable to trace all social action back to status competition. That is while marking and claiming status are strong incentives, people also have other motivations as well. Secondly, it has been argued that it not plausible to assume that tastes and lifestyles are always diffusing downwards from the upper classes. and that in some situations the diffusion of tastes may move in the opposite direction.

It has also been argued that the association between social class and taste is no longer quite as strong as it used to be. For instance, theorists of the Frankfurt School have claimed that the diffusion of mass cultural products has obscured class differences in capitalist societies. That is that products consumed passively by members of different social classes are virtually all the same, with only superficial differences regarding to brand and genre. Other criticism has concentrated on the declassifying effects of postmodern culture; that consumer tastes are now less influenced by traditional social structures, and they engage in play with free-floating signifiers to perpetually redefine themselves with whatever they find pleasurable.

Bad taste
“Bad taste” (also poor taste or vulgarity) is generally a title given to any object or idea that does not fall within a person’s idea of 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. A contemporary view is that “a good deal of dramatic verse written during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods is in poor taste because it is bombast” or high-sounding language with little meaning.

Source from Wikipedia