Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Taste | Open Thread

From Franklin's comment on the thread on Monday's post on arts funding (he begins with a quote by another reader):
Where is the critical discrimination that is necessary to weed out the bad, boring, or otherwise stupid work?

I asked myself this very question upon seeing MoMA's Gabriel Orozco exhibition, a pile of insipid junk if I ever saw one, and made possible by a lapse of taste that some people think is the exclusive province of the market. Needless to say there is some variation of opinion about that matter.
Let's suppose for a moment that there truly is such a thing as universal good or bad in art, in terms of quality that is (not morality). Let's suppose that even if Person X sincerely likes Artwork Z (say it gives them true joy or changes their life for the better), the contemporary cultural custodians can still dismiss that passion for Artwork Z as irrelevant to the larger mission that they have accepted: identifying and then preserving the best art we have--the best representations of who we are--for posterity. And even though Person X might have included Artwork Z if the decision were theirs alone, we can't preserve everything. There's not enough money or space in our museums. We must make choices and the most logical way to make them is via the measure of what is most universally good.

I have a few doubts about this notion, though. First and foremost is how it seems to apply something rather cold (logic) to what should at the very least take inflamed passion into consideration.

Yes, I can imagine the well-trained curator (the one with "taste") having their heart swell upon seeing some fantastic new work and becoming an impassioned advocate for it before a museum committee, bolstered by the praise of an equally well-trained critic and support of the best dealers and most discerning collectors, but by the time the decision is finally made by the committee, who has limited funding and multiple choices, some of all that passion gives way to other personal, even silly considerations. Does trustee A have a personal dislike for the subject matter or palette? Does trustee C have a personal dislike for trustee D and always vote against anything he/she champions? And so in that way, the notion that the application of good taste is in any way pure enough to guarantee we're preserving the best for posterity is false. Good taste can't always win out against bad politics.

So we have this imperfect, arguably somewhat cold process that makes a bit of a mockery of the importance of "taste." But there are other, more personal reasons to assert its significance. Even should all those around you champion Person X's inferior Artwork Z, you can take solace in the fact that you know it sucks. You can take more solace in your ability to recognize the true quality in Artwork Y over there. You can also find joy in Artwork Y. In addition, you can strive tirelessly to educate and win over other people to see the superiority of Artwork Y.

This has happened in parallel to the celebration of works like Artwork Z throughout most of modern art history (i.e., since the Renaissance). Certain artists who saw fame and glory in times past would make us cringe today, and some who were overlooked then are now recognized as visionary. Other works ignored in their time, however, remain ignored. Even though they may have had their champions, a large enough consensus was never reached to raise them above the fray and so into the dumpster or cold storage they went.

Mind you, all of this still only assumes there is such a thing as universal good or bad in art.

But the other thought that occurs to me is how in contemporary art today, more so than ever before, things are changing so rapidly all the time. I can point to four or five major shifts in what was "hot" over the past 10 years alone. Truly, it's like the "important" ideas or practices shift dramatically every two years. It's a frightfully fickle arena. (Or maybe it's just my wish to keep up with as many developments as I can and the growing impossibility of that.)

We're still installing in the gallery (more on the show tomorrow, but it's gonna rock!), and I have the pleasure of being on a great panel discussion later today (see here), so I'm hardly going to solve the question of "taste" in one blog post. But I"ll open it up to see what I might learn from y'all...you guys...yins (as we say where I come from) :

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27 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bad taste is good.

2/10/2011 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

In what way/s is bad taste good?

2/10/2011 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Every viewer will have their own perception of what "quality" is or should be. It was earlier suggested that "quality resides in the object." I'm sure there is some latin phrase for this intellectual error but I'll settle on dumb. To make such a suggestion requires that quality can be both identified and defined concretely and in such a way it is transferrable from one object to another.

Taste could be called the subjective perception of "quality" but it refers to the perceptions of the viewer, not the object.

Anyone reading art history will note that the subjective perceptions made about art and its "quality" differ widely. Therefore we should expect no more in the present moment. Moreover, we should expect that present judgments of quality will be subject to influence from the outside, from money, fashion and politics.

Given the fluctuating perceptions of what "quality" really is, we should expect that when viewed collectively, curatorial judgments will exhibit a similar degree of variation. Therefor, while it may be valid for an individual to characterize one artists work as "a pile of insipid junk", it does not follow that one can extend the same conclusion to the critical discrimination of an institution or the culture itself.

I don't know if it is art but I know what I like.

2/10/2011 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For diversity's sake.

2/10/2011 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous PK Steffen said...

Ed - Can you tell us if you find all of the work inspid or just the most recent. It is impossible for me to judge not having seen the show. But from what I see on the site there are some of Orozco's shall we say "classics". I'm curious if you just don't like the work in general or the latest pieces...

Thanks,
PK

2/10/2011 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

For example, David Hammons exhibition at L&M Gallery here in NYC has provoked some debate along these lines.

David Hammons - L&M Gallery

2/10/2011 12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good taste is bad.

2/10/2011 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous rory said...

I think it's rare for curators to go out and identify, e.g. actually look for something new, especially for museum committees. There's no glamor in being ahead of the curve in a lot of places. It's easier and safer (not that many curator jobs) to pick something that's already been market/various biennial vetted than go out on a limb. I guess my point is taste doesn't have much to do with it most of the time and a lot have people want the job more than the mission.

2/10/2011 02:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Charlie Tuna on this one.

2/10/2011 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Moopheus said...

There's still no excuse for Jeff Koons.

2/10/2011 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger Bird Monk Party said...

OK so Joe Bradley is exempt from this conversation? Don't pick on Orozco when Bradley is a better example/exponent of the newly christened etc. and trying to be bad assed. Kara Walker profiles, Abstract Expressionism via whose viewpoint; this guys ex painting teacher?

2/10/2011 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Kim Matthews said...

So instead of talking about our culture and rights being violated yet again in the name of "austerity," we're debating taste. Anytime an artist or arts organization takes money from a funder, their mission becomes the satisfaction of the funder. Now we have programs like Kickstarter, and maybe it's there that we ought to be funding the avant-garde. The government will never give funds without strings attached. The best use of the NEA/NEH is to give schools money for the art ed programs that have been slashed. If we want lively dialog in galleries, studios, and museums, it's up to us to organize and raise money independent of any corporate interest.

2/10/2011 09:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

trying to see this with some perspective, so how is it in the culinary arts, cook chefs .... these debates are different? Why is there no outcry over lack of funding in that domain? Why can connoisseurs exist and be appreciated there in? Why can diversity in 'schools" exist and fusion and molecular cuisine extend the professions envelope(s)? How come they can distinguish between elitism and somebody who is simply a snob? How come it's acceptable for diners to say this is delicious or disgusting, or hate broccoli but love liver?

The visual arts struggle with what is to be considered the norm always surprises me. It even surprises me when I find myself affronted by some works, how can I be affronted - but there it is I am. So what gives, shy do the visual arts throughout its history always debate "legitimacy" - tis a strange aspect of our arts.

2/11/2011 07:19:00 AM  
Blogger JMF said...

Ed said, "Truly, it's like the "important" ideas or practices shift dramatically every two years"

Perhaps the Chelsea Gallery Association should produce a monitoring system similar to the passing color coded terror alerts that tells us which subjects are hot at any given time.

On a serious note, we occasionally speak about creating art that contains the power of language. I believe language can provide a good metaphor when the discussion of taste arises. The fact that I do not understand Italian does not mean that Gianni Italia has nothing important to say. Only after I learn Italian, can I determine the worth of his speech.

I have not seen the MOMA exhibit, but I would not wholly denounce it until I had fully researched the goal/message/emotion/visual/etc attempted by the work. To question the professionals who curate shows is our right, but we should acknowledge that they have done more research and have more invested in the project's success than we do. We do not want to become Rudy Guilianis or John Boehners or the rest who question how the NEA can give grants to ugly art; people who quickly dismiss that which seems distasteful or unpleasant or unattractive.

2/11/2011 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Well said indeed, JMF.

PK, that wasn't my quote about Orozco (I rather like his work, but didn't think a few of the works in the MoMA show showed as well out of context as I must have imagined they would have in context). The quote is from Franklin.

2/11/2011 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

Morals aside-- I don't think there is such a thing as universal taste. True, there may be specific subjects/themes that the average person prefers to view-- that is the closest you will come to universal taste in my opinion. However, that is not set in stone.

As for the art market and taste-- for all we know there may be a collector out there who is more interested in collecting images of stick men wearing blue hats than any other type of image. His wealthy cousin prefers stick men wearing red hats-- while their grandfather prefers photographs of red and blue hats. Twisted Aunt Selma likes to draw insects wearing pink hats-- she is the scourge of the Ladies Club.

My point-- I think ‘taste’ is often more influenced by genetics or the environment we are drawn to-- no pun intended. I’d suggest our individual ’taste’ is rooted, at least on some levels, in how, where, and when-- which decade and so on-- we were raised.

2/11/2011 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"Bad taste is good."
Anonymous Anonymous said...
"For diversity's sake."

This must have been written by a derivative hipster attempting irony with no substance to back it up. This is definitely a problem facing art today... lack of understanding and true substance.


Anonymous Kim Matthews said...
"Anytime an artist or arts organization takes money from a funder, their mission becomes the satisfaction of the funder. Now we have programs like Kickstarter, and maybe it's there that we ought to be funding the avant-garde."

If you are familiar with Kickstarter, you would know that they also screen their applicants based on Kickstarter's collective mission, and the individuals who choose to fund these (your term -- ouch) "avant-garde" projects, they become satisfied not just by funding the project, by by the swag that they get in return. It is no different than any other funding program (except for the bonus t-shirts and stickers -- lol -- PBS has used this to good effect, so why not?), just a different demographic pool.


Taste is learned. Whether it has accumulated in your system over time and exposure, or whether you decided that you wanted to *be* like this person or that person, your taste is an artifact of subconscious or conscious choice.

Art trends are changing more rapidly over time because people have learned that it is lucrative to follow the model of the fashion industry -- change what is "edgy" "cool" "fabulous" with each season, and the consumer has to buy more just to keep up and to not be embarrassed by their social network.

2/11/2011 01:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

If I've understood you correctly, you're saying that museum practices are conducted by human beings with all of the attendant flaws of human beings, that people who don't agree with the way those practices are conducted can still appreciate and make a case for art that they prefer, and that there has been some back-and-forth in the formation of the historical consensus in that regard. This is all true whether there is universal good in art or not, so I'm not sure how that bit relates.

If "universal good" means that there's one true work of art that exists on a metaphysical plane and we are all making imperfect copies of it, I don't agree with the notion. If it means that people in general are sufficiently alike that they can appreciate each others' beautiful works, I do agree with it. But if you think instead that tastes are purely social constructions, then the machinations that cause art to come into the museums are inerrant, as those machinations are the social constructions themselves. Criticism, along with resistance, is useless. That's too passive a stance for my taste.

2/12/2011 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

I like the analogy with law. Like art, law is made up by human beings. There is no objective standard to base it on or measure it against.

You can't argue about physics, but you can about law or art.

With law, it's possible to have a diversity of valid opinions on a certain matter. It's the same with art: there are valid and invalid opinions, and a range of valid opinions. Unlike law, however, we can't test those opinions in court. Unlike law, no-one in the art world has enough authority to make a ruling.

Therefore, the only opinions about a particular art work we can rule out are the invalid ones, ones with false premisses or ones where the conclusion doesn't match the premisses.

We'll b having none of that dodgy 'universal taste', thank you very much.

2/13/2011 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Terry Ward said...

koons bashing? okay, but 'puppy' was impressive. koons is a playful andy warhol of sculpture ---same spirit but not ripping-off warhol. koons might look better seen thru that lens.

2/13/2011 08:22:00 PM  
Anonymous marcus said...

My dislike of George Condo mirrors Franklin's take on G. Orozco. Except, last week on a Target run I glimpsed a CD cover whose quirky+oddly posed painted graphic of a young woman in red dress made me stop and take a second look. Yup, it was Condo's CD cover for Kanye West and I was really impressed. I like it when something other than age and life circumstances make one reconsider assumtions about which art has merit.

2/13/2011 09:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Blogger David Cauchi said...
"You can't argue about physics, but you can about law or art."

Yes you can, ask any physicist -- lol!

However, I *do* like the rest of your post very much (okay, certain people in the art world work very hard to display enough authority to make a ruling, but thankfully it's like herding cats... )

2/13/2011 10:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nope, Terri, not written by a 'hipster'(whatever that actually means). 'Bad taste is good for diversity' was written by an extremely hard working and very professional practicing artist. Really, who is the fucking authority taste? You? Give me a break, this discussion has no meaning. Time and culture dictate taste. Fuck taste.

2/13/2011 11:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"...this discussion has no meaning. Time and culture dictate taste. Fuck taste."

Thanks for participating. : )

2/14/2011 01:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"...this discussion has no meaning. Time and culture dictate taste. Fuck taste."

My first reply to this was "Thank you for your participation. : )" -- but I think that I'd better elaborate on that so that you don't take it the wrong way.

When you blurt out provocative phrases, it comes off as just that -- that you are trying to get a rise out of people, and it serves no productive purpose.

By coming back and participating in the discussion by fleshing out your thoughts, you add something concrete and reasonable and worth considering.

2/14/2011 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Moopheus said...

"koons is a playful andy warhol of sculpture "

Or Koons is an insipid charlatan, the Thomas Kincaide of the overly pretentious set.

2/15/2011 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Out of curiousity how many of the posters in this comments section
studied undergrad or graduate level art?

The answers elucidate people's
tastes in having taste.

What are we actually discussing here?

In light of our 'discussion' lets consider that Matisse was repeatedly trounced by the French art establishment for his initial participations in the Salon.

2/21/2011 02:28:00 AM  

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