who am I?
by Charlene A
53 blocks
8 days ago

Tastelessness, the lack of taste, is the inability to discern quality. People without taste will have a near-equal preference for something great and something mediocre.

A inteligência também é realmente uma espécie de gosto.

To start very generally, taste is a mode. It’s a manner of interpretation, expression, or action. Things don’t feel tasteful, they demonstrate taste. Someone’s home can be decorated tastefully. Someone can dress tastefully. The vibe cannot be tasteful. The experience cannot be tasteful.

Appreciation is a form of taste. Creation is another. They are often intertwined, but don’t have to be. Someone could have impeccable taste in art, without producing any themselves. Those who create tasteful things are almost always deep appreciators, though. Mark Ronson listens to and loves a lot of music. Samin Nosrat tries and savors a lot of food.

There are degrees of taste, but we typically talk about it in binaries. One can have taste or not. Great taste means almost the same thing as taste.

You probably already have an intuitive sense of the people in your life who have great taste in something. They’re the people you always go to for restaurant or movie or gear recommendations. Maybe it’s the person you ask to be an extra set of eyes on an email or a project brief before you send it out.

It’s probably a permanent state — taste isn’t often outgrown.

Though taste may appear effortless, you can’t have taste by mistake. It requires intention, focus, and care. Taste is a commitment to a state of attention. It’s a process of peeling back layer after layer, turning over rock after rock. As John Saltivier says in an essay about building a set of stairs, “surprising detail is a near universal property of getting up close and personal with reality.”

Most people with taste can tell you, in explicit terms, how they came to it. That story typically involves someone else ushering them into it, directly or indirectly.

Taste comes in lanes. To quote Susan Sontag again, “There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion — and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas. One of the facts to be reckoned with is that taste tends to develop very unevenly. It's rare that the same person has good visual taste and good taste in people and taste in ideas.” The sought-after interior designer may not mind gas station coffee. The prolific composer may not give a damn about how they dress.

Taste in too many things would be tortuous. The things we have taste in often start as a pea under the mattress. To have taste is to be persnickety and one doesn’t want to be persnickety or annoyed about too many things. There are people who are like this. They are grumps. Taste takes effort. Plain old curiosity would do, too.

While taste is often focused on a single thing, it is often formed through the integration of diverse, and wide-ranging inputs. Steve Jobs has said, “I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.”

Irony and satire are frenemies of taste. Like irony and satire, taste is on its toes. It’s alert. Taste, irony, and satire all embrace the incisive spirit of sharp critique. But unlike irony and satire, taste is earnest. It doesn’t like to fake it and it can’t be too far removed from reality.

The best definition of taste I found comes from painter John Folley. He says “‘Good taste' is simply to have a well formed opinion, in accordance with the realities of the Good and the True.” There are tasteful and non-tasteful choices. Taste reveals its purveyor to be a good decision-maker.

Taste is not the same as correctness, though. To do something correctly is not necessarily to do it tastefully. For most things, correctness is good enough, so we skate by on that as the default. And there are many correct paths to take. You’ll be able to cook a yummy meal, enjoy the movie, build a useable product, don a shirt that fits. But taste gets you to the thing that’s more than just correct. Taste hits different. It intrigues. It compels. It moves. It enchants. It fascinates. It seduces.

Taste requires originality. It invokes an aspirational authenticity. Writer George Saunders calls this “achieving the iconic space,” and it’s what he’s after when he meets his creative writing students. “They arrive already wonderful. What we try to do over the next three years is help them achieve what I call their “iconic space” — the place from which they will write the stories only they could write, using what makes them uniquely themselves…At this level, good writing is assumed; the goal is to help them acquire the technical means to become defiantly and joyfully themselves.”

Taste honors someone’s standards of quality, but also the distinctive way the world bounces off a person. It reflects what they know about how the world works, and also what they’re working with in their inner worlds. When we recognize true taste, we are recognizing that alchemic combination of skill and soul. This is why it is so alluring.

Still, taste is closely intertwined with snobbery. And indeed, many snobs (coffee snobs, gear snobs, wine snobs, etc.) often have great taste. But I would say that taste is the sensibility, and snobbery is one way to express the sensibility. It’s not the only way.

There’s also a difference between expensive and tasteful. If rich people often have good taste it’s because they grew up around nice things, and many of them acquired an intolerance for not nice things as a result. That’s a good recipe for taste, but it’s not sufficient and it’s definitely not a guarantee. I know people that are exceedingly picky about the food they eat and never pay more than $20 for a meal.

My artist friends have excellent taste, and they are certainly not the richest group of people I know. One hypothesis is that creating forces taste upon its maker. Creators must master self-expression and craft if they’re going to make something truly compelling.

Another hypothesis is that artists are more sensitive. They’re more observant, feel things more deeply, more obsessive about details, more focused on how they measure up to greatness. It’s self-conscious. It’s intimate. It’s idiosyncratic. And when they get it right, it’s as tasteful as it gets.

Another framing for this is “turpentine.” It comes from Picasso remarking that “when art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” Taste rests on turpentine.

The process of cultivating taste is a lot like the writing and editing process. Here’s George Saunders on the revision process. “The way I revise is: I read my own text and imagine a little meter in my head, with “P” on one side (“Positive”) and “N” on the other (“Negative”)... This involves making thousands of what I’ve come to think of as “micro-decisions.” These are instantaneous, intuitive – I just prefer this to that… I just have a feeling and react to that feeling, in the form of a cut phrase, or an added word, or an urge to move this whole section, and so on. And then I do that over and over, for months, sometimes years, until that needle stays up in the “P” zone for the whole length of the text…With each choice, even the smallest ones, the story becomes more and more…well, it becomes more her, you could say. There’s more of her essential nature in it, more of what will distinguish her from all of those other writers out there. And gradually, the story starts to become...

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