A Question of Taste

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Social and cultural phenomenon regarding taste or aesthetics have long been closely associated with with social relations and dynamics between people. The idea of social tastes is therefore impossible to separate from the accompanying sociological concepts, such as morals, beliefs, and aesthetic values, that form an integral part of any social construct. Being able to define taste, whether good or bad, makes it possible to to see and understand aspects of human society that would otherwise be incomprehensible.

Some judgments concerning taste may appear more legitimate than others, but most often there is not a single conception shared by all members of society. People with individual sensibilities are not unique either. For instance, aesthetic preferences and attendance to various cultural events are associated with education and social origin. Different socioeconomic groups are likely to have different tastes, and it has been suggested that social class is one of the prominent factors structuring taste.

But in a world where the instantaneous nature of a society, especially one with access to a resource like the internet, the rapid evolution of how people interact has rendered the social landscape amorphous, no longer definable, the question of taste and aesthetic has become a confusing one. If so many individuals can have friendship circles that dismiss all traditional notions of relation, and are able to express their own thoughts, tastes, and ideas and broadcast them we can no longer consider our social environment to be based on our immediate physical surrounds. Society is no longer based on where you are, but rather what you are looking at.

Stephen Jones “Veiled Beanie” for Jil Sander

Which means that the traditional dichotomy of good and bad taste no longer has any distinction. If anything there seems to be an emerging sense of unity between the two. Like two sides of a coin, with the emergence of an aesthetic trend where both are used in equal measure to create a paradox between conflicting ideas.

Take for example the veiled beanie by Stephen Jones Raf Simons showed in his Jil Sander Summer 2012 collection. A sudden merging of what is traditionally associated with the street, young men, and rebellious youth, with what is associated more with tradition, ceremony, and ritual. Or the shoes Prada (always a purveyor of bad taste at its most tasteful) showed with their Summer 2010 collection. Lucite stripper shoes with crystal chandelier components hanging from the heel and straps. Very trash meets treasure.

Prada Shoe Summer 2010

Of course ‘taste’ is prevalent through all aspects of the creative industries. The art world was perhaps one of the first to start toying with ideas of questionable materials or subject matter. Andy Warhol was maybe the first to toy with the idea, after all if seeing a screen print painting of soup cans hanging in some foyer on the Upper East side isn’t a juxtaposition of taste then I don’t know what is. And let’s not forget Dash Snow and Dan Colen’s “Hamster Nests” of shredded telephone books installed in hotel rooms across the world. Heaps of paper with a generous dash of piss, liquor, and other bodily fluids are a clever riff on the idea of homelessness, yet in the environs of somewhere as bourgeois as a hotel room or art gallery it takes on a different meaning.

It could be argued that this combination of elements previously considered unfashionable or unappealing with those that we associate with archetypal ideas of glamour is merely the next logical step, especially considering there isn’t much left in the way of originality. And this is probably quite true, but if so it surely stemmed from what was already happening both on the street and on the web. If anything perhaps this merging of different idea’s of what constitutes “aesthetically pleasing” could signal the start of a more global culture.

Dash Snow + Dan Colen “Hamster Nest”


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