On Taste: You, Yourself
My Curious Reading
An appeal to the senses.
Taste can be understood both as a system of aesthetics, and a guideline to propriety.
Regarding what might be labeled presentation, all things seen and owned, taste has two aspects: preference, and received perception. That is, what do you simply like, as opposed to what your peer group instructs you to like…or to patronize, if you can afford it?
Biologically, as a consequence of evolutionary selection, we do (to consider the visual alone), have an attraction to certain effects of color and contrast, with rules fairly consistent from person to person.
So there are measurable standards; taste is not 100% up to the individual.
Here are four color sets; the first two, challenging. You may like either of these: taupe and lime, burgundy and dusty aqua, without ever having worn them together or decorated your house with them. You probably dislike the pink and forest combo; while nearly everyone likes red and black.
Going crosswise, you will notice red and lime are the most intense here, and that the three with similar values: taupe, dusty aqua, and rose pink, mesh in best together. Rose, though well liked of itself, may be the worst player, not happy with either forest or red, nor especially so with lime.
And burgundy, as you see, actively resists this shade of red.
Primaries (reds, blues, yellows) and secondaries (purples, greens, oranges) are thought to mate best with their color-wheel opposites.
Note how shapes that suggest familiar things—in this case, what appears a pair of houses—create a narrative, bringing abstract placement closer to primitive representation. Here, the addition of the primaries gives a sense of completeness, and takes the eye on a short trip from lower left to lower right. ( Your eye will see the red first.)
Here is an outdoor scene filtered two ways, for low and high contrast. The grey is the more atmospheric, brooding. But black and white reduces the amount of information, and raises the level of drama. Most people are compelled by high contrast…why it’s so often the style of poster art.
The blue ovals give the minimum of information our brain tends to translate as “eyes”.
The image that consists substantially of four lines, conveys something of mood, nothing of gender or age. The more fully sketched face conveys maleness, as well as an emotional state.
Take these as four principals in a mini-mystery…which character is the detective, which the villain; which the victim, which the chief witness?
Here are two harsh abstracts. Both convey a certain story-telling quality. In A, all the worm-like pink shapes seem leaping towards the upper right corner; in B, the blue shape on the right takes on a figural aspect, touching (with something like a hand) the pink shape on the left. Painting A vibrates considerably, with its three high-value hues; painting B, more static, is easier to look at. Two things to consider: is disturbing color part of the experience? Is the painting “working” on the viewer, using light in an extra-dimensional way? And: Does the brain have to make sense of things? Can there ever be, cognitively, such a thing as a painting with no meaning?
Personal preference, without social influence, forms at its root by cue—by brain-stem level association with food, shelter, the need to know friend from enemy. But human beings are gregarious—therefore those objectively measurable qualities we may call “taste” grow from these roots, to be steadily shaped by reactivity.
I attach strongly to a cohort; I think of myself as an iconoclast. I keep up with the latest; I deplore all things popular. I am down-to-earth, unfancy; I am rarefied, seeking the arcane.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)