The Myth of Good Taste


We are beginning to get contributions from members of the sort which should lead to the Newsletter becoming a forum for the views of members. The first three of these take the form of a broadly ranging discussion of 'good taste' and the relation between craftsman and community, by Peter Le Grand; a plea for action that the incoming Council might note, by Pam McDougall; and a representation from the 'underprivileged; an account of what progress has been made towards such a Centre as Mrs McDougall described within the A.N.U., by Alan Moor. 


Good taste implies a series of choices from a variety of possibilities by an individual, resulting in a solution not necessarily dependent upon formulas that reflects the individual and his time of life, and provides some form of emotional pleasure and practical sense out of what may be surrounded chaos.  

It is true to say that within 'our' society, certain groups of individuals (if they can be) have appointed themselves as the arbiters of this 'good taste'. This appointment has evolved either from group pressure, isolation or insularity, where a combination of factors ranging from educa­tion to intellectual merit have combined to show, or cause, separatism. A type of 'we -they' complex, where 'we' is always the minority, albeit all knowing and powerful, has developed. Through circumstances not completely beyond their control the 'we' group are consequently 'called' upon, to pass judgement which may be reflected in and then copied by countless crafts­men in a varying range of disciplines. 

It is my contention that a situation of this type will necessarily breed two possibly insoluble problems. The first is that through years of growth and assimilation, any society develops a formalized process of acceptance and utilization. In craft terms, this is well evidenced by the abundance of items readily available in most establishments catering for this type of development and its first expression on a loungeroom wall in the form of an obtuse line comprising three readily distinguishable objects. By its very growth and therefore its apparent measure of acceptance this item forms an integral part of an organised code. which is immediately recognisable, understood (perhaps) and complied to by rote. This is called the establishment or 'they'. 

The second problem is the development, by reaction, of a parallel yet 'counter' style (or so claimed) which in essence provokes polarisation of discontented (although not necessarily radical) elements which cannot accept obtuse lines. To survive, these styles need to engage in changing allegiances and struggles, not totally dissimilar to internecine warfare which eventuates in the predomi­nance of a quite specific style, 110w extensively heralded as the 'new image'. 

While problem number two has been extricating and evolving itself out of its primeval ooze, the 'they' group have occasionally, and somewhat uninterestedly observed the upheaval. Now, as everybody knows, familiarity apparently breeds contempt, and so, that element of the 'they' group i.e. the 'we' purportedly endowed with a more finely honed sense of aesthetic, patronises the new image, for their hold is perhaps somewhat tenuous, and, to preserve their rank in the order of things, will absorb, mould and subsidise the new image, ensuing its acceptance by the 'they' group. Mark you, this whole procedure is performed without the slightest risk of alienation. 

Consequently, if no alienation occurs, the 'we' element has now the ability to put forward a new concept to emulate. And this will be done post haste, for this is good taste. It would be rash to deny, that somewhere in this evolutionary type process true good taste is inherent. However, the process self, by moral abuse and contempt, remains the province of an apparent elite and small group, occupying no real substantive place in the lives of the rude masses. The work performed there is largely ignored and the position of the 'we' group is largely predicated (although on some unwarranted assumptions) on their ability to separate, adjudge and proclaim. 

Maintaining rank and simultaneously absorbing and remoulding that produced by external agencies is not quite sufficient to be accredited as having good taste. In fact what is appreciated in reality is historical accumulations and not an innate selective quality possessed by some individuals. The sooner recognized the better. 

The process could be restated with particular reference to the craftsman, in as much that in the final analysis he has been taught to imitate, and if promise exists, to refine; his recognition is largely dependent upon technical skill within a now formal style rather than unique identity or expression: approach craft/art with caution under the strict tutelage of an all-knowing tutor who supplies prescribed responses, and once again the general mass is dependent upon a 'traditional' formula for the arrangement of their homes, furnishings and lives. Venture into the home of the 'middle-class' today, and you are confronted by a dismaying collection of gaudy, ill-suited, poorly produced trash. Step into the homes of the knowing 'moderns' and be confronted by a dreary similarity, expressing group decision as to what is acceptable, yet not a reflection of the individual who resides there. Go into the homes of the poor and there will be no resemblance to this myth at all! 
Life, in all probability is a transit through the brilliant hues of childhood to the subdued grays of old age. The emotion behind this parallel is obvious. The individual is made to fit the mould of society, propriety and place. The process will squeeze out every ounce of creativity and critical potential inherent in him. This destruction is aided and abetted by those arbiters of good taste, and so the circle continues. 

The problem is a serious one for the craftsman/artist. He must discover his identity and answer that he is not ensnared by the myth of good taste (that of-his own society or in fact anyone else's) and that his potential is not channelled into repetitions of past repetitions, providing easy substitutes for his critical sense. He must disentangle himself from traditional concepts. Only then will the nexus of those arbiters of good taste be broken and the myth, perhaps, become a reality. 

Peter Le Grand, 1972