Taste and Tastemakers

Written by Barbara MacAdam

I’d like to begin this column with a basic question that I welcome you all to weigh in on: what is good art and what is bad art?

Is there really such a dichotomy? And if so, how do we decide?

We could base it on instinct, we could consider art-historical validity, where and how it fits, cultural relevance, social consciousness, aesthetics, quality of execution and content, or even popularity. Above all, it lies in the mind and eyes of the beholder, but who is the beholder? This is where personal taste becomes relevant.

Is there a reason, I’ve wondered, why a viewer with a predilection for Minimalism and conceptualism in art would prefer similar qualities in music, or why someone with an affinity for obsessive drawing requiring close reading would find a parallel in Baroque music and string quartets? 

Are people attracted to abstraction because it fulfills a need, known or otherwise, to complete an image, or to create a different one--ultimately, to insert oneself into a work or into the role of creator or image-maker?

Most interesting of all is what can’t be controlled. For example, the role of color, both affective and physiological: how we perceive it, how it creates mood, how it affects perspective, and how a trait like color blindness plays into our feelings and attraction. 

Art is to a large extent about seducing. A cunning manipulator, it preys on the willing as well as the not so susceptible. Its stratagems can be as obvious as beauty, sex, and appeals to the emotions, or as visceral as bright or lurid colors and satisfying proportions. It can draw victims deep into the picture plane with tricks of perspective, or tousle their brains through the magic of illusion. 

And it can lure them into participation, forcing them to fill in blanks—by connecting lines and completing narratives. Whatever the devices, they exceed their audience’s powers to resist.

Finally, this is where I invite all of you to respond, by arguing or adding your opinions. Please use the "RESPOND TO ISSUE #1" button on the top right of this page to submit your answers.

- Barbara MacAdam


Readers Response: 

Lately I'm feeling that it's impossible to appreciate art if you refuse to lower your guard and permit yourself to be fooled or even be made a fool of. If you refuse, then you'll always feel short-changed. "My kid could do that" is the utterance of someone who needs to feel that she's getting good value, someone who will feel duped if she's not getting what she bargained for.

- J.Wolf


There is no bad art - if its art it is art - some more or less important - the less important art adheres to a minor discourse - and is judged by other criteria - in that it does not subscribe to the same goal as those that are prescribed by the dominant discourse. Within each discourse there are better and worst examples - that is how exemplary they are of their discourse and how best they either elaborate or challenge it. Such conditions and qualities are not immediately apparent - they become confused - and must contend - something that within one moment may be thought to be exemplary proves that with time it is not sustainable - while something that at first is thought to be bad or incomprehensible, emerges as the more interesting proposition - i.e. work of art. As you can see taste does not play a role in my vision - taste is a question of preferences - not importance or influence.

- S.Ostrow


I love this article. It's accessibly written but engages in fundamental questions around contemporary art. I'm exited to read the forthcoming posts!

- K.Battista


Well, I have never thought about what MY taste in art says about me or indeed if there is a thread running through my taste in music, photography, art, film etc. I will, however, now pay attention and I will be interested to see if there is a connection. Thanks for the prompt!

- K.Lyon