Let’s get straight to business. What does it mean to have good taste? Well, taste is obviously subjective or is it? I think that taste can be relative and non-relative. Hopefully, you place some value in your own thoughts and opinions and in this case, you may regard someone else with similar taste to your own as having good taste. But speaking objectively, I think that you can remove relatability and personal connection as reasons as to why a work of art is considered good. It’s difficult because I think that those are the biggest factors that influence a person’s opinion on a work of art for good reason. But I do think there is such a thing as good taste regardless of whether I agree with you or not. Of course there is because I’m sure you’ve met someone whose taste you respect but don’t agree with. So how does one acquire good taste?
Everybody has lived a different life which leads to different opinions and tastes and so on. Those life experiences shape us in various ways but I believe that there is a linear(ish) path to acquire good taste. So to add to the question, what is objectively good taste and how does one get it? I think that it requires general mastery of a subject combined with a deep understanding of who you are.
If you were to pick a medium, let’s say interior design, gather a group of supposed experts in that medium and tell them to decorate a blank room in whatever way they wanted. I think you would find out which experts know what they like and have good taste and which ones were lost by the lack of direction given to them.
Just from observing people’s fashion sense, you can tell the difference between those that are confident and don’t care about what others think about them and those that appear confident but deep down are insecure. Think, a cool grandpa who cycles around wearing old fisherman clothes with feathers sticking out of his hat and a trailer with a dog attached to his back versus someone who owns 10 different Birkin bags in different colours.
A lot can be said about a person through their taste in a particular medium that they pride themselves in. I’m focusing on singular mediums at a time because I believe that taste levels do not apply across the board. Good taste in fashion does not equate to good taste in cars which does not equate to good taste in interior design etc. There is overlap but every medium should be treated separately. The jumbling of tastes between mediums is a major reason why taste levels get messy for most people because these mediums have very little overlap.
Your sense of taste comes from exposure. You cannot have good or bad taste in cars if you have never seen a car before. But as you start to see more cars, you begin to be attracted to certain models more than others. That’s your taste forming. However, since the Earth and every man-made object that exists has only come to be because of humans that existed before you do now, what you’re exposed to is extremely linear. Sure everyone born in the same country lives a different life and those nuances make us who we are, but everyone encounters the same cars on the street, the same grocery stores and the same style of buildings. Humans are naturally social creatures who crave social acceptance to survive in their communities unless they can convince themselves that there is more value in not conforming which is a very hard thing for most people because it brings about discomfort. It’s hard to purposely make yourself uncomfortable. That’s why most people have the same level of dare I say it, bad taste. Because everyone is exposed to the same things which is then hard to break out of. However, if you pick up a specific interest in one area, that’s where taste starts to form. You may never leave the mainstream bubble and start to obsess over the specifics of particular objects. Think of people who obsessively collect every Nike Dunk colourway that is released. But, you may feel inclined to leave the bubble and seek what else is out there. Maybe this happened because you were lucky enough to be exposed to something extraordinary and you had an open mind.
Being open-minded is a key factor to good taste because In order to know what’s ‘good’ you have to increase your exposure to new things to see as many things as possible and then compare everything to everything else. But you also need to sit with each thing for some time, which is something that you can easily skip doing once you’re used to observing many things. Your brain will get so good at judging what is worth your time and what isn’t that you will begin to take things at face value and start to base your final judgements on first impressions. That’s a dangerous mindset to attain and one that you must be aware of and fight if you truly want to expand your taste. Again, it’s uncomfortable, and it can be boring, but there’s no growth without discomfort, otherwise your brain has nothing to adapt to.
You might have to try things more than once to properly experience it because sometimes it just takes the right moment. After becoming fatigued from listening to solely electronic music, I decided to put on a Japanese funk album that the YouTube algorithm randomly recommended to me one day. The YouTube algorithm has good taste. From there, I was recommended 70’s Latin American folk music that I decided to play while I made my breakfast after a euphoric run. I had tried listening to this style of strumming guitar through my headphones before but found it too slow. However in that moment, when I was slow-cooking my scrambled eggs, that Latin guitar came on in combination with some flute playing through my speakers on the other side of the room and ever since that day I’ve become enamoured with Latin American folk music. I even started learning Spanish to prepare for my trip to Latin America one day to listen to this music live.
Now, mastery in one medium is hard to achieve, let alone acquiring it in several to attain good taste. But this is how I believe you do it. To be specific, when I refer to mastery of a medium in this article, I mean mastery as a vast knowledge and understanding of a medium in a general sense which is of course not true mastery. Nobody is a ‘master’ of fashion. There are masters of tailoring, of fashion design, of fashion marketing, of fashion history. Fashion in itself is much too large to become a true master in all its individual elements. But for the sake of having good taste, I’m talking about acquiring general mastery, which is much simpler.
How? Well, the same way that you build muscle. Adequate volume, intensity and consistency. I don’t think that the overlap of the principles of building muscle and building good taste is a coincidence, I think it’s just one of the laws of the universe. You must consume a large volume of things, which you must spend an adequate amount of energy properly assessing and analysing and you must do this all of the time for a long period of time. Do you see why most people don’t have good taste? It’s a lot of work. Rewarding, as anything that requires a lot of work, but still a lot of work which people don’t want to hear. Intensity refers back to what I said before about spending an adequate amount of energy with everything you consume. You don’t jump from one workout plan to another every other day. You stay with it, see how it works and naturally, you will move on if you have to. I finished my phase with rap and moved into techno. I then opened my mind up to a wider range of electronic music which led me to classical music. That got me more interested in music that wasn’t generated on a computer and I have now arrived at Latin American folk. This has happened over the course of a few years of course. And to reiterate, I classify what I am attaining as general mastery of the medium of music which is forming my taste. A true mastery would mean that I have picked one of those genres and restricted myself to it. But I think life is more fun with a bit more variety and balance.
So how does knowing who you are come into all of this? Well because once you stop to really analyse what you’re consuming, you’ll be faced with the horribly energy-consuming notion of having to think. And if, up to that point, you had spent your whole life just accepting everything thrown at you at face value, then the notion of thinking about what you’re consuming will be unfamiliar and frightening. Luckily, the path to achieving general mastery goes hand in hand with finding out about who you really are. Given you have the mental fortitude to go through with all of that thinking, you’ll kill two birds with one stone. Combining these two aspects should provide you with a unique, objectively good level of taste. The best and worst aspect of this method is that you can do it forever. There’s no definite line that you must cross to be considered a general master of something, the whole idea is just something that I made up for this article. Similarly, when do you really find out who you are?
Remember that nobody sees anything, especially in art as objective, so your level of taste will always be up to the eye of the beholder, And hopefully, the only eye whose opinion you care about is your own. Hello good taste, and hello good life. I hope this method works out for you as it has me. Naturally with all of these articles, don’t take it too seriously, I had fun writing this and I hope you had fun reading it.