“It is natural for us to seek a Standard of Taste,” wrote the Scottish philosopher David Hume in 1757, “a rule by which the various sentiments of men may be reconciled; at least, a decision, afforded, confirming one sentiment, and condemning another.”
Hume was trying to resolve two apparently contradictory observations. One: that people disagree about what is good and bad art, and two: that we can agree that some art works are understood to be the greatest achievements of humankind. There is a basis for good taste, Hume concluded, which is our feelings, our response to the art work. And he suggested that certain people were in a position to judge what was in good taste: those who had “delicate sentiment, improved by practice” could decide, “the true standard of taste and beauty”.
Today, however, we rarely speak of someone having good taste. Taste is a word that is off limits when it comes to art. Carl Wilson, author of Let’s Talk about Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste, notes that Hume’s theory “could be described as a prejudice – a bias in favour of tradition, which may publish deviation from the ‘highest’ standards and obstruct the creation of new ones.’
(Pix: The artist Grayson Perry)