On Taste

A cool tropical drink at an upscale Hawaiian resort.

“You know, I pray every day that people with money get taste, and that people with taste get money.”

Hutton Wilkinson

What is “taste,” and how do you know if you have any?

Certainly, we have all heard of “good” taste and “bad” taste. The condition most often overlooked is having no taste at all! (Sadly, there’s a lot of the latter going on these days in interior design.)

Of course, each individual is different, and tastes vary from person to person. Right? Hmmm. Maybe it’s a little more complicated. After all, there wouldn’t be an entire branch of philosophy called “Aesthetics” if matters of taste were so simple.

Taste and Class

In fact, in his book “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,” sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argues that social status and aesthetic preferences are in fact inextricable. Tastes are not developed in a vacuum. Instead, tastes are used to demarcate social classes and power structures.

All in the Best Possible Taste

One of the best explorations of the link between taste and social class was broadcast ten years ago this week on Channel 4 in the UK. Directed by Neil Crombie and titled “All in the Best Possible Taste,” the three-part series follows contemporary artist Grayson Perry as he moves through the different class levels of Britain to tease out the telling clues of each group’s aesthetic preferences that betray social and economic status.

See here, for example, the second episode which explores the tastes of the middle classes (that is to say, the level between the UK’s lower class and the aristocracy).

Sadly, the other two episodes (“Lower Class Taste” and “Upper Class Taste”) have become more difficult to find online, but they are out there.

In the United States, we do not have an aristocracy and classes are instead stratified economically. Nevertheless, tastes in the US are still very telling of social milieu.

Look around your home. What do your possessions and decor tell an outside observer about your own social and economic standing?


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