Taste & Objectivity

GowienczykGowienczyk Pooper of Parties
edited July 2012 in History of Rock
A post my friend wrote some time ago about objectively weighing taste beyond "it's all subjective and everyone is equal!":
Dug up this article my friend wrote ages ago on music taste:

Sounds like you've been studying culture critic Matthew Arnold (his "hoch kulture" ), and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (and his Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste). I'm a media major, so I studied this stuff back in college years ago. Bourdieu argues that aesthetic taste is a way of distinguishing a class of people, and you can see this reflected literally in musically-based subcultures. One of his other ideas is the "culture capital", meaning the range (or "economy" ) of your knowledge in these arts.

Yes, I do believe in a "good taste". And I believe having a higher "culture capital", means that you are much more able to select your choices. Many of the Gaian Music Forum regs here, have extremely differing tastes, genres in which we "specialize", and we acknowledge our taste differences. The majority of us have shared our stuff with each other regardless, and it's raised our "culture capital". In that regards, my taste isn't better than theirs or vice versa, because in a sense, we have a fair enough range of knowledge to what exists out there. The difference is in what areas we particularly decide to dive in. Ultimately, in that way, to me, an "authentic" taste means it is backed by your "culture capital".

In regards to music, all the superficial stuff like fashion and controversy is just fluff, and yeah -- as music, that is what I am ultimately going to judge. I do not believe in "higher" or "lower" class art or music, in that traditional sense of aristocracy. It's stupid that the Grammys is seen as high class when they pull the same ass major label artists up every year, a great deal of which are hardly innovative. This idea of "taste" is mass fed to the audience for sales. And a good example of Matthew Arnold's idea of "Culture as a prison house of language" theory -- in which they choose what and what not to show you. That's why their nominations in "heavy metal", hip-hop, alt rock, electronic dance, and so on, usually stink.

In anycase! Personal taste, in my opinion, is discovered and built through exploration. The more you know, the more authentic your favored "style" is. Perhaps a better analogy might be if you think about culture [capital] in terms of language. Imagine three people (one French, one German and one English) going into a shop in France (the "dominant culture", in this respect, would be French). The French person can speak the language. The German knows some French (enough to get by). The English person knows no French. Each of the above has a stock of cultural capital (in this analogy, their knowledge of languages) which they then proceed to spend by trying to buy things:

The French person does this quickly and efficiently - the shopkeeper understands this person perfectly. The German takes longer to express him / herself and may not be able to buy everything they want. The shopkeeper has a problem understanding but with a bit of time and patience business is transacted amicably. The English person - after much shouting, pointing and general gesticulation - succeeds in buying some basic things (or leaves the shop without being able to buy anything because the shopkeeper could not understand). For the shopkeeper, this customer is difficult to serve because they do not "speak the same language". The French person is equivalent to the Upper class child. The German person is equivalent to the Middle class child. The English person is equivalent to the Working class child. You can apply this to the knowledge of music styles. Keep in mind, I have thrown this theory out WITHOUT YET connecting it to the concept of "good taste" (as this can be applied to other ideas, like business as per the ex.). When I do apply it to "good taste", I believe that the more genres you know about, the more "authentic" your taste is, in having built up your confidence to it.

Somebody who has more WILL and PASSION to listen to 4 newly experienced artists everyday (with consideration to newly experienced genres) -- probably has more to say (and thus more "taste", literally) than a kid with the same few artist/songs on repeat, who tries 2 new artists a week, and diverges from his usual genre taste only once a few months. Let's look at the word "taste" through definition. What we are discussing is a preference of an aesthetic phenomenon. As a word, it also means a functional sense of the tongue, and also means firsthand "experience", that is implied with intent to later build on (or reject, through further experience). I think it's all rather correlated, but the more you know, the more likely you are to craft your taste. Like I said earlier, I ultimately judge by music. It's OK if you want to be a follower and fanatic, but that ultimately does not serve to craft your music taste.

Your example about a guy knowing "10000 bands" is flawed. Yes, that person could know a ****load of bands and not know much in a certain area. So? Let me use the language example again -- you can know French, English, German, Chinese, and Japanese fluently -- but your "culture capital" finds its limits when you know some Danish, Russian, Korean, and Spanish. And you become completely SOL with any other language. Still, his linguist range is quite impressive, with much further potential.
Music is just like that - there's a lot out there, after all. Taste is constantly built. A music enthusiast constantly digs; and ****, some of us Regs make fun of each other for our tastes... we hate the taste of some each other. Some of us can't get into harsh noise, Cameron hates almost everything (but I notice he's challenged himself to try Sonic Youth and Merzbow before), some of us love Lady Gaga. But our explorations has only served to make aware of our options, and proven our confidence in our niches. I sometimes say, some people don't really know what they actually like, because they don't know what else is out there yet.

"Culture capital" is a range of knowledge everyone achieves differently. It is nothing concrete, but rather, something with intense personality that helps define an individual.
Ultimately, some people find the experience of discovering and listening to music much more important than others. Even major label music industries know that (and market accordingly)... in one of my classes, media economic research has shown someone who buys Sheryl Crow albums, tend to buy music about twice a year (usually at Best Buy)... compared to someone who buys some artsy-punk act (who'd likely frequent a record shop as Amoeba). The way they absorb music is drastically different. The former probably has other things to do that are more "important" than music. I have a friend who gives two ****s about music at all, knows absolutely nothing about it -- he instead, likes movies... he has a wider "culture capital" to that than I do. He likes going to dance clubs though, but has no clue what he's listening to. As much as a nihilistic as I am, I ultimately do not agree that "taste" is just "different" and "so be it." This concept, to me, rejects the concept of aesthetics as a philosophy (which it has been considered as so, since the ancient Greeks), and dumbs down music by practically saying that it is not significantly important, except to the individual at hand, which I say, is rather isolating. I would argue this ideal lessens the cultural influence of music. In contrast, through the "culture capital" notion, the concept of "good taste" becomes more socially and (sub-)culturally agreeable, while a foundation of knowledge leaves it rather open-ended enough and mutually respectable.
Thoughts, counterpoints? Whining?


  • Rocket2RussiaRocket2Russia Road Warrior
    edited July 2012
    Nietzsche Sings the Hits of Yesterday and Today!

    Honestly, I think the most important question to be asking ourselves is how we use our "objectively superior taste." Is it to educate and expand the influence of our favorite selections or to tout superiority?
  • killer_roachkiller_roach Washed Up
    edited July 2012
    There are objective points to be made about musical approach, technique, and composition... what's subjective is your own preferences as to which most matter to you.

    For example, for all somebody may happen to like Nickelback, it's an objective fact that their lyrics are cliched, their musical textures are derivative, and their musicianship is second-rate at best. You can't stop them from liking cheap, lifeless music any more than you can keep them away from eating at Burger King, but it doesn't change the fact that it's the musical equivalent of mediocre fast food.
  • MrFruitLordMrFruitLord Headliner
    edited July 2012
    I don't buy this argument. Authenticity can't be objectively measured. Just because someone has sought out a larger amount of music doesn't mean their taste is better, it just means that they've sought out more music. Maybe you evaluate taste based on the effort an individual. That's fine, but saying that this is a way to objectively measure taste is a joke. Evaluating someone else's taste is, like music in the first place, subjective.

    btw Nihilism is silly.
  • RunesmithRunesmith Headliner
    edited July 2012
    MrFruitLord;4812670 said:
    I don't buy this argument. Authenticity can't be objectively measured. Just because someone has sought out a larger amount of music doesn't mean their taste is better, it just means that they've sought out more music. Maybe you evaluate taste based on the effort an individual. That's fine, but saying that this is a way to objectively measure taste is a joke.

    I pretty much agree with this.

    While it may have taken the Englishman an eon to explain what he wanted to the French shopkeeper, the French shopkeeper probably learned significantly more from his transaction with the Englishman than with either the Frenchman or the German. Perhaps he even picked up a bit of English. There's something beautiful in different perspectives meeting for the first time.
  • XacharyCrossXacharyCross Road Warrior
    edited July 2012
    Actively pursuing a state of perfect objectivity in terms of music is a mission in vain, imo. To achieve that objectivity you'd have to de-invest yourself of the emotional states involved, which would effectively (for the objective persons) result in music no longer being a form of art, but more of a mathematical construct to be analyzed in a cold scientific fashion.

    That's not to say there aren't some standards. To use the art example, one can easily pick up the difference between the Mona Lisa, some stuff at your local art gallery, a paint by numbers kit, and a kids 3rd grade drawing on the refrigerator. However, the subject matter, color preferences, or any number of factors could lead to you enjoying one of the latter more then the former.
  • darkwinterbeast8darkwinterbeast8 Headliner
    edited July 2012
    Rocket2Russia;4812464 said:
    Nietzsche Sings the Hits of Yesterday and Today!

    Still sounds like a better idea than any Kids bop albums.
  • jibjqrkljibjqrkl Eventually Perceptive
    edited July 2012
    the problem is not that "less informed" peoples opinions are worse or invalid. The problem (that happens mostly with music) is that once they like something, they say it's good. Even though that is most certainly not always the case. if there even is such a thing.

    If it were true in everything that once someone likes it it can't be bad, then even mass murder would be good.

    the entire concept of a good song makes no sense at all either. Seeing as the term good or perfect requires objective requirements to be measured, and every part people like about music is subjective.

    If there ever was a perfect song, it would need to have everything possible in it, and it would sound like ****

    edit: i might use that last sentence as my sig soon :3
  • ShadowolfShadowolf Unsigned
    edited July 2012
    I wrote this argument a few years ago, Gowienczyk asked me to come in to expand on it, lolll.

    The idea of this argument, is to keep "objectivity" very-very-very loose, so that subjectivity is still highly-highly favorable.
    This argument can be simply summarized as "A valid opinion is an educated opinion" and "Valid subjective ideas are built from objective ideas (which must be learned)".

    An objective taste is simply put, an experienced one. Because "taste" by definition, means you at least "tried it".

    ( This isn't a response to anybody, but if you feel like reading a bit more of my expanded crazy rant on the subject: )

    That idea is something I'll argue with regards to anything else - like politics. You *should* be voting for your President based on the highly subjective ideals that personally appeal to you... I'd hope you are well-informed on your candidate of choice's platforms. You build your subjective opinions through objective facts, weighing these facts to your personal ethics and emotions.
    Music itself has objective characteristics - "it's dissonant", "ethereal", "complex time signature" -- these define a genre. You find these objective qualities, subjectively appealing over other objective traits in another genre... "AABA structure", "lyrics about love", "danceable rhythm", etc.
    Yes, one's opinion about certain music styles is subjective -- but what IS objective is that you KNOW what you like. It is objective that you are a fan of a certain kind of music style, your taste in the arts, is one aspect that defines you as an individual.

    This argument encourages one to come out of their "comfort zone", not to *LIKE* something, but to try to understand its approach and ideologies. To understand but not like something, only *confirms* your own personal taste - and this is not just perfectly fine, it is expected to be, what we subconsciously strive for when pursuing knowledge to very broad forms of art within a giant sea of art - to affirm our taste. How can you be so sure of what you like, if you don't know what else is out there to compare it to? To bring up the ol' cliche, you can't know good without having seen some evil.

    For you to have a valid opinion on things you are unfamiliar with, you must first educate yourself on them. It is supposed to be a journey, built from experience (an important aspect of "taste"). The more you try it, the more you've "tasted it". This divides you from the other person who has only first-hand experience. After all, you can't just have sushi for the first time, and suddenly know everything about Japanese cuisine - that takes more taste testing.

    When you walk into an art gallery for the first time in your life, you may see some new things. You will develop an opinion - "I don't like it". You have little knowledge of art or art history though, so you can't say why. Either two things will happen:
    1) You'll walk out, continue thinking "I don't like it", not knowing why. But hey, you got a little "taste" (no pun intended) of it. Just enough to think about it in the future, maybe. Or never.
    2) You'll want to VALIDATE your opinion, in which you must educate yourself on a little art history... just enough for referential comparison, and to understand why that piece is what it is -- or in your opinion, tries to be what it is, but fails. Through objective facts, you create a subjective opinion... and not just any opinion -- a valid one. Which shows your taste or distaste.
    You can't have "taste" for something without experiencing it first - otherwise, it'd be a great contradiction to the word. And I would argue to validate that taste (or distaste), you must explore it.

    My friend I mentioned has admitted "I know nothing about music" - the only time he experiences music is when he goes top 40 clubbing to Ke$ha and Lady Gaga. I showed him some music from Crass, Einsturzende Neubauten, and Joy Division... he said "How can anyone find these sounds pleasant?" and "I don't know what it is, I just know I don't like it." He admits he has absolutely no interest in trying to "understand" these genres either. In contrast though, he is a screenwriting major, an expert at film, has a much higher culture capital at that than I do.

    There are a lot of people with that attitude though. And this is fine, if they choose not to devote more time in a certain arts. But how can it be that they do not take music as seriously as other enthusiasts, but have an equally valid opinion about music?
    To serve another example, there are people who do not read graphic novels or comic books - they're assumption about them is that they are all about superheros, when there are so much more (Maus, Sandman, Fables, Persepolis, etc). So, ignorance can be a valid opinion?

    I would argue that the idea that "all taste is entirely subjective" is absolutely dangeorus. Why? Because we live in a society where "taste" is selected for us by other people. The majority of people listen to mainstream music, fed by the radio, MTV, the Grammy's, Rolling Stone magazine, etc. Are their taste in music truly valid, when they reject or live in ignorance to many, many other forms of music? Instead, these mass medias choose what is relevant for us to pay attention to and praise as "influential". You've heard the quote, "The victors of war write history", I'm sure. Culture criticist Raymond Williams calls this a "Selected Tradition" within "3 Levels of culture" (the other two being the Lived, and the Recorded). The "selected" are aspects of culture, determined by someone else as "important for everyone to know".
    Mainstream culture de-values artistic merit in lieu of dumb-downed entertainment for the sake of money making. So to me, to say "All taste is entirely subjective" says that this value of mainstream culture, is ok. In Marxism, "if you control the material production, you control the mental production." Critical theorist and musicologist, Theodor Adorno calls this the "Culture Industry" - media is made not just to satisfy, but to pacify consumers. Raymond Williams expands on this idea, calls it the "emergent culture" - an example: punk rock and hip-hop, once known as dangerous and politically strived genres, were appropriated by the mainstream and made "safe" for consumption, into Hot Topic and bling-bling kitsch.
    So, to me, to say "All taste is entirely subjective" devalues art from its artistic merit and centuries of influence. I see it a lazy way to defend one's ignorance in certain arts, and contributing to mass media pacificism. An art can be appreciated beyond its face value experience, and understood for not even just its ideologies... but for its approach (so for punk rock, the politics are its ideology, but the stripped down sound and simple song construction is its approach to create its "face value" sound and aesthetics, that accentuate the politics and ideas). You don't have to like it. But to understand that, means you can confirm why you don't like it, and why you like whatever else it is you do.

    edit- I'd also like to add that art is created with the intent of a (higher) purpose. To simplify that "all taste is subjective", I feel, devalues this ideal about art in general as well.

    Like I said, you can't have a taste for something, without actually tasting it first.
  • gamrrpolgamrrpol Road Warrior
    edited July 2012
    I'll say this. In enjoying any art....be it paintings, theater, music, whatever....an individual who has been exposed to more, rather than less, can better judge the quality of said art. Further, an individual who has been exposed to more varieties of the art, can better judge the quality than one who has been exposed to a limited variety.

    I'm a big music fan (although, compared to some on these threads I honestly feel pretty limited). But I'll admit to being rather limited in my exposure, I think. I like "rock" of all variety, and enjoy some jazz, classical, country, hip-hop, electronica....but in much more limited doses. I feel I am more able than the vast majority of people to "judge" the quality of much music.

    But I also recognize that there are entire genres of music that I am wholly ignorant of and wouldn't be able to provide anything beyond the most reactionary of reactions.

    Further, I'll admit that I enjoy quite a bit of music that I'll freely admit is lacking in certain qualities.....put another way, I admit I like Styx. I'll also admit that there's a lot of quality music out there I don't like (I'm looking at you Outkast).

    So....I'm not real sure what any of this means. But I don't agree with the notion that "it's all relative and just taste". Something that's terrible is terrible. And if someone enjoys it, it's almost always due to a lack of exposure to something better.
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