Reflection 06: Art, Taste, and Uneven World
True story. I once had an hour-long conversation with a stranger about how contemporary art excludes the public from its system. His perception of the ecosystem of the art was actually on point. To understand art pieces, you need to learn the rules fundamentally. That is true. I introduced myself as an art-adjacent thing, and he wanted me to validate his opinion. (His specific expressions were much rougher than the depiction here) At that time, I tried to defend contemporary art with the utmost effort, although the rules ARE not widely accessible. It is a mystery why I was so kind to the art world then. We talked for a long time, and neither wanted to yield. Because I was aware that his understanding precisely chimes with Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of taste.
The taste is privileged. It looks much evident when looking into how it forms. Imagine we are “teaching” a machine to have a style. The possible approach will be to make the thing to learn. People will program it to analyze what people call a style, taste, or fashion as a first step. What Bourdieu describes as a practice can be explained here. It is not always consciously done nor calculated. The practice is more like a social norm, and it has a style. It is not an agreed convention that is taught. So if there is a blank subject, the starting point will be absorbing those norms. In other words, you can’t hardcode program it. This point is where the taste becomes hard to sharable. You need to be in a particular social group to get exposed to it. Capital and other social standards deepen the exclusivity. Also, the members who share the liking tendency wouldn’t want to generalize it because it makes them unique; people identify with the taste often. The taste’s discriminative nature seems to be blurred when the world is getting flat due to technology.
Let’s go back to my debate with a stranger. Again, as an art-adjacent thing, my defense strategy was that it is easier than it looks to enter the exclusive boundary. Like a yet acquired taste toward the novel type of food, the first impression seems intimidating. I also started to appeal to his emotion, mentioning that I want to share the profound joy from art like I once used to do. My argument was that with a couple of book readings or even YouTube videos, the public would be more engaged. Yes, many people indeed gained access to specific groups’ tastes through media and the web. But is it enough? The deception that technology, especially the web, is believed to be iron the wrinkles of the world. (unrelated to Deleuze) It sure does partially. However, the way it operates is significantly based on Capitalism and emphasis on differences. When social media becomes a platform of hate speech and extreme propaganda, it becomes clear that these social networks harden the bond. It creates a distorted field that some part wants to include more people but selectively. Also, at the same time, the groups with a taste emphasize the difference. They constantly send out the message that “they” are not the same; you (public) should follow what I do, but you’ll never be like us. The groups now monetize their taste/value. They sell it. The message expands into a commercial that you should pay/devote to sharing what we have. But when there is a line that already defines it, does that make them even?
For me, this is similar to the imperialist way of thinking. We want to advance you. So follow my lead. The very logic that the western world forcefully persuaded the eastern countries. When substituting the military part to money, the dynamic of power becomes apparent. This imbalance makes the exclusivity to be more exclusive. Taste is what the “original” group owns, not the followers. The division comes in a cute box that we are all in a level world.
Now I got to think of it, was my approach to art legitimate? Did I get to make the stranger believe that the potential of openness? My argument that as a low-level member in a group, I want to share the taste is righteous? How about deconstructing the taste itself? It is still unsure of figuring out what art can be. But one thing clear, I need to hear and see more to weaken the division. Here is the reason. I wrote that the way art functions, just like the taste works, is the same in academia. It is a game with rules. It doesn’t have to be exclusive. There must be a way to alter it to something approachable, not by capitalizing it.