«MUSICOLOGICA OLOMUCENSIA VII Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci Olomouc 2005 The present volume was submitted to print on 6 April 2005. Dieser Band ...»
sions of the type “tasteless” are not used in relation to nature whether the object at hand is extremely beautiful or extremely ugly. We would certainly not say that a mountain or river is “tasteful;” it is possible to speak of tastefulness in relation to a garden or a park, but then the evaluation is of something that was created by a person.
Every educated person probably knows the adage of “De gustibus non est disputandum” – “There is no disputing about taste.” It is said that people are simply diﬀerent and they either like or dislike various things. Based on the aforementioned adage, taste is a personal matter that is nontransferable and diﬃcult to explain. This opinion thus represents one of the most extreme concepts of taste, whereas the concept of taste at the other extreme of the spectrum can be brieﬂy characterized as the adoption, acceptance, and respect of the ruling norm that is the current determining factor for taste and tastefulness. As a result, both good taste and bad taste exist; the latter represents either ignorance of the norm or ignoring the norm. Of course there are numerous positions in between these two marginal concepts and this is one of the reasons why the concept of “taste” is inconsistent. The concept has also changed over time and thus now we should observe its evolutionary paths.
The possibilities for expressing one’s individuality through taste judgments were not very numerous at ﬁrst and thus it is no coincidence that the problem of taste in early thinking on beauty and the arts was not truly stressed. Every individual was guided by the superiority of myths, gods, and supreme orders – the existence and general validity of intersubjective standards and values was accepted as being deﬁnite. Thinking along these lines continued through the Middle Ages and in a certain manner into the Modern Age as well; see, for example, the English aesthetics of sensuality during the 18th century and the German idealistic aesthetics during the 18th and 19th centuries. Within these ideological circles, the concept of “taste” was handled in relation to ethics and thoughts on society in general. The hermeneutic philosopher Gadamer4 believes that the key moment in the transformation of the concept of “taste” into a scientiﬁc term was its incorporation into the wider concept deﬁned by the expression/concept of “Bildung.” In the aforementioned German philosophy, “Bildung” does not represent solely a narrow view of education but rather a concept of the creation and formation of human nature that is permeated by a wider and philosophically more signiﬁcant new age humanism.
This includes not only the formation of spirit (Geist – ingenio) but also the formation of taste (Geschmack – gusto). An intellectual then has the freedom to disassociate from the matter at hand, the freedom to cognitively and deliberately diﬀerentiate and select,5 to select but on the basis of recognition and “voluntary” association with the opinions Hans-Georg Gadamer: “Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik” [“Truth and Method: Fundamentals of a Philosophical Hermeneutic”] (Tübingen, 1965).
There is however often a reduction of taste to the level of sensory satisfaction – refer to Gadamer’s references to the concepts presented by Baumgarten (gustus = iudicium sensitivum – gusto = sensory judgment), Tetens (Iudicium ohne Reﬂexion – judgment without reﬂection), and Kant (who writes of the sensory judgment of perfection); we also ﬁnd reference to this concentration on the moment of sensual recognition in the work of Susanne K. Langer (Feeling and Form [New York, 1953], 14), which describes taste as a pleasant or unpleasant reaction to a sensory stimulus.
and judgments of competent authorities. Gadamer also mentioned the belief that there is a relationship between the start of a “Bildungsideal” and the disintegration of society based on class privileges and the creation of a “new” (bourgeois) society that is connected by shared ideals and lifestyles. “Good society” is then directly represented by a society of individuals with good taste.
This is thus in conﬂict with the concept that declares the subjectivity and arbitrariness of taste (refer to the relatively skeptical adage of “De gustibus non est disputandum”) and emphatically and knowingly declares taste to be the acceptance of social norms to which an individual’s tendencies and preferences can be and must be subjected and adapted.6 Taste is therefore something that can be personally acquired but at the same time is something external, something that does not always express an individual’s true nature.
Within this concept taste is deﬁned primarily as the act of accepting or refusing and does not recognize any ﬂuctuations; taste thus does not always know its reasons and does not take any diﬀerent positions on taste into consideration. The existential characteristics of taste as perceived by this philosophically aesthetic concept are thus security (primarily given by agreement with “general” taste) and then also negativity (taste develops primarily as a result of abhorrence of the distasteful).7 Taste and taste judgments are also included within a wider sociological perspective by numerous other philosophically aesthetic schools of thought including of course Marxism.8 Even though the adage of “De gustibus non est disputandum” is very old, individual taste, as has already been indicated, is something that mankind attains through personal development. It is a diﬃcult and gradual process to reach the point at which personal subjectivity is comprehended and can be developed; an individual very gradually conﬁrms personal individuality through the freedom to accept or to refuse. As it was previously a necessity to “identify with,” it is now possible to be diﬀerent. And it is speciﬁcally this area of lifestyle and the area of art within its framework that provided an environment appropriate for the application of personal diﬀerences and individuality. There was no threat of a direct conﬂict with the authorities, represented mainly by the church and the state, as was the situation in the area of religious beliefs, and sometimes even science, gradual expansion, new worlds and experiences, new schools of art and new personalities expanded the range of choices. Individual (but also confrontational group) taste is therefore possible on the increasing level of the complexity of social structure and its With consideration to the normative nature of taste, Kant allowed for the possibility of its cultivation: perfect taste would include all of the works created by geniuses.
For example, Jean Jacques Rousseau declared that he felt taste but never explained that diﬀerences in taste do exist or the basic agreement of “good tastes” (refer to the deﬁnition of “Goût” in the “Encyclopédie de la musique II” [“Dictionary of Music: Part II”] [Paris, 1959]).
For example, Sáva Šabouk in his book Jazyk umění (Prague, 1968) deﬁned the wider structure of which taste is a component, as an “aesthetic ‘I’ perspective”. Within this perspective, he incorporated the ability to perceive forms, the relatively static grouping of aesthetic standards of “good taste,” the degree of agreement between personal value systems with current overall human valid positive values, and, at the same time, the openness of the structure, i.e., the ability to change the status quo (speciﬁcally art that interferes with the canons of “good taste”).
dynamics. The historical trend of emphasizing options and expressing individual taste does however have its limits, both social as well as psychological: the tendency to create and respect aesthetic standards continues even in the most modern era although it does have continuously newer and newer forms.
In order to brieﬂy summarize this more or less historical excursion into the dual interpretation of the concept of “taste”, we must state that both interpretations exist in the form of a somewhat dialectical relationship of mutual incompatibility yet at the same time a state of mutual interconnectivity and inﬂuenced by their temporary victories and defeats.
Although the opinion that taste is arbitrary is quite common, it cannot be supported even by standard “common sense”: the relationship between ethnic, social, and other environmental factors, as well as education and age on the one hand and taste on the other, is all too apparent. If animals are determined by their biological structure, humans are determined primarily by social factors, i.e., belonging to a certain culture as represented by a wide and culturally speciﬁc system of norms; there is a speciﬁc interaction between each individual and his or her speciﬁc cultural environment. Even though the biological and psychological characteristics of humans have signiﬁcant impact (uniting and at the same time individualizing), culture holds a superior position as individuality is determined primarily by upbringing and both the life and psyche of members of various cultures are guided by characteristic cultural patterns. These cultural patterns lie not only above and external to an individual but are directly within individual as well – they become apparent through the individual’s experiences and activities. Cultural determination is actualized within several spheres: within the signiﬁcant social structures, in speciﬁc historically political situations within a society, and in microstructures. The higher level of structures forms an abstract “set of all options” but it is primarily the microstructures that have a speciﬁc inﬂuence over an individual, i.e., mainly family and various informal groups whose signiﬁcant role in shaping opinions and attitudes, and thus taste as well, is extremely high.
As we seem to have entered the sphere of psycho-sociological problematics as connected with the concept of “taste,” let us incorporate several important thoughts from the psycho-sociological ﬁeld in our discussion on aesthetics as well. Taste is one of the properties of personality (the French classicist Boileau-Despréaux even coined the famous phrase “style – that is the person”); it is also possible to state that taste is a personal manner of viewing reality, the expression of a person’s internal state through their selection.
A person’s taste is dependent on his motivational structures, on his attitudes, and on his preferences (taste is a certain form of preference – it represents preference within the area of aesthetic phenomena). It is possible to diﬀerentiate authentic taste from aspirational taste. Authentic taste originates from an individual’s needs – it expresses individuality;
aspirational taste is driven by a diversely motivated eﬀort to conform to the ruling norm (this norm is generally set by the majority, but sometimes by the elite). When evaluating taste and taste judgments, there are often mentioned the consistency or, conversely inconsistency of taste (good taste in one area is not always accompanied by good taste in other areas; a certain level of consistency is naturally not only desired but actually occurs quite often), the rigidity of taste or, the ﬂexibility of taste (rigid refers to taste that is limited and cannot be developed, but the optimal situation is a certain measure of ﬂexibility, or elasticity, i.e., the ability to react adequately to even unfamiliar stimuli and to be able to embody them in an new taste norm, etc.), taste suggestibility (it has been proven that taste judgments are often made under the inﬂuence of “opinion leaders,” i.e., strong individuals from the surrounding environment; quite often they are directed and even manipulated by criticism, marketing strategies on the cultural property market and today, primarily as the consequence of mass media).
As far as musical taste is concerned, it is possible to establish three primary moments that share in the creation of musical taste and are incorporated within it. The ﬁrst is the sphere of an individual’s musical experiences wherein the system of musical abilities represents only a limiting foundation and wherein the most important role (both positive and negative) seems to be emotionally accented musical experiences that occurred primarily during the formative period of development (more primitive and narrower taste seems to be cemented fairly early as opposed to sophisticated and ﬂexible taste that is the result of unending evolution). The second sphere is external to music and is at the level of individual psychology. Complex interaction within this sphere includes elements such as personality characteristics (i.e. will, temperament, structure of abilities, etc.), developmental personality layers, types of motivational structures (inherent motivational dispositions, actual needs and the satisfaction of those needs, reactions to the quantity and quality of stimuli, etc.). Intelligence plays the role of an integrating element, which, in agreement with Piaget, we perceive as a structure that enforces certain forms for the contacts between a subject and objects within near or distant surroundings and its originality depends primarily on the nature of the forms that it creates for these purposes. The third sphere is cultural determination in the broadest sense of the word; it includes upbringing and education as the rational acceptance of the historical experiences of humanity. It can be surmised that it is from this third sphere that the basic outlines of the taste preferences of a speciﬁc individual are drawn (there are certain deﬁned possibilities and limits), whereas it is in the ﬁrst and second spheres (that is, within their interconnections) that the “personal index” of taste is embedded.
If we return to the more general question of the properties of taste and the use of
the characteristics of taste, speciﬁcally the bearers of the taste, then we must remember that the majority of used and possible characteristics of taste are of a polar nature:
good taste – bad taste, clear-cut – unclear, developed (mature) – undeveloped, selective (ﬁne) – vulgar, certain – uncertain (this of course is not a full list of characteristics); we can observe variations in the values on a scale ranging from positive to negative. Pairs such as standard – eccentric and conservative – avant-garde, wherein valorization is not so unambiguous, are also possible.