Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Taste

Taste is a funny thing. It is both intensely personal, and intensely social.

We learn our taste, largely, from others. We have a natural tendency to align our taste with that of society (we like to be on the winning side). Yet, at the same time, taste is very personal. There is the tendency toward individuality which causes us to try out liking things that other people dislike. We hate our parents music, and love music they hate. And so, we are pushed and pulled, and at the same time push and pull ourself and others.

Somehow, taste does broadly align across society. Not everyone likes Michael Bay's films, but a lot of people do. Not everyone likes Man Ray's photographs, but a lot of people do. Not everyone likes Andy Warhol, but a lot of people do.

When you make some pictures that are satisfying to you, it ought to be because they are to your taste. All too often, you like them because you've overcome some technical hurdle, learned a new technique, acquired a new piece of equipment, and the pictures shows that off well. That's bad. You should like your pictures because you like them, not because they showcase some technical detail.

Photographers, especially photographers attempting to teach other photographers things, tend to overlook taste. It's hard to get a handle on, it's hard to develop, and it might be impossible to teach. Taste is, however, the most important thing. Everything you can learn about composition, be it stupid rules about thirds and triangles, or Victorian ideas of balance and breadth, all your gear, all your technique, none of it means anything if you haven't got taste.

Taste is something you should consciously try to develop.

What do other people like, and why?

What do I like, and why?

These two questions, opposing and supporting one another, with the answers feeding back to one another, are the foundation of taste. Look at art, and ask these questions. Don't forget either one. It's important to balance the individual and the social, even if you shoot only for yourself. You are also a person, and you so your taste tends to run in the same general valleys as society's.

Don't be ashamed to love Elvis, but try to love a a bit more than just Elvis.

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