Sunday, September 6, 2015

Taste and Compliance

I've talked about taste in the past. Roughly, it's being tuned in to the zeitgeist. You have taste (in the context of a social group, and it is a concept that only means something in such a context) if you can reliably judge what the larger social group will like. You've got taste if you wear clothes that, generally, people will approve of and think look good. Or, at a step removed, if people will generally think that the Important Tastemakers (Savile Row, Tom Ford, etc) would approve. You've got taste if you buy or make Art that people will tend to agree is good.

You need taste to make Art that people will like. All the mastery of methods of composition, all the technical mastery of the camera, none of this will help help you if you haven't got taste.

This still only gets you to likable pictures (or clothes, or whatever). You're still essentially following the social group, you're complying with standards.

The interesting things happen when you get out in front of taste. The great artist, the great designer, produces work which isn't instantly likable. The work shapes taste and nudges the social standard somewhere new. It leads rather than following. The work can't be too far out in front, evolution happens in small steps, but it must be a little out there. The great artist or designer starts from here and now as a basis, but steps out further. It's a gamble, there's risk. The work is at least as likely step in a direction that the social construct of taste declines to follow.

At which point you've just made some crap that nobody thinks much of.

In any case. If you want to do work of weight and import, you need to be working close to current taste (for whatever social context you prefer) but you need to step out past it.

Here we see yet another problem with Internet forums and camera clubs. The taste in these social contexts tends to ossify, to become paralyzed. There is no next step. All diversions from The Standard are simply wrong and bad. It is therefore impossible, socially, to make work with weight. All that is socially possible is to make the same stuff over and over.

So to make work of weight and import, for other people, you need to work within a social context that has some flexibility, some room for growth. Whether that is the wide world of everyone, or some little group of artists, or your immediately family, I don't know or care. Then you need to know, to grasp what the current taste is. You need to know what people like, what resonates with the people in that social context. Then you need to take a guess, leap into the unknown, and make something past that, and hope for the best.

Looking at pictures, being aware of what's going on photographically in the world and what has gone one, knowing what people have liked and still like, these things will help you know where you stand now. This is the method for grasping the basis from which you work.

Where you go from there, and how you get there, is a matter of inspiration.

That, ultimately, is between you and your muse.


  1. What the **** is up with your continuing obsession with Ming Thein? This blog might need to be renamed Photos and My Stalking of Ming Thein and Stuff if you keep going back to the well of M.T. Do you have an article count on your Thein attack pieces? You posted that you were surprised that he banned you from his forum's comments section. How can you wonder why you were banned from his site, when you seem like a total fucking stalker. Can you maybe look for another site or writer to bash every week for maybe the next six months?

    1. I considered simply deleting this comment but decided to err on the side of generosity. I do have a policy, though. Dissent is fine, baldly insulting me isn't.

      It's my blog and I think he's both interesting and damaging. I've always been interested in pedagogy, and the intersection of photography and the internet. Thein exemplifies several aspects of these. Plus, I think he's a world class bullshitter and someone ought to call him on it.

      That said, I consider it unlikely in the extreme that he is aware of me at all, other than as a guy who made some comments he didn't like and got put on the banned list.

      With respect, a stalker is secretive. My contact information, in contrast, is openly available.

  2. This post is pointless. But since you put out such insightful content otherwise, A little rambling is easily forgiven.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. I'm not sure whether to be pleased or annoyed!

      Ultimately, it's all pointless rambling. It's mostly just me sortimg out my own process.