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Old 11-22-2001, 12:58 PM   #1
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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What defines "good taste" in a portrait?




I'm putting out this question because in the course of the work I do, I have at times heard one artist say about a portrait of another artist something like this:

"The technical skills are good, but the artist doesn't understand good taste". I could look at the painting and see that was true, but had difficulity putting in words what made that so.

So, how does one define in words what is aesthetically "good taste" and what is not? Can one develop "good taste" when they don't natively have it? Can "good taste" be taught? Is there a universally agreed upon idea of "good taste"?

To define this subject further, in general, I'm not talking about a morality issue. The paintings that I'm remembering were of fully clothed people. Though I will say that in the case of one artist I remember, it was obvious that the artist had a strong interest in the female chest since all female portraits had overemphasized breasts. I could tell this even though I'd never met the women to evaluate their chest size.

This was bad taste to me from an aesthetic viewpoint. But, I can't put in words why. I just brought this up as one example and I don't want to limit the scope of this question to exposure vs. non-exposure of body parts because as we all know a nude painting can be very much in good taste.

As you might guess, I don't have to cook Thanksgiving dinner today since I have time to sit around typing things like this.
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Old 11-23-2001, 12:41 PM   #2
David Dowbyhuz David Dowbyhuz is offline
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I would have to say that "taste", good or bad, is far too subjective to be taught. "Acquired taste" is simply the parroting of another's opinion.

An individual, unexposed to the opinion of others, will naturally develop their own taste. (Just ask a child what they do & do not like, and why. ) Those of us who submit to the sophistry of elitists and adopt their values without evaluating those values become clones.

Be open to everyone's opinion, and acquire your own taste-filter. Nobody gets to tell you what's good and what's bad unless you PERMIT it.

Be free.
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Old 11-23-2001, 04:14 PM   #3
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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So are you saying it's not possible to define good taste? I know I could find a painting I consider to be of bad taste (which I won't do, of course), display it, take a poll and the majority of the people would vote it was of bad taste.
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Old 11-23-2001, 04:44 PM   #4
David Dowbyhuz David Dowbyhuz is offline
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I agree with you, Cynthia, but you must admit our group is not typical of society at large. The more immersed you are in an area of interest, the more "educated" your perceptions become.

Ever felt compelled to enter one of those mega-mall framing/art-for-sale stores? Anyone seeing what people put on their walls would despair there IS such a thing as good taste! To the taste of the majority of people, Bob Ross is an icon.

One thing I do disagree with, and that is that "morals" have any place in the evaluation of art. I've seen work that is very off-putting, but executed with such a degree of excellence that I could NOT also say it was in "bad-taste"; just not appropriate for all occasions.

Semantics! A very slippery slope!

To address your question specifically, than yes, I must concede that "taste" CAN be taught, can be defined within the norms of a society. A person's perceptions can be molded to react in a trained pattern.

Not as easy as teaching this is "red", but do any of US have Elvis-on-velvet at home. (I know people who do.)

Rgds,
David

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Old 11-23-2001, 04:57 PM   #5
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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Oh my, I wasn't even thinking as low as the velvet paintings! I was really bringing up this subject as, hopefully, an educational topic for those that might benefit from a refinement of taste in their portraits. And, I absolutely do not have anyone in mind. It's just a general topic that I thought might be worthwhile, but perhaps it's too elusive.
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Old 11-24-2001, 09:51 PM   #6
Karin Wells Karin Wells is offline
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Education is a key to good taste

This really is a tough one....In general I think that those things that we consider "poor taste" or downright "vulgar" tend to be the result of ignorance or lack of a proper education.

Some people are fortunate enough to have been brought up surrounded by objects in good taste and have therefore sort of incorporated "taste" into their beings.

The rest of us, if we are lucky, can get educated in matters of taste by someone who has it. And that is much easier said than done. I guess that anything I have ever learned about good taste in the area of painting has been learned in some of the great museums of the world. "Hanging out" with the Old Masters as often as possible might be a good place to start any education in good taste...
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Old 11-26-2001, 07:29 PM   #7
Kirk Richards Kirk Richards is offline
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Cynthia,

I think the matter of taste is ultimately a conditioned state- For the artist, sophisticated taste should be desired and sought.

As a student, I had to copy old master drawings & paintings, do memory drawings from figures in paintings, and study fine paintings for the purpose of compositional study. Why the emphasis on the old masters? It was, both prominently and subtly, to develop my artistic sensibility, to absorb as much as possible from the "taste" of the greatest artists. We can learn directly from the masters in areas concerning craft, but we also begin to develop and appreciate the sensibilities of those artists as well.

If you grow up in a home where nothing but classical music is played on the stereo, then you will know and appreciate classical music more than one who grows up in a home with country and western music. If your home has fine paintings on the walls, you will inspire a different sensibility in your home than if you hung those velvet Elvis's.

We all come with intuition and tendencies, but those can be heavily influenced by our environments and our heroes. To study and learn from the greatest artists is not to become their clones, but it is to incorporate as many of their strengths as possible into our own arsenals.

I do my own work, in my own way, but if they were offered as a gift, I would gladly accept and incorporate the taste and sensibilities of those who did it best.

Kirk
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Old 12-13-2001, 10:56 PM   #8
Maxine Gilder Maxine Gilder is offline
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All this goes back to the age old question of "what is art?" This question cannot be answered. There are no foundations or axioms that everyone can agree on. If there were rules that art had to conform to, there would be no room for creativity. All critiques ultimately resort to subjective opinion!
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Old 12-14-2001, 10:20 AM   #9
Karin Wells Karin Wells is offline
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Here is a book on "modern" art. Reading it is much like eating a box of bon bons....it is delicious...

"The Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe
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Old 01-12-2002, 01:15 PM   #10
Douglas Drenkow Douglas Drenkow is offline
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"Good Taste"

Like most issues, "good taste" in portraiture or in any other field of art may be approached from both a subjective and an objective perspective.

Subjectively, the arbiter of taste may be the subject and/or the artist. As those most intimately involved with a portrait, they may be either disregarded as hopelessly biased parties or respected as those whose points of view truly matter the most.

For a commissioned work, the ultimate arbiter of taste is typically the client. As the party making possible the creation of the work, he or she may be either disregarded as "a necessary evil" or respected as a valued patron of the arts.

For works on public display, the inevitable arbiters of taste will be the public at large. As individuals coming from every conceivable background, they may be either disregarded as the "vulgar masses" or respected as individuals of equal worth in the eyes of God and democracy.

And for works under formal review, the arbiters of taste are the professional critics. As students of the history of art, they may be either disregarded as "prisoners of academic thinking" or respected as careful analysts of what is and is not well done art.

Which brings us to the other perspective on "good taste" -- which may strike some serious artists as pure heresy -- the objective view. Is there not only "relative" good taste but also, in fact, "absolute" good taste?

Although the ultimate arbiter of that is undoubtedly the Creator of us all, I would humbly submit that a portrait or any other composition is in irrefutably good taste if it is in balance .

I speak a design balanced not only in its elements -- of line, form, space, and color -- but also in its subject matter -- relative to the sensibilities of humanity, within the limits of the time and place of its creation. Art is an activity that not only is defined by human beings but also has defined beings as human, since at least the cave paintings of the Cro Magnons.

How such a balance is achieved -- by means of harmonies and/or contrasts -- is the stuff of art, the creative outlet of the artist.

All in all, considerations of good taste in portraiture and other forms of art must themselves strike a balance between the opinions of the subjects, the artists, the patrons, the public, and the professional critics. As in the scales of justice, good judgment in art hangs in the balance.
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