Image and Taste

So, Otto Neurath known primarily for the development of Isotype, a "method of showing social, technological, biological and historical connections in pictorial form" and the desire to create a system of Universal Silhouettes in an attempt to produce a Visual Language that communicated Universally - his claim that word separate and pictures unite is an interesting one if, as David Crow suggests, the system is fundamentally a linguistic one and relies on the viewers ability to create visual sentences from the 'grapheme' like icons. This may seem unrelated to the broader argument of image and taste. However Neurath's project was an attempt to bypass the 'problem' of Art, its readability and the necessity for prior knowledge and [cultural] education to understand what was being said. Bourdieu [cultural capital] claimed that our ability to understand the image was not innate but the result of upbringing, so [good]'taste', the sensibility/understanding and acquired cultural capital, is something that can be learned/owned by those priviledged with access to the 'right' kind of experiences. This suggests that taste generally is dependent on social class? This also suggests that how images are read is dependent on class related sensibilities.
So taste:

This is the front page of the clothing company Old Town's web site. It is interesting to look at, Old Town specialise in sourcing old clothing patterns and recreate them - the garments invariably are re-makes of workers clothing although some are more refined with names like Fitzrovia.

The 'Fitrovia'.
When Stephen Hayward spoke at the last key ideas symposium he mentioned the 'aesthetisization of labour' - Old Town arguably typifies a taste for clothing that signifies something - it is retrospective, indicative of a 'lost' quality, perhaps.

The Front page of Labour and Wait's web site - a similar visual flavour - utilitarian, austere and institutional. At Labour and Wait you can buy things like this:

A school writing tablet?
I generally find myself liking the things at Labour and Wait, but it is interesting to think about why, as a shop it is an astute exercise in the curation of nostalgia - although it is a kind of nostalgia that is not really true, there is a apparent authenticity and 'quality' to the products, Breton sweaters, workers smocks, enamelled Japanese coffee pots, Brady bags, brands that have been around for a long time, we are conscious of the lineage....somehow, without really having an actual recollection or direct experience of them. Perhaps I think that I am making an educated choice, perhaps I respond well to the almost niche nature of the shop; I subscribe to its ambience and image because I think that it reflects well on me?

This is a spread from a book produced by Sara Fanelli - a very talented Illustrator. She has produced numerous childrens books - it is difficult to ascertain exactly how commercially successful these books are - however they represent a type of work that is the acceptable face of a world that is driven by the commercial 'bottom line'.

A spread from a book by Michael Foreman, a very successful children's book Illustrator - for the sake of comparison.

Taste is a contentious topic, particularly for designers. We spend time cultivating a sensibility, seeking out imagery/objects/things that we find interesting and inspiring, things that become part of our identity, beacons of our taste. Often guarding these 'things' closely, synthesizing and processing them and releasing them in to the world piecemeal, tantalising visual sweetmeats that describe a sophistication in our thinking. So the question is about how and why we make taste decisions. Kant claimed that our taste in images and things was innate, we would say genetic, nature not nurture, Bourdieu that it is a symptom of our experiences and education, nurture not nature - the latter is probably the popular and most commonly accepted view. Stephen Bayley, in his book 'Taste. The Secret Meaning of Things', claims that taste is a bigger social taboo than sex or money and that "making statements about taste expose body and soul to terrible scrutiny". So Thinking about Neurath's notion of division and unification and the issue of image and taste - it is interesting to explore the rationale that we employ [or not] for what we decide to like/dislike, perhaps to think about what sits behind those choices and whether images will ever unite.

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