Taste and Duchamp

The subject for the first Key ideas symposium this year is taste.

We will be using this opportunity to examine ideas around the notion of taste. This is one of the things that Stephen Bayley has to say about it:

“Everyone has taste and yet it is a more taboo subject than sex or money. The reason for this is simple. Claims about your attitudes to or achievements in the carnal or financial arenas can be disputed only by your lover and your financial advisors, whereas by making a statement about your taste you expose body and soul to terrible scrutiny”

Bayley.S, P.13 General Knowledge, Booth Clibborn Editions [2000]

Taste – or personal visual and aesthetic preference - is a contentious and difficult subject to tackle head on. We realized this at a previous Key Ideas symposium when a ‘light’ element of the overall discussion around Image became the dominant talking point. It was apparent that Stephen Bayley’s assertion that Taste is a problematic subject was correct. The discussion that developed ranged broadly across a variety of cultural assumptions, issues around social class, politics and aesthetics. It was impassioned and well informed but inconclusive and has prompted us to make Taste the subject for today’s discussion and activities. The aim of the symposium is to firstly talk about Taste and its development as an idea and secondly to ask all participants to consider what this thing Taste is, where is comes from and what it means. Everybody in the room is connected to design, in most cases as practitioners and cannot help but apply a personal sensibility to the processes that we engage in. Taste plays a part in everything that we do, everything that we buy, everything that we produce, it is integral to our visual lives and therefore worthy of further scrutiny.

This is Marcel Duchamp talking about his approach to taste and Art. I wonder who the laymen who are so desperate to be pleased
are? So, Marcel Duchamp equates being pleased or deriving pleasure with Taste. Is Duchamp here signalling his distaste for vulgar pleasure seeking in Art - his indifference could be interpreted as the ultimate disaffected 'pose'. Suggesting that to offer an opinion one way or the other is beneath his dignity or perhaps that the obvious and crude desire for pleasure is the terrain of those less refined or sophisticated. This, broadly speaking, describes a notion put forward by Bourdieu - sublimation.

"The denial of lower, coarse, vulgar, venal, servile - in a word, natural - enjoyment which consitutes the sacred sphere of culture, implies an affirmation of the superiority of those who can be satisfied with the sublimated, refined, disinterested, gratuitous, distinguished pleasures forever closed to the profane. That is why art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfil a social function of legitimating social difference"

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