Authored by: Carolyn Korsmeyer

The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  April  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782869
eBook ISBN: 9780203813034
Adobe ISBN: 9781136697142


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Both in philosophy and in ordinary conversation, the idea of taste is embedded in discourse about art and aesthetic appreciation. People are praised if they display good taste in their choice of art, entertainment, clothes or behavior; they are criticized for dubious preferences and inappropriate demeanor. Popular and public art is sometimes actually suppressed if it is deemed to violate norms of taste. These activities suggest that “taste” labels a set of preferences and dispositions that admit shared social standards and public criticism. At the same time, as the saying goes, “there is no accounting for taste.” Aesthetic responses are also understood as immediate and powerful reactions that are not wholly the result of deliberation or choice. Just as a love of chocolate seems immune to persuasion, taste for decoration, music, movies or other art seems in part to emerge from an individual's psychological makeup and personality, not to mention cultural background. How can both these ways of thinking be sound? This question generates what philosophers of earlier times called the “problem of taste,” for aesthetics has always harbored a tension between the normativity of critical standards and the fact that those standards rely upon the notoriously variable responses of individuals.

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