Good Taste and Bad Taste

You probably know someone who opts for a unique style of decoration. And when he invites you to his house, you expect him not to ask your opinions on environmental decoration.

But the main question is: what is bad taste anyway? What does having a good or bad taste mean because people like a particular style? The Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton has developed a fascinating theory about it.

According to Alain, taste, the specific style of things with what you choose to surround yourself, is an attempt to create balance. In other words: if a person whose life is especially chaotic, he probably will opt for minimalist interiors and serene colors. For example, someone who feels surrounded by the concerns and demands of modern life, he can choose more rustic and welcoming environments.

But then how to explain the so-called “bad taste”? Alain de Botton defines it as excess of any sort. The philosopher says that people who take over such lifestyles are trying to deal with trauma in some way as if they were filling something that are (or have been) doing lacking in their life.

The so-called “new rich”, a low social class who become rich suddenly, are cited by the philosopher as good examples: after a lifetime of austerity, they are faced with the possibility of spending more money than they were accustomed. The philosopher says that is why the “new rich” often have ostentation time to decorate the environment.

According to Alain de Botton, “bad taste” is not something that needs to be fixed.   It is the symptom, not the problem. The philosopher then defines “bad taste” as a trauma created by a divided and unequal world. If society was more egalitarian, Alain de Botton categorically stated that excess and bad taste would disappear.

It is a good idea and it even helps explain why everything in the Scandinavian region is so wonderful (if you do not know the Scandinavian design,search and learn other posts about this trend).

The problem with this argument is that it assumes that good and bad tastes are something indivisible and unquestioned. So who is the person who decides what is good and what is bad? Some love the style beaux-arts, which makes Paris become one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But others prefer more minimalist architectural styles. Who is right, after all?

Pierre Bourdieu, a French philosopher, says that there is no good or bad taste, and what is considered “good” is determined by a high class trying to distance themselves from the lower classes of society aesthetically.

Georg Simmel, a German theorist, also endorse this idea: the philosopher noticed that as soon as certain fashion trend is adopted by the lower social classes, it certainly will be abandoned by the upper classes  and so does the interior design. From Simmel, this even explains why decorating trends change so much over the years.

Several theorists could still be cited and several other discussions on this issue could also be raised. But with luck, you will think of the questions raised here when you are in the house of your friend who collects weird porcelain dolls in the room.