The Question of Bad Taste in Neo-Modernism Based on Jeff Koons
In the literal sense, taste normally refers to gustation or an individual´s capability of detecting the flavours of food and drink (Cambridge English Dictionary, n.d.). Nonetheless, in terms of sociological study, there is not any consensus on the definition of ´taste´. On one hand, it is defined as an activity which is related to socio-cultural context, rather than as an individual matter of internal reflection (Højlund, 2015, p.1). On the other hand, according to Alain de Botton, taste is one´s personal preferences in choosing cultural products (Mitchell, 2015). However, it can be said that both of these definitions are related to the concept of aesthetics because the distinctive thoughts about what is beautiful and what is ugly always exist in everyone´s mind, hence leading to a particular taste for a specific cultural object. As a result, this brings about a question in regard to the normative criticism on what should be called good taste and bad taste.
To answer the main question which is what is bad taste, I am going to elaborate more on it by starting with a concrete example of what I believe to be considered as bad taste. It is the situation where a wide range of neo-pop art pieces which were created by artist Jeff Koons gained massive commercial success in art market while simultaneously being dismissed as kitsch and lack of creativity by many art-educated elites. About Jeff Koons, he is known as one of the most well-known contemporary artists for turning domestic objects into art or reproducing banal objects. For example, the Balloon Dog which belongs to Celebration series, is a stainless steel sculpture with transparent color coating. In fact, the Balloon Dog was sold at an auction for 58 million dollars, a record amount for a living artist (Brockes, 2015). Nevertheless, it is negatively evaluated by art critic Michael Kimmelman from The New York Times: ´´Just when it looked as if the 80’s were finally over, Jeff Koons has provided one last, pathetic gasp of the sort of self-promoting hype and sensationalism that characterized the worst of the decade.´´ (Kimmelman, 1991).
Returning to the concepts of good taste and bad taste, it is inevitable not to mention Immanuel Kant´s argument on theirs definitions. He claims that they all depend on subjective feelings, there are no standards to base on and judge what is to be considered good taste and bad taste (Ginsborg, 2005). By contrast, the French sociologist Bourdieu argues that there is indeed distinction in cultural consumption and it is displayed by social classes in his distinction theory, which implies argument against Kant´s one (Jenkins, 2014). The distinction theory refers to members of upper classes using their superior cultural knowledge to draw symbolic boundaries and legitimize their own cultural tastes
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