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Hate It or Love It

Why do we like what we like? Why do we hate what we hate? These are very expansive questions that have many answers, all of which are subjective to the extreme. Containing them to the scope of art is impossible enough, so I certainly will not be delving into broader life. The nexus of my question is as follows, “with so much great art and many corresponding styles, how can the most beautiful painting in the world to one viewer appear boring or juvenile to another?”

A concrete answer to this question is beyond one person's ability and even that of a collective (imagine the disagreement if all the artists in the world sat down to figure this out). However, I think I can find some common factors that feed into our appreciation or rejection (hopefully, this will not dissolve into an exercise in hubris, but I’ve wanted to write taste for a while, so I am hesitantly giving it a shot).

Our upbringing informs our aesthetic tastes. Access to art, the absence of art, poverty or financial security, and the environments they correspond to are all factors in one’s appreciation of art. On the most basic level, we often mirror our parents’ preferences, whether they are icons of the Virgin Mary or Jackson Pollock. On the other hand, rebellious teenagers (a starting point for many artists, including myself) will often flip their parent’s affinities on their heads and immerse themselves in the art they were raised to despise (often art that mirrors their rebellious spirits). In many ways, the history of art is the history of the radical rejection of tradition.

Furthermore, positive or negative, our upbringing and the objects that define it guide our tastes. For example, if an artist was raised in a very religious, ideologically inflexible, and controlling environment, their work is very often a rejection and attack on that childhood indoctrination. But I can guarantee that those cultural inputs will find a way into their work. Hate it or love it, your past will always inform the art you like or make and the art you hate.

I apologize to the reader for using many of the same words in this paragraph as the next, but it keeps boiling down to environment and upbringing. What of the artist who had no access to art in their childhood? Where does their inspiration stem from? How do they materialize this inspiration without templates to draw from? To my knowledge, this is an infrequent phenomenon. The two artists who come to mind are Bill Taylor and Khalik Allah. Bill Taylor was a black day worker who bounced around the United States, moving from one low-paying part-time gig to the next, primarily homeless and living on whatever meager scraps he could put together. He was also one of the greatest folk artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born into slavery, he had no money to buy canvas or paint, but this did not stop him. He gathered pencil nubs, crude colors, and whatever else he could scrounge together and produced beautiful paintings and drawings on discarded scrap paper. He died homeless and unrecognized and is now in the best museum collections worldwide. No matter the odds, this man was going to create art. He did not need training or museum exposure; he knew what he liked, and he did it.

Khalik Allah is a contemporary filmmaker and photographer with no formal training and very little exposure to fine art in his youth. He was, however, exposed to the horrors faced by the people of the South Bronx who have been abandoned and maligned by the city. He is one of the greatest experimental and personal filmmakers alive.

Our tastes are formed in a plethora of ways; sometimes through rejection, sometimes through embrace, and always through the environments in which we grow up. Accordingly, I will dive into the new environment born from the internet and social media next week. One no longer needs the influence of family, friends, museums, or home when the ability to see endless art and digest endless criticism and opinion is only a click away.

Responses (1)

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Megan Forsythe

November 04, 2022

I like your line of thinking but could we step further? Creation. What is the difference between creation and art? One does not have to be environmentally exposed to create. For me the art is the creation itself. Whether it ends up on a wall or admired or even finished is moot. It's the tactical creation, it's the chaotic deconstruction, and the awe when you've born something of yourself, with yourself, beside yourself. It's a need. An addiction. It's tapping into the essence of something...more. I am unsure of where I start and the work begins. Time can simultaneously stagnate in a habitual pergatory AND be lost for whole generations. When someone like Bill Taylor creates despite and in spite of those forces set against us, it is a destiny of creation we must obey for fear the arms raise up out of the ocean and pull us into the cold depths of despair. Or at least that's me anyway, I really shouldn't advise that others feel that way. Sorry that was a rant. I like your article ☺️

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