There is No Accounting for Taste

Just what is the vegetable substitute for lamb lungs, liver, and stomach?

Pre-industrial design literature speaks of the importance of “taste” as a virtue to be cultivated. Today we speak of taste much less frequently, especially when it concerns aesthetics. Perhaps we associate it with the elite class, snobbery, or someone attempting to force their opinions on us. It’s a shame, as taste is far from all those things. Taste is no respecter of wealth, class, or fashion. In fact a common complaint in the older writings is how difficult it is to convince wealthy and educated patrons that it costs the same to build something aesthetically pleasing as it does to build a lifeless design void of all beauty.

Simply put, taste is fostering a deep knowledge of something to the point we can discern differences in quality. Someone with a developed taste will be able to appreciate subtle details that go unnoticed by others.  That’s one of the reasons I frequently reference toolmakers here in my blog (DaedToolworks). They belong to a class of artisans who on the whole are sensitive to nuance and detail. What’s assumed, is that taste is a result of learning to see. A designer sees by visualizing a space and observing the relationships of shape, contrast, rhythm, transitions, light, shadow, and texture, which is very different from how most folks look at the world. That ability to see means a designer puts little stock in style labels like contemporary, craftsman, or antique this or that. A designer’s eye should be able to look past glitter and trendy gimmicks and see into the DNA that underlies a design, it’s strengths and weaknesses laid bare.

Warning, if you dive into design, you will cultivate aesthetic taste. But it comes with side effects. The furniture you like, you will like even more (and you’ll know WHY you like it).  The furniture you dislike, will repel you even more (and you’ll know WHY it’s repulsive). You’ll become even more opinionated than you are today, i.e. more of a furniture curmudgeon. But don’t be mistaken, taste will not lock you into a style or fashion. Developing your aesthetic taste will open your eyes and appreciation to a much wider vision. I gravitate towards American period furniture, but I now have a greater appreciation of good design from Asia, as well as contemporary work. I’m also more selective in my admiration for period work. Often, I’m taken by details crafted by back country artisans who weren’t so tied to  the latest fashions of the day.

There are worse things than becoming a furniture curmudgeon,  vegetarian haggis for one.

George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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6 Responses to There is No Accounting for Taste

  1. Rob Porcaro says:


    Well put. I think one of the reasons for some of the current devaluing of taste is the obsession among too many artists to be different for its own sake. Before taste and refinement can develop, they are off to the next “new” thing.


    • JimG33 says:

      You’ve got it down. And add to that how many artists have no knowledge of how to make anything beyond a foamcore model.

  2. Rob says:

    The answer to the question posed in your first photo caption is, apparently, ‘a blend
    of oatmeal, mixed vegetables and spices. ‘

    That’s more appealing to me than lamb lungs, liver and stomach!

  3. Tico Vogt says:

    My father enjoyed bringing out this old saw whenever the occasion arose: “Everyone to his own taste” said the old lady… as she kissed the cow.

  4. Mike says:

    Knowledge leads to assessment and comparisons, which lead to more knowledge and refinement of preverences and dislikes. Hopefully refinement leads to action to pursue or build what have a preverance for. Which leads me to absolutely no prefrence for Haggis.

  5. KJ says:

    Artisans are often not very good propagandists. They allow the piece speak for itself and as a result we lance the Earth, peal back her skin, and poison the very ground we seek nourishment from with knockdown furniture (“furniture shaped garbage” ala Chris Schwarz).

    Well articulated.

    Keep Preaching; we, the choir, will continue to sing; and those on the periphery just might get saved.

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