Philosophical Question of the Day

Are aesthetic tastes fundamentally individual or universal?

In other words, do we appreciate the ‘look and feel’ of an object because of our own innate natures or have we been taught to like said objects?

Let me explain further by using, as an example, one of my guilty pleasures this time of year.

When my wife and I go to Target (and she decides to spend entirely too much time in shoes or candles or what not) she can usually find that I have wandered off to the electronics section. Except, during the Christmas season – which is when I can be found with the wrapping paper.

I love wrapping paper. Some people would rather save time by dropping their gifts into themed bags. Laziness. Unless the gift is some sort of cosmically unwrappable shape (or the gift giver is otherwise unable to trust themselves with scissors and tape) spend the extra ten minutes to cover it in a beautifully decorative gift wrap. Bow is optional, name tag is not.

Anyway, my wife and I were perusing a certain store’s selection of gift wrap. While admiring a few rolls, and pointing out others, my wife commented on how much my tastes have changed.

I’d agree, my tastes have changed. Four or five years ago I was buying mostly patterns (stripes, plaids, uniform dots, etc). Ten years ago I was buying mostly the idyllic, fancy kind that you might have found in the early 1900s. This year I was purchasing paper with a decidedly more whimsical designs. There’s paper with ornaments drawn in a late 1950s style reminiscent of Mary Blair; and another with similarly styled partridges and pears. I just finished wrapping a gift in a dark brown wrapping paper with a print that looks like someone pressed wooden snowflakes dipped in white and red paint all over the sheet.

My question is, why have my tastes changed? Why do any of our tastes change? Has society dictated what we should like or have we come to the conclusion all by ourselves?

A friend at work, who was an art major, had the following to say:

“This hinges heavily, but not solely, on a person’s values – some of which are taught while others are acquired. I appreciate Picasso and believe he knew what he was doing and did it well… but, I don’t like his paintings because I find most of them tense & brooding. Salvador Dali is another one. While I admire his skill and his feel for color and detail I don’t agree with his stance on the subconscious. Dali’s paintings are beautiful but his subject matter is grotesque. I think some things are instinctual – hard wired into our brain – like how everyone likes to stare into a fire. It is especially telling in landscapes.”



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