Privilege Blog

High = Aesthetics

If money is the dark god of the High WASP, good taste is the priestess performing temple rites. High WASPs love to talk about good taste. What is in good taste, what is not. If we had rosary beads each bead would be some instance of the correct aesthetic. (And the scary thing is, out of all this High WASP stuff, the taste piece is the one thing that I can’t give up no matter how strictly I speak to myself. I can understand that other people have the right to their ideas about aesthetics, but I can’t give up the idea that they are wrong. Just wrong.)

I also realize that the attitude towards aesthetics is going to be hard to explain. Maybe because it’s subtle and sophisticated. Or maybe because it’s really a matter of personal taste gussied up in words like classic, or robust, or authentic, or anti-sentimental, or ironic.

Let’s start with a simple case, one where’s there’s no question. Let’s say, art, for the time being. What is in good taste, in our opinion? (Here I’m guessing we are not alone…) Unequivocally, medieval Italian triptychs, Brueghel the Young and Elder, and David Hockney.

What’s not in good taste? What’s not in fact art, but masquerades as such? Unequivocally?

Why? Are the paintings of roses and the statue of the loving husband and wife ugly? Do they represent a society that we resent? Is that why they are not art? Is it because you can buy them without hiring a world class thief or attending an invitation-only Sotheby’s auction? No. It’s a question of emotion. High WASPs think art should represent, not assume. And by represent, I don’t mean the art itself has to represent a thing. Only a vision. The artist paints or prints or carves or casts or installs what they want us to see; it’s up to each of us seeing to have our own set of feelings. We don’t want to be told via the colors and affects of sentiment what we feel about roses. Or even what we feel about lovers. High WASPs are unsure that we want to have feelings at all.

The feeling of shock and awe in the face of beauty, or an absolute audacious concept, however, that we are willing to feel.

8 Responses

  1. “I can understand that other people have the right to their ideas about aesthetics, but I can’t give up the idea that they are wrong. Just wrong.”


    what a relief to find my own deepest darkest thoughts articulated so well.. i sometimes find myself in the habitats of those that have money and yet no taste. i just shut my eyes and think of liberty*.

    *the department store, rather than the right to bear emotive tat.

  2. I know, I know. But I would still rather have the Kinkade than that triptych. Can you imagine Bosch in your bedroom? Come on — the Kinkade IS pretty.

    But I wouldn’t want the Kinkade, even though I pretend to be an egalitarian (I’m not — I am a total snob) and will defend the right of someone else to have a Kinkade. I wouldn’t want it because it’s cookie cutter art. I want to be able to tell the story of how we got the paintings in the dining room from the little guy at the Plaza Mayor on our trip to Spain after we got married.

    But no statues. Of any sort. I want nothing that has to be dusted if it is not also functional.

  3. This is a good explanation and something I just haven’t been able to put my finger on. It goes back to the whole “feelings” issue. I like what class factotum said about defending someone’s right to have whatever art they please, even if it’s something we would never place in our own homes. And yes, everything in the home ought to have a meaningful story for the family.

  4. For me it is something that resides deep inside me that responds.

    I admit I have not just thought that is wrong, I have actually thought that is SO WRONG.

    My final confession is that periodically I like a little bling .


    I just laughed out loud. I imagine spray paint is considered declasse-

    Enjoyed the conversation

  5. Bling and spray paint can be quite acceptable in context… Tiaras, after all, are bling of sorts. And spray paint, well, one might argue that the graffiti in NYC subways in the 1980’s was art. A community installation. Web 2.0 before there was Web 1.0.

  6. I will defend someone’s right to have tacky art, but I will not defend her right to wear Crocs, except maybe to pick up dog poop in the back yard. There are some things decent people just cannot condone.

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