One cannot account for tastes: How to understand art.

One cannot account for tastes: How to understand art.

6 March 2019

“Starry Night” by Van Gogh

I have been working in the field of contemporary art for ten years now. Throughout this time, many exhibition visitors have turned to me for help, often they are even armed with knowledge. They ask about the criteria for assessing contemporary art: why this work was chosen by curator for the project, why is it recommended to pay attention to the work of this particular artist, why is this artist so popular today?


The habit of blindly focusing on popular ratings in the media and on the practice of classifying art (it’s “contemporary”, and this is “modern”, it’s “salon”, but it’s “conceptual”, “socially-critical”, “young,” ” new, “etc., etc.) will further confuse you and lead you far away from the ability to determine / see quality. A desire to quickly get the correct and simple answers, the desire for a rough systematization will lead to large-scale errors that are committed and repeated by both consumers of art and its creators.

We increasingly hear the phrase: “Time will put everything in its place.” Yes, many well-known and commercially successful artists were forgotten during their lifetime. And the names of those who were once in the shadow and poverty, today form the basis of the history of art. There are vivid examples of the sad destinies of distressed artists – “losers”, whose works today are among the most expensive in the world art market and are among the most valuable in museum and private collections: El Greco, Jan Vermeer, Paul Gauguin and, of course, the well-known Vincent Van Gogh.

Paul Gauguin. Tahitian women on the coast, 1891

And the opposite example: the French academic artists Ippolit Delaroche, Ernest Mesonier, William Bugero (Bouguereau) and Francois Granet. Do you know these names? For almost half a century (late XIX – early XX century) they were considered masters. The richest and most influential clients acquired their works for museums, ministries and palaces. But this popularity turned out to be passing, and today their names are interesting only in the context of the study of the development of a culture of society, dependent on the conservatism and unpretentious tastes of the powers that be. I will continue this thought with the words of the Ukrainian artist Vasily Bazhay: “Art of taste does not, but the person who perceives it, is obliged. Because any thing, even ugly, has its own culture. “

Jean-Louis-Ernest Mesonier. The French Campaign of 1812, 1861

I understand that such historical facts can cause even greater doubts. It is not surprising that when asked how to distinguish good art from bad, a true professional will not give you an objective answer. After all, his judgments will be based not only on erudition and experience, but also on taste preferences. Therefore, I want to draw your attention to the role of aesthetic taste in the perception of art and the power of its influence on choice, on the decision you make, for example, when acquiring a work of art.

In the world of modern art, more debris and deception than it may seem at first glance. Taste is associated with inner reaction, with self-awareness. This is a sensible acceptance of art, on the basis of which the evaluation is formed. It does not depend on the time of the year, on the period, on the kind and type, brand, price, and so on. Taste is out of fashion. “Fluctuations of taste are something abnormal. True, genuine taste develops, expands, grows. It changes only to the extent that it corrects itself. And this does not happen arbitrarily, but is part of the process of its development, “said Clement Greenberg, an American art critic who had a great influence on the development of contemporary art.

Being a curator and art consultant, I learned one important rule: if you need to evaluate an artwork, an exhibition or a project, you should listen to your intuition. I, of course, rely on knowledge and experience. (There are even cases where additional training is needed.) But intuition never changes me.

By itself, the taste will not be improved, rather – to degrade. How can you make your taste more refined:

  1. Refer to the powerful works of great artists again and again.
  2. Visit museums and galleries. If not, flip through the albums with reproductions, see historical tapes and serials, BBC films about the life of artists.
  3. Communicate with people who work in the field of art or design and do not be afraid to ask questions. By the way, the easiest way to get acquainted with them is at the opening of the exhibition in one of the galleries.
  4. Walk more, raise your head and look around at the architecture. Be interested in what style you have in front of you, and make your own impression.
  5. In the end, for you have done a lot of professionals! Therefore, it is worthwhile to trust historical conclusions