COOKIES &VODKA MUSINGS OF A CURIOUS CREATIVE ON STYLE, DESIGN, TASTE, CULTURE & THE ARTS
DECONSTRUCTION OF THE TASTEMAKER AN ADVENTURE IN DEFINING TASTE A title originally introduced in the 1950s, a “Tastemaker” was someone who deemed what was stylish and valuable in his or her specific field, and ultimately, the public followed suit. Tastemakers throughout history have inspired movements in trends, set standards, and led the way for others to take risks and explore new concepts in their respective fields. From a sociological standpoint, taste is an individual experience and is defined by our ability to judge what we find pleasing. While giants like Plato, Hume, and Kant all studied this concept, the ontology of aesthetics is greatly debated as it relies heavily on cultural influences and is rooted in personal experience. This summer, I dusted off my paperback copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig. Originally published in 1974, the book was rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book. Regarded as a cultural icon in literature, Pirsig’s writing
leads in his approach to exploring a rather enigmatic topic through philosophical fiction. The main character, presumably the author (though never actually named), spends a great deal of time in self-indulgent contemplation — the book explores the metaphysics of quality. Or in simpler terms, as described by the author, “quality” or “value” cannot be defined, as it is a perceptual experience therefore making it unique to the senses of an individual. Pirsig states, “But if you can’t say what quality is how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist… Obviously some things are better others, but what’s the betterness? So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is quality? What is it?” Confused yet? Though I recently had a dream that I had an IQ of 265 (you’ve got nothing on me William James Sidis), I’m not intelligent enough to further analyze Pirsig’s examination of quality. However, his notions of quality are parallel with the conversation of taste. If we all have our own visceral experiences and therefore form our own basis for determining what is stylish, is a tastemaker relevant in this day and age? Maybe then, this moniker of a Tastemaker is given to someone who is bold enough — crazy enough — to question, dissect, discover, and with rarely faltering confidence — lead. Rebels, who aren’t very good at following rules, challenge the status quo and redefine boundaries.
Derek Sivers dissects this idea of leadership in a three-minute video. It goes by many names, but if you google “Shirtless Dancing Guy,” it will likely be the first video that arrives on your screen. Viewed by over 3.4 million people, this video captures a lively character creating a mass dance movement at an outdoor music festival. Sivers notes, “A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous,” and communicates the importance of followers, as the leader must demonstrate how simple something is to follow.
“From a sociological standpoint, taste is an individual experience and is defined by our ability to judge what we find pleasing. “
Perhaps Steve Jobs was onto something when he spoke about the “crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the round pegs in the square holes” because just maybe these people are the original Tastemakers, the lone nuts. Taste then, is not only defined by these leaders, but also by those inspired and influenced by the conversations surrounding quality and value.
Amanda is the founder and creative director of her own full-service custom design firm, Amanada Hamilton Design. Keep up with her latest projects @ahidtweets.