Probably everyone thinks they have good taste. Most people would describe themselves as kind, generous, thoughtful and reasonably intelligent. These aren’t objective measurements.
But you might look at someone and think they have terrible taste. The food they eat, or the clothes they wear, or the music they listen to.
Part of this is a judgement based on your own subjective set of standards. I listen to Tool, so therefore if you listen to Taylor Swift, you must have bad taste.
Another part of this is based on societal ideas of what constitutes good taste. If you have nice shoes, or listen to an acclaimed album, or eat at a fine dining restaurant, then you have good taste.
But just because a bunch of people agree on something doesn’t make it true. We used to agree that parachute pants were cool. That adding a half cup of blueberries to a muffin recipe made them healthy. That white blonde women were the most beautiful.
If you’re at a party with 12 people, and 11 of them say you have ugly shoes, does that mean you have ugly shoes? If that happened, you might want to get nicer friends.
Maybe you could say, objectively, that your shoes have a big hole in the toe and are caked in mud. Therefore, they’re ugly. That isn’t an issue of taste anymore, but an issue of quality.
Let’s pretend, then, that your shoes are clean and cared for. But 11 of your friends say they’re ugly. What criteria are they judging this on? What they see on Reddit? What other people are wearing? Are the 9th, 10th and 11th people saying they’re ugly because the first 7 people did?
Is popular opinion worth more than your personal vote?
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if anyone else thinks you have good or bad taste, since it’s mostly a subjective measurement. What matters is if you think you have good taste.
How do you develop good taste?
Asked another way: What tastes good to you?
We shovel food in our mouth without tasting it. We turn on Spotify without really hearing it. We wear clothes that are fast and convenient to put on.
If you flip these ideas, doesn’t that mean you’ll have to invest a lot of time and effort to develop good taste?
Cooking a nice meal takes time. Really listening to a song requires focus, not multi-tasking. Wearing clothes you love means taking time to let yourself be open and captivated at the store.
One thing I find interesting in life: Oftentimes, the more energy you put into something, the more you enjoy it. Cooking becomes much more enjoyable once you take the time to try recipes and build basic skills. It’s a serious drag when you don’t know what you’re doing, or if you feel unskillful.
Sure, developing good taste takes time. But invite the possibility that you’ll deeply enjoy that time.
Another aspect of developing good taste is allowing yourself to be curious. If you eat the same eight meals over and over again, allow yourself to be curious about something new. Maybe it’s a type of cuisine, or something you saw in a magazine. What would that taste like? This requires approaching the subject with an element of adventurousness.
Being adventurous takes more effort than falling into default patterns, but going outside your comfort zone is exactly what’s needed if you want to create interesting memories. We remember novelty with the most clarity. Perhaps that curry experiment ends up tasting awful. But I guarantee you’ll remember it, and that means something.
A final component of building good taste? Know the rules, and then gleefully break them. As a musician, I’m passionate about music theory because it helps me make sense of the chaos of sound. Learning the rules is only a first step, though. Music theory can be stifling. It can keep you in a box.
I might start a song idea within a box. But if I hear something I like, if my taste is pulling in a different direction, I follow that. Knowing theory is like a light in the dark. It gives me a sense of where I’m going, and how far out of orbit I am.
It takes adventurousness and curiosity to follow an idea outside the box. It takes courage to go against the grain, against the 11 people telling you you’re wrong.
And once you’re there – the meal is made, the outfit’s on – it takes the desire for immersion, for an experience, for a memory, for love, to savor the taste.