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Culture Shock

Interpretation Of Taste

Music seems to seep into the narrow cracks of everything we do, see, and feel. We associate almost every emotion, experience, and even people with songs and albums. Music is heard anywhere– from huge arenas by headline artists to whimsical jazz riffs found on city streets. The genres of music venture into a thousand different directions that intertwine and overlap until eventually become a big beautiful tangled mess. Because of this diversity, music has been undoubtedly generous, as there is at least something for everyone. However, this raises the question: What is classified as “good” music? And ultimately what defines music as "good"? David Hume, a famous English philosopher, argues that there is a “Standard of Taste” when it comes to music in terms of quality and goodness, and a particular criteria to determine which arts and artists are considered better than others. Hume asserts further that only a very small group of music listeners meet the criteria to judge based on this standard. These critics must maintain four qualities of judgment in order for their opinions to be taken earnestly.

The first element of Hume’s Standard of Taste is to have adequate experience in art itself. According to his theory, consistent and quality practice is essential to develop the criteria for the judgment of music, or any art in general. Whether it is working in production, writing music, playing an instrument, or even being a stagehand with a touring artist, having a foot-in-the-door mentality when watching others create art gives the observer credibility to know art, and therefore judge it. Plus, it should go hand in hand that the more people enjoy the arts, the more involved they are in the desire to give their opinion.

Hume’s second standard is having a good state of mind when judging art. A key point emphasized here is the difference between sentiment and judgment. If one’s sentiment, or the ability to process music strictly on emotional terms, becomes conflicted with the judgment of more un-emotional constructs, such as vocal diversification and range or integrity of instrumental excellence, it can distort the sincerity of how the music is in occurrence with the standard. Therefore, a necessary quality of judgment should stem from a level-headed attitude and a complete rejection of emotional influence.

The third standard of taste is one’s delicacy of judgment. Going hand-in-hand with the experience side of criticism, it must coalign with the total recognition of the finer points and details of the art that the ordinary observer would overlook or be impartial to. For instance, Hume brings up the argument that there must be a sense of appreciation for the aspects of music that are so minute that they rarely make themselves known. Those who are willing to take the extra leaps and bounds to not only uncover but admire less mainstream and conventional aspects of music are those deserving to create a standard of what good music is.

The final and arguably most important criterion to judge on a standard would be the absence of prejudice. Hume argues that there must be a distinct split between the morality of art and the aesthetics of it. Art is perverted by prejudice, and to find complete comprehension of quality based on a curve, one must create a sense of tunnel vision, blocking out all preconceptions, whilst still cross-comparing arts against one another.

It is typical for humans to fight about taste. We find a difference in taste in almost everything we see or do. David Hume believes that if a person contains all of the above qualities, they are justified to judge the subjective quality of music. The humor that is found in this is that despite all of these deliberate criteria, emotion seems to overpower all. For example, if it can be scientifically proven that Paul McCartney is the best Beatle, George Harrison fans are still willing to go to great lengths to prove how George’s music blows Paul’s music out of the water. So in my opinion, if people approach the arts, and more specifically music, with an earnest desire to feel things from it, then the “Standard of Taste” doesn’t matter. Good music can truly only be classified by the ears of the listener.


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