Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Friday, June 14
The Indiana Daily Student


COLUMN: Clinging to our personal tastes limits us from truly appreciating art


Since the cusp of adolescence, we’ve been curating our own tastes. We’ve carved out our own little rooms in the cultural world and filled it with Sylvia Plath spines on shelves, pop punk posters on walls, classic horror movie DVDs stacked on tables, and — Lord, help me — Aeropostale shirts tucked into drawers.

Your cultural corners likely looked a bit different from mine, thank God. But our relationships to our own tastes are probably similar and equally limiting.

For most of us, our cultural interests taught us to scoff at the mainstream — the blockbusters, the Top 40 songs, the preppy trends — and instead, to embrace the cult classics, the indie bands, the edgy grunge fashions. We learned to drop the right references, horde uncommon information like coveted treasure, acquire taste like a fine wine. The more that “basic” people have no idea what we’re talking about, the more intensely we identify with the art we love.

But of course, we hold onto just enough consumer culture trash to keep up the appearance of being unpretentious. We throw a bit of Cardi B into our indie soup, a bit of 90s rom-com into our B-sides.

Friend groups also become defined by careful cultural tastes. Early on, we clump together by artistic tastes, further isolating ourselves from other artistic avenues we may have never considered.

With set-in-stone personal tastes, we judge art immediately, leaving no time to consider if it’s really good, just if it resembles anything already plastered onto the walls of our secluded corners. In the past, if I instinctively hated a piece of art too different from my typical sensibilities, I’d search for anything, any little excuse to brush that work aside as lesser, arrogantly acting like my carefully tailored tastes were the end-all-be-all.

Quickly, our cultural corners shrink, and we defend them to our final breaths, barraging insults and belittling anything we see as lesser. Slowly, we become less receptive of anything that doesn’t fall neatly into our own preferences, and our negative tastes — the things we slander as unwatchable, unlistenable, unreadable — become stronger than the love we have for art. The art we hate creates a more visceral reaction than the art we love.

We quickly shun the things that offend our tastes, afraid of liking them, contradicting ourselves and tearing apart the identities we’ve created.

And when we listen to songs, we often don’t hear the actual song. We just hear our opinions of it. We mindlessly worship our own good taste.

Art is about uncertainty, about making you uncomfortable. But how is that possible if you don’t set foot outside of the cozy, comfortable room filled with your own tastes? And wouldn’t it be boring to seclude yourself in the room you’ve cultivated since middle school?

We construct our own artistic tastes and leave no room for them to expand. We build preferences that define who we are, and then we don’t let them change.

After all, what would people think if the indie gal starts playing bubblegum pop or if the classic literature nut pulls “The Hunger Games” out of his bag?

Whether you like it or not, people will always find new ways to define you. And really, there’s no shame in waking up one day and realizing you like something that doesn’t fit your former self’s tastes.

We shouldn’t allow how others perceive the identities we put forth affect the tastes we cling to in an attempt to have any constant sense of self. Identity is malleable, as are personal tastes, if we only remember to keep an open mind.

We should surround ourselves with art, understand that it doesn’t need our approval and not waste energy picking things up just to hate them.

Curating tastes can be dangerous and keep us an arm’s length away from an entire world we’ll never discover when tethered to current preferences. It can transform consuming art into an internal conflict between fear of contradicting your own tastes and a desire to enjoy what’s in front of you.

I’m personally tired of my own opinions. And I don’t want to define myself by my likes and dislikes or try to be a “cultured” person anymore. I’m working to destroy the suffocating walls of my own taste, to enjoy art without worrying about what others think or how it may influence the identity I’ve built.

I’m wondering how much of the art world I’ve missed by lazily waving off anything that didn’t fit neatly into my own tastes. I’m wondering what I’ll find just by doing the things I “dislike.” Maybe I’ll listen to some EDM music, watch some rom-coms or read some young adult mysteries, despite years of cultivated disgust. Maybe my little cultural corner will expand a bit.

Get stories like this in your inbox