On Taste and Personality

I’ve gotten in the habit of posting on Instagram once a day (occasionally twice, if inspiration moves me); so, every morning, as I am having coffee, I scroll through old blog posts looking for quotations. This morning, as I predictably scanned for Instagrammable one-liners, I found myself riveted by a discussion that I’d begun, but not finished, in Pots of Gold: my growing hunch that taste and personality are very nearly the same thing. That these two constructs are so deeply intertwined as to be even, at times, interchangeable. Or, more precisely, that the refinement and maturation of taste and the development of a well-rounded, mature, flexible personality coincide. 

Indeed, I published a post titled On Taste in July 2017 (Sometimes, I can’t believe The Used Life has been around for that long!), an extrapolation of my thoughts on what constitutes taste, mostly from an artistic perspective. Although, I find my interest in the subject is now a greater function of its perceived relationship to the cultivation of personality than to creativity and art. But, perhaps, that was part of my interest from the start, and I simply hadn’t realized it. To clarify, what I’d like to understand is the relationship between taste as a personal attitude toward aesthetic phenomena, an intuitive sense of what’s beautiful, harmonious, balanced, etc. and the development of a dynamic, well-rounded, fluid personality. Turns out Maslow has a bit to say about all this. (I really need to find a way to access his journal articles from the 1960s.) Rogers, too. Although, a quick perusal of scientific research on the topic yielded little. Besides a handful of studies examining the relationships between musical and food-related preferences and specific personality traits. And, apparently those of us who love bitter food and drink (myself, overwhelmingly included) are also more likely to be psychopaths than the general population. Say it ain’t so…But, I digress. As usual, what follows here is based on my experience, my own self-guided evolution, and the connections I intuit between taste and personality in both myself and others. That is, what the whole experience feels like. In addition to my readings, of course. Here are some thoughts on the parallels between taste and personality.

Taste is Appreciation.

Taste is, foremost, born from an attitude of appreciation. A point I made in my initial post on the same topic. I referred to it then as “the eye,” “the ear,” or “the palate” that seeks beauty and wonder. As such, it not only represents a kind of openness to experience, but also the ability to abandon oneself, to immerse oneself fully in acts of appreciation. In the present. Unself-consciously. That is, taste, to me, is not a form of judgment. It is not critical or rejecting. In its highest form, much like creativity, taste represents an homage to life. Taste is thankful. Fresh, even childlike. Much like the kind of perception that Maslow says characterizes self-actualization. Perhaps, both taste and the creatively cultivated personality are born from the same kind of seeing, or sensing. Of the holistic type. Yes, I think so.

smoking man and woman

Taste is Autonomous.

Stress the unjaded palate of the self-actualizing person, of the peaker = retention of the most basic, biological, body pleasures & sensory pleasures = a kind of versatility = the ability to enjoy the finest wine and Dago red, the finest cheese and local cheddar, great food and meat & potatoes, & even bread & cheese.- A.H. Maslow

To my mind, the unjaded palate to which Maslow refers here is less about freshness of perception (the notion that one can experience a sense of awe or wonder even after encountering an object or scenario repeatedly) and more about autonomy. That is, one who is in possession of both a cultivated sense of taste and a robust personality can appreciate that which is pleasing in even the humblest of circumstances. Like a simple, yet tasty, cheddar paired with a no-frills wine. Basics. One who has taste retains an appreciation of the basics and does not need refinement for refinement’s sake. Shirks pretense. But instead, these individuals have confidence in their own values and preferences. They don’t need to conform to cultural expectations. They don’t give a hoot about what’s popular. They know what they like. And, that’s what matters.

Taste is Creative.

I would go further to suggest that such individuals—of the self-actualizing type, as Maslow refers to them—but, certainly those who are well-rounded, fluid, and self-directed (per Rogers), can regulate themselves effectively. They consciously and intentionally add to and subtract from their behavior, appearance, and mannerisms in an effort to make them more pleasing to their own sensibilities. (As a side note, Maslow wrote in his journal that he wanted to establish a hierarchy of techniques aimed at achieving this kind of awareness, what he termed exercises in self-finding, with aesthetic appreciation, or the highest levels of taste, representing the epitome. Someone should do this. Maybe I should do this.). They are sufficiently aware of their inner experiences to exercise that degree of control. And their attitude toward themselves—toward their own evolution—is one marked by creativity.

But in our person who is living the process of the good life, there would be a decreasing number of…barriers, and he would be increasingly a participant in the rationality of his organism. The only control of impulses which would exist, or which would prove necessary, is the natural and internal balancing of one against another, and the discovery of behaviors which follow the vector most closely approximating the satisfaction of all needs. – Carl R. Rogers

But, this is, for Rogers, what it means to make of oneself a work of art. The courage to create oneself. To be. Is living according to the rationality of one’s organism—of one’s own internal rhythms—any different from the process of cultivating taste—of establishing one’s own, unique attitude of appreciation for life’s pleasures based on a harmonious relationship with oneself and with the world? Well, not as far as I can tell.


Thank You…

to Carolyn from Hawkfeather Stories for nominating The Used Life for the Sunshine Blogger Award. I would encourage everyone to give her blog a visit.

7 thoughts on “On Taste and Personality

  1. The courage to create oneself. To be. That’s how I experienced you as I read this post. And it’s also how I started to experience myself as I read. Another couple of sentences: They know what they like. And, that’s what matters. Yes. These four sentences are so profound when you approach them from creative experience itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that you share the intricacies of your ‘becoming’ with us. I truly appreciate that you do that.

    You said:
    “That is, taste, to me, is not a form of judgment. It is not critical or rejecting.”

    And yet it absolutely is.

    The very nature of taste is that it is crafted from the aesthetic and moral preferences of the self, that those preferences are subjective and comparative evaluations of value. The words ‘judgement’, ‘critical’ and ‘rejecting’ all have very negative connotations which are improperly applied in society and I suspect this is the reason why you’re so uncomfortable using them. These three things are essential and impossible to exclude from our thought processes. Without our ability to reject, judge and criticize we couldn’t discern danger or form rational thoughts.

    All people have taste, all people have their own refined palate cultivated from their beliefs and preferences. Some people believe there is good taste and bad taste but that’s like saying there are good/bad shades of blue.

    Taste is an appreciation echo-chamber feeding back confirmation of the ‘rightness’ of our preferences and beliefs. When we see something, whether as an artistic form or behaviorally in people, that we deem ‘ugly’ or ‘tasteless’ we’re repulsed by the ‘wrongness’ of it. Neurologically, our brain is very resistant to change and so chemically ‘dissuades’ us from straying beyond our own beliefs with a little hit of cognitive dissonance.

    To be truly open to experience we must venture outside of our taste, go beyond the self-satisfying sensory masturbation of appreciating what we already know we like and ask ourselves WHY we like it. Confidence in our values and preferences doesn’t broaden our perspective, it only limits life experiences to those that guarantee pleasure and our truth is never found in such shallow waters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the feedback, Maggie. I do believe that taste, at the highest levels (I’m referring to the self-actualized, or fully-functioning folks mentioned in the Rogers and Maslow quotes), is marked by a relatively unself-conscious appreciation. That taste does not have to be self-seeking, or largely self-consciously motivated, as in I like “x” because it is popular/expensive/designer/will make me look tasteful or smart or important. But, that many people are capable of cultivating a sense of taste that is primarily appreciation- or beauty-seeking and that those individuals are capable of seeing beauty in even the simplest and most unexpected places. That attitude represents an openness to experience–and is altogether pleasurable, one marked by wonder, awe, and gratitude at finding beauty in the unexpected or the everyday, not dissonance. But, of course, no one likes everything (nor should we). Part of knowing who we are is knowing what we like, prefer, and value, while, I think, still retaining a good dose of openness to trying new things even if we think there’s a chance we might not like them.

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