@MJ — Thanks for a very thoughtful comment, Michael. I’m going to do my best to respond to each part.
What got me writing is Hume. The quotes you’ve pulled from the introduction to his essay certainly seem to support what you’re saying, but there is a fair amount of text beyond, and those constructions above do not accurately reflect his position.
I struggled in picking the right quotes (if there is such a thing), but I thought those two provided a fair representation of his argument. At least how I interpreted his essay.
When he says “free of prejudice” he does not mean free of preference, which is how I interpreted your words (and please correct me if I’m wrong); he means the intellectual capacity and good sense, attained through practice and experience, to judge an object on its own merits, by comparing “between the several species and degrees of excellence, and estimating their proportion to each other.” A rare quality, yes, but so is good in art.
This is where our takes may diverge. I actually did not mean preference. I meant prejudice. Cognitive bias, to be precise. I believe that no amount of practice and experience can clear us of prejudice.
I am heavily influenced by the work of folks like Ariely, Ramachandran, Taleb, and Eagleman to name a few. I think that Haidt, whom I referenced in this piece, did a great job of taking all of my influences and constructing an argument about morality that I buy, but it applies wonderfully to everything from design to music criticism. There are just too many studies today that, in combination with my personal experience of “Being Wrong” (another great book loosely related to this topic), make it hard to take critics seriously these days. Specifically, criticism that attempts make some point about objective beauty and taste. It always comes back to the The Red and The White dilemma for me.
In fact, Hume’s supporting example to the quote above details EXACTLY what good design does: it speaks to its audience.
Hume and I are in complete agreement here.
So I think Hume might argue that your issue is with Hamilton as an inferior critic, because he did not recognize that Macklemore may very well speak more directly to the Grammy voters and the Grammy audience than Lamar (which is true).
Indeed. But I would counter, “What is a superior critic?” Every answer I’ve received to that question slides down the slippery slope to arrive at the fictitious (to me, anyway) critic who has overcome cognitive bias. In some circles, that would be equivalent to calling someone super (or sub, depending on your perspective) human. I wonder if Hume would change his view on prejudice in light of all the evidence we have now that wasn’t available in his time.
So if Hamilton’s reaction is the foundation that your argument builds on, it seems an issue of sense and sentiment, not taste. To Hume, anyway.
Probably, but I’m arguing that they go hand in hand. I think Hamilton just argued his case less eloquently than a skilled and experienced critic of impeccable sense and sentiment. Part of good criticism is good politics, after all. And I’d be more inclined to accept that criticism so long as it didn’t attempt to bring objective and true and mathematical certainty into the argument. That’s where criticism starts missing the forest for the trees (unless, of course, you make a living as a critic, then it’s a great strategy).
Well, Hume would probably dismiss the Grammys entirely as an award of public sentiment, and not at all a subject worthy of a discussion on taste.
Probably. There were far better criticisms (published on Slate even) of the whole Macklemore debacle.
That said, even if you take away my interpretation of Hume’s essay, the gist of my argument remains: a subject worthy of a discussion on taste is a means to an end (at least for us product designers). I don’t think the true meaning of Hume’s essay (and from what I’ve read, even his life’s work), my interpretation of what Hume may have meant, your interpretation, or the most popular interpretations of it are in disagreement, though. I think we all agree minus some pedantry that a discussion of taste is an integral part of the design process; that good design utilizes taste to make solutions more approachable to the audience; that it’s very rare to find truly unprejudiced critics because we are slaves to our passions at a deep, neuronal level.
But that’s a different article. Part 2, maybe?
Haha, I don’t know. I get the sense that even these 1400 words are at least 800 words too many on the topic. I think we should save it for an in-person conversation over a drink sometime. Thanks again. Really got me thinking again (and I still am) :)