Back in the day when I took my first elementary school field trip to an art museum and wandered through the halls, waiting for my gourmet school district ham and cheese to arrive, there was a common theme. As I looked through the paintings and the statues I realized something: they were all extremely white.
Every statue was carved from ghostly white marble, and the paintings looked like the 16th-century equivalent of Karen — minus the a-line bob of course — laying on her fainting couch, waiting patiently to speak to ye olde manager.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that this is a theme in art history; the pieces that get the most acclaim usually feature “tasteful” depictions of white subjects, done by “tasteful,” respectable white artists.
In reality, most classic, Greco-Roman statues seen in museums weren’t actually white to begin with, they were painted as colorfully as a drag queen on her way to “Electric Daisy Carnival” (EDC).
Many historians denied this for years, as the pure whiteness of these statues had become sacred, and the idea that these classic works of art were actually vibrant and colorful was deemed “distasteful.”
This led me to question what exactly, “good taste” is. Personally, my idea of what looks good is Hot Topic-chic with a side of glitter and rainbows — forgive me father — so I’m not sure that my idea of “good taste” can be trusted.
Margaret Talbot, a writer for The New Yorker, described the relationship between whiteness and taste in her article, “The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture.” Talbot believes that historically, there’s been “a tendency to equate whiteness with beauty, taste, and classical ideals, and to see color as alien, sensual, and tacky.”
In my field studies of bougie white culture, I’ve noticed that the concept of “good taste” usually comes with a distaste for anything too, como se dicé … “colorful.”
“Taste” seems to be the ultimate measure of style and art, and “tacky” seems to be the worst critique of that which is distasteful, a concept author Jo Weldon explored in her book, “Fierce: The History of Leopard Print.”
“Tacky is anything that is too feminine, ethnic, queer, deviant; not manly, not practical, not businesslike, not serious,” according to Weldon.
For those of us who do not embody this conservative, white, masculine idea of style and aesthetics this may seem like bad news; but in reality, being “tacky” gives you the perfect outlet for creativity.
Weldon points out that, “Tacky is often where the imagination runs free, where the heart is, where the soul is, where the fun is.”
I’d argue that most great historical artists and style icons embraced some degree of tacky-ness; as to be tacky is to sacrifice traditional taste, thereby creating one’s own personal style.
Great artists like Picasso or Monet, and fashion icons like Gianni Versace or Alexander McQueen have all been ridiculed at one point or another for their outlandish, “tacky” style choices, yet today their personal styles are almost universally celebrated.
These artists and style icons used personal style as a way to express what “good taste” meant to them, which tells us that at its core, the concept of “taste” is subjective and open to interpretation.
So, us, tacky folk aren’t doomed to commit artistic and fashion faux-pas forever. We, the tacky, have to create the taste with which unique styles should be appreciated, thereby redefining what “good taste” really is.