Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chaqu'un son gout

Can you ever really talk candidly about a difference in aesthetic taste, if the difference is between you and your spouse? More precisely, if the difference lies between you, your spouse, and an "object d'art" that you would rather see at the bottom of the ocean than anywhere in your living space? How do you debate taste without sounding like a snob or a dictator, a person with no tolerance for difference at all? Can you really ever convince someone that the item they liked enough to purchase with their own hard-earned money is totally hideous and inappropriate? It's just your opinion, after all. It's your taste against theirs, so who's to say who's "right" (even if you are the one with exposure to fine art, art history, and so forth)? I will admit up front that yes, of course, we should all be able to like what we like without being criticized for our preferences. To each his (or her) own; or, as the French say, "Chaqu'un son gout." However, should we really have to live with the consequences of aesthetic diplomacy in our own bedrooms? Let me be blunt. I am talking about the worst pair of lamps I've ever laid eyes on. I remember them all too well. Naked-girl lamps with globes for shades, one globe supported by the foot of a girl reclining on her back, the other held aloft in some complex pose reminiscent of a figure skater's Biellmann spin. The lamps were some kind of cheap plaster, painted black to look like . . . like I don't know what. The closest I can come to explaining the style would be to ask you to think of an Art Nouveau/belle époque cabaret, then cheapen it. The lamps must have appealed to some streak of national identity in my husband; he seemed to boast of them, like some badge of honor regarding French attitudes about human anatomy (i.e., contrast with "puritanical" Americans, who, my husband likes to remind me, censored Balthus's drawing of a nude girl on a bottle of 1993 Mouton Rothschild). I am not saying that the lamps were pornographic, merely that I found them in bad taste. Again, it's true that there's a place for everything, but the place for these lamps was definitely some kind of bachelor pad or bordello, not in our newly established shared home. Is it really just me, just a repressed kind of taste—or is there something not quite right about blackened images of girls (not women, but definitely underage girls who looked about fourteen) who are turned into functional objects to be used and worse, to be "turned on" at will? Really, I hated the lamps, and there will be people who think that I'm uptight for this, although I can honestly say they didn't threaten me. I wasn't jealous; it wasn't like that. Judge me as you will, as I in turn judge my husband's lamps. Former lamps, actually. For although I don't think I ever really won the battle over what constitutes good taste, I did win the war over whether the lamps would ultimately stay or go. The first lamp was broken accidentally. By me, yes, but I have a witness: it was a genuine accident caused in the midst of a move. The second lamp was stashed in a closet in the new apartment. We had moved because our son, then turning one, had become impossible to contain and was pushing us out of our one-bedroom space. Our son was another reason why I put my foot down about the remaining lamp. Was that really something we needed in our home as we raised a young boy and tried to teach him about respecting girls? That second lamp came out of the closet one day, a couple years later, while my son was in preschool. I put it back in the closet before picking him up, then called my husband to warn him that I moved it and we could talk about it later. We did talk about it. He didn't get my point of view at all. Which brings me back to the original question: how do you have a productive discussion about taste? If you leave it on that level, you get nowhere. Just "You have your taste, I have mine." The points about social messages? Lost, I'm afraid. But when it came time to move again, I have to say that either there was a change of heart (or opinion or taste), or else it was a good-will gesture that I will always cherish: the second and last of the lamps went out to a school fundraising tag sale. God knows who might have picked it up. I'm betting no one, but then again, there's no accounting for personal taste.

1 comment:

  1. It's uncanny, but after reading the second sentence, a certain lamp came to mind immediately! Men have terrible taste in lamps, it seems. As a mom of girls, I appreciate your conscientious efforts to raise your son to be respectful of women; I don't think that enough of us (girls' moms, included)make that effort, frankly. Congratulations on getting rid of your lamp! Ours is still with us, but no longer out...