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Taste and Aesthetics
A Conversation with Ken Arnold, Part II
by Bill Venners
September 16, 2002

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Teaching Taste

Bill Venners: If you have taste, can you teach it? If you don't have taste, can you learn it?

Ken Arnold: Whether or not someone can learn taste depends on what kind of person they are. Some people have a really bad sense of taste. Other people have no sense of taste whatsoever.

People who have no taste don't consider aesthetics at all. They say, "Oh, I'll just add a method that does this. I'll just add a class that does that." If you talk to them about aesthetics they go, "Huh?" It doesn't make any sense to them. These people might be wearing polka dot pants and striped shirts at the same time, and there's nothing you can do about it. I don't think these people are trainable, though you can potentially improve their sense of taste. I've known a couple people who one day woke up realizing that taste mattered. But it is hard to teach taste to people for whom taste is not an important factor in life. It's a tough sell.

People with bad taste, on the other hand, are much easier to train. Such people have a sense of aesthetics, but they have a different set of values that they apply to those aesthetics. You can try to convince these people that their values are not optimal, that they can look at things another way.

It is a lot easier to convince someone with bad taste to look at something differently than to get someone with no taste to notice something they don't see in the first place. If you are color blind, you can't do anything about it except work around that problem. But if you aren't color blind, yet you like to mix really bad colors together, you can learn what a good color combination is.

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