There’s no accounting for taste.

          In early October, University of Southern California neuroscientist Emily Liman and her research team published a paper identifying a sixth kind of taste.

          The basic four have long been recognized as sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Umami – of which I have no concept – was welcomed to the club recently. Now the USC team has identified ammonium chloride as a distinct flavor.

          The scientific quest among receptors of the tongue is past my ken. But, whether there are four or six or eventually sixty tastes does not alter the fact that food tastes differently to each of us.

          The most publicized example lately has been individual reactions to cilantro. I am one of the lucky ones. Tastes great to me, just what the quick cook in me ordered. But, my sister and nephew are in the sizable crowd who say cilantro tastes like dishwashing soap.

          Such physiological evidence makes other differences in other preferences more understandable.

          Who is the prettiest woman and hunkiest hunk in the world today? I imagine 30 or 40 serious candidates in both categories. And, there are likely other outliers with fierce defenders who, too, cannot say exactly why they feel the way they do.

          There’s no accounting for taste – especially in the arts.

          If something ignites and excites our emotions, our feelings are as valid as the most learned experts, even those who might explain why we feel as we do.

          If a poem or painting or music fails to move us, no amount of explication will change that. We might develop an appreciation. But, that makes it an intellectual, not aesthetic, exercise.

          And, different art affects us differently at different times.

          I have experienced many changes in taste as I have shuffled through life, mainly in my approach and appreciation of music. I have moved from rock ‘n’ roll and singer/songwriters to classical music and then to jazz (America’s classical music) and now music with Latin rhythms.  I can listen to and enjoy any of the genres at any time – and I started writing this while waiting for a live blues broadcast from Rosa’s Lounge in Chicago. (Every Friday and Saturday night!)

          Maybe I have mellowed. Or, perhaps my appreciation of various styles has broadened my outlook. But, I have softened in my once vitriolic criticisms of some musicians.

          The nightly chatters at the Small’s Jazz Club live feeds cling to the dogma that anyone who becomes popular has “sold out” – by becoming accessible to peasants and rubes with less discerning ears than their own.

          (Yes, the popularity in their primes of many jazz giants refutes that notion. But, consistency often takes a backseat to clever carping.)

          So, when I saw the reboot of Ken Burns’ massive Country Music documentary, I was again reminded how he short-changed John Denver and Barbara Mandrell.

          As an actual member of the Townes Van Zandt Fan Club, I had sneered at Denver’s pop-pop-popularity. But, he wrote some good songs.

          Is “Leaving on a Jet Plane” somehow more “legitimate”  than “Country Roads,” because the former was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary?

          His music resonated with a lot of people – still does.     

          (I view most pop music today with the same detachment. Those performers are speaking to a lot of somebodies – with whom I have little in common.)

          John Denver was BIG. Townes was a shared secret. (Thank you, my friend Fred Ramey.) He had finished his major writings by the early seventies. I was glad to see him get recognition from other songwriters in the Burns documentary. But, grading down John Denver smacks of that same small-minded Small’s elitism.

          Barbara Mandrell was a multi-instrumentalist with a great voice and a feisty song library. She was the first person to win back-to-back Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year awards, and she and Taylor Swift are the only women to have won it twice.  She was probably the first female country singer to host a network television show. She was also beautiful – always an excuse for some critics to marginalize a woman.

          Popularity can be a fickle judge of quality. But, the popularity of Denver and Mandrell was influential by default. To ignore that makes the Burns work less than it could have been.

          I have experienced a similar journey in my appreciation of artists. Right now, I’m pretty comfortable with the Impressionists and Expressionists – Renoir and Munch in particular.

          I was once a huge Georgia O’Keeffe fan. But, at an exhibition in Dallas, I was more  taken with her sloppy technique than with seeing colors more vibrant than my books had shown me.

          I view most of the art schools of the last century as joke art as exemplified recently by the Danish guy who received a hefty commission from a museum for two canvases. He turned in two blank canvases under the title, “Take the Money and Run.”

          And, if you accept his cleverness, the joke’s on you, though be sure that some critic will write a glowing, elaborate, learned review.

          A Danish court ordered him to repay the nearly $70,000 commission. But he is appealing – the ruling. He and his tactics are not very appealing at all.

          And even that stunt is unoriginal. Back in 1952, composer John Cage “created” a “song” called 4’33” (apparently pronounced “four minutes, thirty-three seconds”) and which consists of no music, but what Cage called, “the absence of intended sounds.”

          I hesitate to call my journeys through artistic appreciation growth. Every musical genre that has dominated a part of my life has dedicated followers who would say that my moving on from their favorite genre was a diminishment, not growth at all.

          Nor have I really abandoned those other styles. I spend most mornings and a lot of late nights listening to classical music. The songs which I write (“that voices never share”) are of the singer/songwriter/folkie variety with a few blues bubbling to the surface occasionally.

          There’s no accounting for taste.

          (Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)

No accounting for taste in art

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