Taste & Personality

Have you had key lime pie before?

Yes, but I was a different person then.

Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994)

How does taste define personality? We want it to say something and think it says something about other people. However, we know this isn’t true, even as we try to use it on dating sites, with lists of favourite books, movies, and music.

To what extent does aesthetics influence our lives? From the moment we awake, we are concerned about our appearance, even when we are dead. We live in a world of imagination and visual appearance. We both want our tastes to define us. Wearing the t-shirt and other displays, and yet favourite books, movies, and music says almost nothing about the person. I once met someone who told me their favourite bands were ABBA and Def Leppard. 

We want to use taste displays to indicate our personality, mood and desires. We also have a taste as a personal preference. Statements of favourite books, movies and music are signals. What book would make you instantly walk away if you saw your blind date reading?

Two polarities are operating here, a complex code of interpersonal communication and personal preferences. Dressing for personal aesthetic preference, like little children, differs from dressing as part of a code. You may still have aesthetic preferences within a code, just as a writer prefers one word or phrase over another.

Recorded music that we listen to privately may differ from the music we put on for others to hear. The two polarities of personal preference and coded communication expose the polarities of private and public in art and culture. Aside from book readings, reading is private. The performing arts, before home viewing technology (videotapes, DVD, streaming), were the most public of the arts. Consequently, music changed when private listening (headphones) became standard technology in the early 1970s.

Cultural codes can be used as a language that some consider stylish, elegant, or simply functional. So a person’s fashion sense could be compared to a writer’s style. This is not about personal preferences; it is not about favourites but coded communication. My party music list differs from the music I want at my funeral. These are displays of implied character, identity and perception; dressing like a wanna-be someone else. 

How do your aesthetic choices signal your personality? Your choice of clothes is part of your preferences, but you also have a limited wardrobe. And that wardrobe will indicate much more than personality: cultural background, class, occupation, etc. These aspects of personal identity contribute to the selection process. So there is a difference between what I think is great art, my personal preferences, and my own art collection.

Taste is more about background, experiences and education than character. Yet people with the same background may very different tastes. And people with very similar character traits may have very different tastes. Even extremes, like musical anhedonia, where people get no pleasure from listening to music, don’t reveal anything about the person.

Yet taste defines personality because we, or others, want it to. The human right and desire for identity are transferred into our tastes as it is onto other aspects of our life.

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

4 responses to “Taste & Personality

  • c21styork

    In my work as an oral history interviewer, I found it rewarding to ask about favourite books, films and music. It could be insightful of personality.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Were these rewards for the person opening up more? How do these insights about personality differ from insights about their background?

    • c21styork

      In my oral history work, I have sought to capture the essence of individuals as well as details of their lives as remembered. The questions about favourite books etc are rewarding for me, as the person creating the historical record by doing the interview, in achieving that goal.

      I have recorded nearly five hundred substantial oral history interviews since 1984 and it’s hard for me to remember how the questions about books and music etc were answered in terms of patterns. I don’t recall any surprises, though. Conservative types liked classical music while the more radical liked rock music, for instance.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks for that perspective on your experience. I can see why they were rewarding question for historical perspective and in telling the person’s story. However, starting with rock music and trying to find common points with people who liked it not be reveal anything about their personalities.

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