The concept of taste developed in the course of the eighteenth century, together with the idea of aesthetic experience and, indeed, with what in the next century would become the modern idea of art. Kant located taste in a mental faculty of aesthetic judgment, establishing the beauty (or sublimity) of some object of sense experience as a property of the human subject's response to it. Similarly, Hume took taste to be a matter of "the common sentiments of human nature" excited by objects of beauty. Beside these philosophically canonical authors stand the writers of essays, pamphlets, poems, and treatises exploring taste as a human response to the worlds of nature and art. What they all share is the idea that taste represents a natural response of human beings to sensory experience, providing a basis for judging degrees of beauty (or, as a more recent terminology has it, of quality).
Although it has lost its preeminent place as a philosophical concept, taste remains an important category of everyday life, both to describe the range of human preferences and to serve as a standard for judging those preferences. However universal the faculty of judgment may be, tastes notoriously differ. Furthermore, difference-so class society operates-implies inequality, and to the ranking of objects corresponds a hierarchy of subjects, from the sensitive and knowledgeable connoisseur to the ill-informed vulgarian. As Pierre Bourdieu puts it, "taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier." 1 Those with taste recognize others like themselves by their agreement on judgments of quality, or at least by disagreements within an accepted range of preferences. In this way judgments of taste produce social classifications. This is particularly true, Bourdieu argues, with respect to taste in art.
Since the capacity for a judgment of taste about a work of art requires knowledge of its place within the array of objects and performances making up the domain of art, and thus a familiarity with that domain, the capacity for aesthetic experience depends on certain formative experiences-having art in the
1 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, tr. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984). Henceforth cited in the text.