ON TASTES IN ART [THE SOVIET VIEW] *

Nikolai Shamota

There is a saying: Every man to his taste. And although sayings are usually considered to sum up popular experiences, this one must be approached with caution, for people do have tastes in common, after all. There are national similarities in tastes within very broad limits ranging from national music and dance to national costume. And there are tastes which whole classes have in common. It is sufficient to recall what Nikolai Chernyshevsky said about the different conceptions of feminine beauty among aristocrats and among the working people:

An extremely fresh complexion and rosy cheeks are the first criteria of beauty as the common people conceive of it. ...In short, in the descriptions of beautiful girls in our folk songs you will not find a single attribute of beauty which is not an expression of robust health and a balanced constitution....How different is the conception of feminine beauty in fashionable society! For several generations the young lady's ancestors have not done any physical work, and with each new generation the muscles of the arms and legs weaken, the bones become thinner, with the inevitable result that the bands and feet become small and delicate.

The tastes of people are formed by their conditions and manner of life. They have their origin in social practices, unite people and, I would say, most despotically interfere in the fate of art, subordinating it to themselves. Tastes dictate artistic programs and platforms, bring to life new schools and trends and decide the fates of those that are already established. They also determine the basic features of the dominating artistic method of a given period.

True, far from all writers and artists are sufficiently modest to agree that their art is but the individual expression of social tastes and predilections. They are under the impression that it is they who determine tastes. There is no doubt, of course, that art does influence taste and the artistic views of the public. It helps or, sometimes, spoils them. It creates its own readership and its own audience, and teaches them to understand and appreciate its conventions. But art can exert its

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*
From Soviet Literature, No. 12 ( Moscow: 1957).]

-27-

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