Taste: A Conversation between Makers and Users

Kuba artist, Kuba Kingdom, Democratic Repbulic of Congo, Cosmetic Box (ngedi mu ntey), early to mid-20th century, wood, tacks, and camwood (tukula), H. 3 x L. 13 1/4 x D. 3 in., Gift of James G. Hanes Memorial Fund

It might be easy to see how we employ our own taste through the consumption of goods and objects. Within a capitalist system, the open market is regulated, in part, by our demands of taste. We make purchases that meet our style preferences or expectations (which at times can be collective), and designers will often track these preferences when introducing new products. Our position as consumers then holds as much authority in the formal properties of any designed object as does the style and taste of the maker. In any exchange of goods, the aesthetic preferences of both creator and user affect the way the object will look, feel, and be used.

This exchange between producer and consumer is not only a collaboration within the open market, but it also can be seen quite directly in commissions and patronage. Most of the royal arts in Africa were produced by reputable craftsmen who were favored by a king or other dignitary. While the expertise of these craftsmen was usually highly valued by the royal court, there were still times when the royal patron would have some say in the outcome of the product.

Taylor Hunkins
Taylor Hunkins is a PhD student at UNC–Chapel Hill, current Huntley Scholar at the Ackland Art Museum, and curatorial intern at the NCMA.

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