The appreciation of art and the cilantro effect
Cilantro, also known as coriander. In Arabic, it’s called kuzbara. I love this stuff. However, two of my children can’t stand the taste of it, while they are not difficult eaters. In fact, none of our three kids are.
Scientific research has revealed that liking or disliking kuzbara has a genetic component, which makes it taste like ‘soap’ to about 14% of humans. To me, this is a discovery not only of scientific, but also of philosophical value.
It’s not only food that is subjective. ‘There is no accounting for tastes’, says an old English proverb. and how true that is. Why do some people hate grilled tomatoes, while I am one of the first to try and pick them out from the mixed grill dish? But let’s take this one step further. Let’s extrapolate it to art.
Some people like hard rock or metal, while this is ‘noise’ to others, why is that? Why are some into classical music, while others feel that it misses a good beat? Some people hate Stevie Wonder, while others consider him a musical legend, but what causes this difference in perception? Why is not everyone a fan of Picasso’s?
Here it goes, another step, even further. Is someone who doesn’t like Stevie Wonder musically illiterate? Is someone who doesn’t like Picasso an anti-cultural barbarian? The answer is: no.
While liking and disliking things apparently in some cases has a genetic component, there are many other factors that shape our palette of tastes. Exposure, peer-pressure, association, they all play a role. Psychologists have researched this extensively (recommended reading, really, it’s very interesting).
When it comes to expressive arts, we can therefore conclude that expert advice is only worth so much. People usually defend their opinions about art vehemently, often forgetting that their view is mostly influenced by their taste, despite their own rationalizations. They don’t consider their opinions to be merely opinions: they may cognitively realize that they are, but they treat them emotionally as if they are facts. People can sometimes actually have genuine fights, merely from having different opinions about things that in reality boil down to that one simple thing: taste.
So, what do we get out of all this? It simply comes back to that old English proverb: there is no accounting for tastes. And while so-called opinion-makers make a living out of criticizing movies, music, paintings and books, in the end, what really counts, is: did the people enjoy the art? The rest, basically, resides in the murky realms of irrelevance. However, since people like reading such critiques (myself included), these critics fortunately also get to earn a buck to pay their rent.
There may be one exception to all of the above: purely technical feedback. However, even that can in some cases be disregarded. There is, after all, art that to some people is fantastic, while being utterly unimpressive from a technical point of view.
Art is communication. All you need to decide for yourself is: does it talk to me? Do I like it? Does it appeal to my senses? And if the answer is yes, enjoy and digest it to your heart’s content. If the answer is no, all you need to do is walk away. You usually aren’t in a situation where you are forced to express your disgust at it – unless it is your own emotions that make you do so. Don’t fool yourself that you are being constructive when you slam it; you just genetically don’t like coriander, know what I mean?
When you are defending your opinion about art, whether positive or negative, never forget that it is just an opinion, not a fact. And when you are eating Sayyadiyyeh (a traditional Arabic fish dish that has a lot of coriander), and loving it, don’t forget to praise and thank the cook.
P.S. Check out my new song at:
More news will follow about this new release soon!