Good Taste and Where to Find It

Good Taste and Where to Find It

Erlend Firth

Exploring the anthropology of the middle class, I will apply my own biographical narrative in this autoethnographic study. Part of the methodology of my research is in making objects that relate to the facets of my research. I am interested in the way that media represents the middle class and its obsession with materiality, and hope to uncover what this object affinity means. This strand of research has perpetually been woven into my creative practice, having previously studied the the luxury of television sitcom Frasier, the semiotics of domesticity in BBC cookery show Nigella, and even earlier, though in some ways not as aware of the connotations I produced a series of domestic collages for my application to art schools in 2012.

Responding to my reading, I have conceived and executed scenes that reflect key issues I have uncovered, and in true millennial style I have included myself as the “character” in the essay narrative. The making of the props that form the backdrop or setting of these images mirror the way in which we use our possessions to define ourselves.

The aim of the research is to investigate the aesthetic capitalism of middle-class householders. Addressing the way in which these householders use objects to act as props that aid our understanding of themselves, I investigate the agency of objects beyond their intended use and address the semiotic implications of class and capitalism.

Reflecting on my research and its relevance to the subject of interior design, I have asserted my belief, influenced by Miller, that everybody is indeed a museum curator, but also suggest that everyone is perhaps in a sense an interior designer too. Like the middle class, the boundaries of interior design can be unclear, and the subject is prone to misinterpretation, resulting in people believing they posses a spot within the group. Granting householder’s the title of museum curator, it seems unkind to deny them this profession too, for it is no more worthy. We can call these home decorators ‘technical interior designers’.

When setting out to do this research, my aim was to investigate how we use our belongings as props, with the view that these props were static and futile. Latour and Harman give agency to these objects on par with that of their owners, giving the objects an active role as symbols and signifiers of their own and their owner’s histories.

My research suggests that middle class taste comes as a result of a constant semiotic reading of aesthetics. If the middle class taste is a self governed order that reads signs and their implications, and then grants approval, I argue that what makes the middle class ‘middle class’ is the employment of semiotics to determine their own societal position using their cultural capital as the tool. Through the curation of their interior spaces, the middle class tell their own stories through objects, and invite visitors to read them. However the objects have agency and can signify accidentally as well as intentionally. An ever-expanding middle class becomes defensive of its cultural capital and makes subdivisions to defend its core.

Using creative research as a means to illustrate my findings, I have placed myself within a series of tableau which explore first of all, the ways objects act as agents and signifiers, quite apart from utility or function. I then explored the aesthetics of capitalism and the ideal object, staging an ideal kitchen. I found myself wanting when analysing conspicuous consumption, before posing for a nostalgic representation of inheritance and the affinities we build up to inalienable objects. Our attachment to inalienable objects and a tendency to be sentimental about our immediate social history might give the impression that the objects that fill our home are entirely personal – but that would not explain their ability to signal and sustain a discourse of taste.

Perhaps on varying levels the middle class are conscious of their size. From a minority of factory owners they have grown to become an enormous social majority. For the established middle class, the residue of the sense of being an exclusive minority remains. It is through their cultural capital that they fight, ever more insistently, to assert that they are different – against the idea that as any other measure might suggest – financial capital or leisure time, say – they might be the same as everybody else.



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