The Rabbit Hole of Taste

It’s interesting how there is a renaissance of chasing good taste lately. Perhaps it’s the Ira Glass quote that has everyone refocused on taste. I think it’s something that seasoned creatives of all kinds try to pass to the people they mentor — this pursuit of good taste.

This has a curious side effect. We each filter these sources of design, of music, of art, of literature — through our own unique perspective and personalities. What emerges on the other side is our artistic expression, our style.

But first, we learn by imitation. We absorb the work of the popular culture first. We are exposed to music, art, and writing when we are young, and this ignites the flame of curiosity.

This initial curiosity is what ends up pushing us further down the rabbit hole. We discover more about our favorite artists, and we learn what influenced them. We keep researching until we backtrack the source material, and find what influenced our heroes.

There is nothing new under the sun. But we keep finding new ways to present ideas in a way that is acceptable for our time.

Every great artist (or designer, or speaker, or writer) arrived not in a vacuum, but after years of reinterpreting the works that came before them.

The Rolling Stones were Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson as interpreted by five English guys. John Coltrane is mind-blowing even today, but it’s doubtful he could have existed without Django, Bird, Dizzy and Eddie Lang before him.

Every motivational speaker and business coach that exists today can be traced back to Napoleon Hill and Jim Rohn. Though technically, you could really say that goes all the way back to Cicero.

Flat design has less to do with what screens want than it does with the De Stijl and Bauhaus movements of the early 20th Century. Though it’s cute to think we are inventing ways of communicating information because we were the first generation to understand technology.

How amazing is it that the works of Homer, Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Aristotle, and Plato will be considered relevant long after anything that we create for the web today is dead and buried?

How do you create something timeless, that echoes for decades and centuries, influencing generations after you? You find your own taste by distilling your heroes down to their roots, filtering it though your own life experiences, and rolling the dice.

You are an agent of change with a ticking time limit on this planet. Dig deeper than you dared go before. Find the bones that today’s art and culture were built on and find what the corpus reliquia say to you. Find your voice by listening to those echoes from the past.