The Conspiracy of Good Taste

Abstract

The main part of the original book and this website, 'The Conspiracy of Good Taste', is an examination of three middle class mediators of taste. William Morris with his influence on design and poetic expression and as a model of a 'political artist'. Cecil Sharp comes next because of his leadership in re-presenting a cleaned up version of working class culture back to the 'masses' through state education. Finally Clough Williams-Ellis who led in the repression of a modern working class vernacular housing and ushered in the wage slave mentality of the mortgage system. These three cover the period from the mid Nineteenth century to the mid twentieth.

In examining these case studies (mostly a critical reading of already published research) I try to look at the roots of classism in the biographies of the three men, and how they enacted the oppression, with as much attention to the mechanics of oppression as I could glean from the sources I had.

There is an introduction in which I recall the key readings, people and places through which I came to realise the significance of culture in class oppression and how it had effected my own life.

Chapter 1 outlines a basic theory of oppression and goes on to give a summary of the history of good taste using Howard Caygil's 'The Art of Judgement' as the main source. Following this is a critique of Pierre Bourdieu's 'Distinction' to bring the story of good taste into the late twentieth century.

Finally the book had a brief section on class identity in Britain, Germany and the USA corresponding to the geographical location of the previous history of taste, with a nod to the contemporary cultural dominance of the USA.

The web version adds short pieces of writing that I made in the wake of the original Working Press edition of 1993. Since the mid Nineties a wave of reaction has set in and there is much less freedom to think, discuss and publish about class oppression in this way. In spite of this Conspiracy of Good Taste seems to hold a place in the 'lineage of Arts debunkers', at least according to Dave Beech (Art Monthly February 2005 / No 283).

A new conclusion that was written for an intended second edition of the book is included. Here I point out that Lord John Reith, whose influence on TV through his leadership of the BBC, would have been a good candidate for a fourth mediator that would have taken the story firmly into my lifetime. But I get the impression that we no longer have a need of heroic mediators any more - the project has been intuitively taken up by the now numerous managers of culture.

Footnote: My key book sources were: E.P.Thompson's 'William Morris: romantic to revolutionary' (1955); Dave Harker's 'Fakesong: the manufacture of British folksong 1700 to the present day' (1985), for Cecil Sharp; Dennis Hardy and Colin Ward's, 'Arcadia for All: the legacy of a makeshift landscape' (1984), for an account of the 'Plotland' self-build that Williams-Ellis opposed; Howard Caygil's 'Art of Judgement' (1989), was m y main source for a history of taste through the writings of German and English philosophers.