Aesthetic Preference is a Recognition of Craftsmanship

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Christopher Carr

Christopher Carr does stuff and writes about stuff.

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19 Responses

  1. Avatar Sam says:

    My problem with the Bourdain scenario is that his experience in the shop was colored specifically by what he knew going in: he knew it was a landmark, he knew it was beloved, he knew it was important to a community. And wouldn’t you know it, he ended up liking the food. Had he disliked it of course, we never would have seen the segment, but more importantly, what would he have thought about that eel if he’d simply had it devoid of any of that additional information? Would it have been as good? As sensuous? As immaculate?

    The problem with these things is that they rarely survive blind tastings. People are influenced not just by the thing, but by what they know ABOUT the thing. As a result, their reaction to the thing is actually their reaction to the thing plus their reaction to everything they know about the thing plus their own individual histories. I don’t know why we have to pretend like that isn’t happening.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Sam says:

      “My problem with the Bourdain scenario is that his experience in the shop was colored specifically by what he knew going in…”

      …which is kind of the whole point of the show, so I’m not sure how your criticism is valid. Nobody’s “pretending like” the context is not part of the experience. Quite the opposite, in fact.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Does the eel taste good because it tastes good, because he wants it to taste good, because he likes places like that, or because of some combination of these factors? Would he have reacted to the food in the same way, in other words, if he hadn’t known where it came from or who made it?Report

        • Avatar karl in reply to Sam says:

          “It’s a naive domestic eel but I believe you’ll be amused by its presumption.”Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Sam says:

          “Would he have reacted to the food in the same way, in other words, if he hadn’t known where it came from or who made it?”

          See, I understand that you’re going for a “he thinks it’s great because he paid nine thousand dollars for it” argument, because you subscribe to the anti-intellectual belief that liking a thing independent of context represents some kind of aesthetic honesty. But the thing is, that’s not the point of the segment in question. Yes, if you just handed Anthony Bourdain a piece of grilled eel he might not enjoy it as much, but the purpose of the piece was not merely to put grilled eel inside Anthony Bourdain; the intent was an aesthetic experience which happened to include grilled eel.

          Sure, the kind of tea they use in Japanese tea ceremonies probably wouldn’t “survive a blind tasting”, but if you think that the intent of a tea ceremony is to drink tea then you’re badly missing the point.Report

          • Avatar Sam in reply to DensityDuck says:

            If there was anything intellectual about what was going on, it could be replicated in blind tests. That it can’t be seems to indicate that something else is going on, something that ought to be understood and acknowledges, instead of pretended away because it’s nicer to believe that experts really are what they claim.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Sam says:

              “If there was anything intellectual about what was going on, it could be replicated in blind tests. That it can’t be seems to indicate that something else is going on…”

              Yes! Something else IS GOING ON! That’s exactly what I and Carr and Bourdain and the show’s producers and the restaurant owners have been saying all along.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to DensityDuck says:

                So we’re both making the same point then. These judgments are influenced by all sorts of factors beyond the item itself and ought to be understood as such. Thus, it isn’t that the eel served at that stand is the most superior in all the kingdom, but rather, if you like historical venues and lifetime masters and eel served over a fire and etc etc etc, then this eel might be meet your needs.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Sam says:

                So is that a problem, then, as you first described? I don’t get the sense that Bourdain was ever saying anything but “I’m paying for an experience, not just an eel”.Report

              • Avatar karl in reply to DensityDuck says:

                The last time I said that I was arrested.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Sam says:

              I think Sam’s spot on here: The thrill of the high price lasts long after the quality is gone.

              http://www.slashfood.com/2011/04/15/blind-tasters-cant-tell-cheap-wines-from-expensive/Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Yes, I saw that, and my conclusion was that people who’d spent their entire lives driving the same Honda Civic probably wouldn’t be able to understand why a Lamborghini was so great if all they got was a five-minute test drive.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to DensityDuck says:

                DD,

                A Lamborghini isn’t so great if you’re looking for a reasonably priced car that’s going to run reliably for 10-20 years while giving you a place to safely put your children and your groceries. It’s only great within particular contexts, none of which is superior to any other.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to DensityDuck says:

            the point is to have “kisses at a distance”…
            unless my reading of manga has led me astray…Report

  2. Avatar Will H. says:

    I believe these conclusions are limited in utility.
    There’s a lot of stuff by Yes that is impeccable craftsmanship that is utter crap to my ears.
    Pepe Romero is another one that comes to mind.Report

  3. The length of time a craftsman successfully plies his craft or an institution fulfills its mandate is indicative in many cases of quality. Long life is a useful heuristic when evaluating a thing. The author of this piece makes this observation and then incredibly leaps to lend credence to the bullshit that surrounds the wine evaluation industry. Makes me laugh.

    http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/freakonomics-radio/freakonomics-do-wine-experts-or-prices-matter

    http://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/23/garden/wine-talk-847190.html?pagewanted=all&src=pmReport

  4. Avatar damon says:

    I think Keith is on to something here and said much that I wanted to say. I like good food and I don’t care if it’s in a white tablecloth environment or not-the quality of the food is paramount. I also like fine dining. When I go out and dine fine, I’m paying for “the whole experience”. Yes, I want to enjoy quality ingredients, artfully prepared. I also want to enjoy quality service, and have staff that can help me select a wine that will fit with the food ordered and that will appeal to my tastes.

    All the non food elements are key indicators, but not guarentors, of the quality of the food.

    Aside: I’ve had real japanese tea ceremony tea. It’s essentially green tea that’s kinda soupy and frothy. It’s actually not that bad. Since it’s concentrated it’s a bit astringent, but it has a purity of taste that is quite refreshing.Report