A couple of years ago I participated in an amateur tasting of American wines. Of the Zinfandels we tasted, my favorite was a Seghesio because it was rather restrained and felt Old World-ish. I suppose it's not the typical cult Californian Zinfandel; the wine that fit that mold was a Helen Turley Zin, which was so alcoholic and over the top it was like drinking rum.
I wonder: should I have scored the Seghsio the highest because I liked it more and it was more in line with what I look for in a wine? Or should that honor have gone to the Turley because it is more typical of what a Californian Zinfandel "is all about"?
This simple question is actually quite complex. It can be broken down into several related questions:
- Should you judge a wine according to your own tastes or accoording to what you perceive to be some objective standards?
- Are there actually any objective standards, truly? Or are we always bogged down by cultural and stylistic expectations?
- How much should stylistic typicity be a factor in scoring?
I hope it's obvious I'm all for individuality in tasting wines. In all areas of aesthetic enjoyment for that matter. There are, I agree, some objective standards but the lines are fuzzier than people would admit. Someone who drinks Californian Chardonnays all the time might perceive them as being balanced while I would see the oak as overwhelming the fruit and throwing the wine out of balance. On the other hand, I can read subtleties in Rothko while you might think it's boring crap. The point is, if I'm right - and I'm always convinced I am where art, in any form, is concerned - then I should be able to convince you of the internal logic of my aesthetics and that's how I personally bridge the gap between subjective and objective standards. Standards are always subjective but the ones that make enough sense to convince a lot of people are perceived as objective.
This need to convince other people explains why cultural differences are such bummers. I can't cite any actual research but I recall reading that certain cultures can't really grasp melody and harmonics, so don't try to explain Mozart to them. And of course, most people won't grasp modern art at once without stepping through, at least superficially, the various art forms that led to the explosion of non-figurative art in the 20th century; thus Aunt Shoshana thinks Rafi Lavie reminds her of her 4 year old granddaughter's drawings. Cultural differences also explain why most of my friends scream when I put on the Minutemen.
I will now attempt to tie all this in with styles and genres and the appreciation thereof. I believe in change in art through evolution rather than revolution. There are been very few heralds of artistic revolution, few instances where a new style/genre was created from scratch. Even Picasso didn't invent Cubism overnight, but it was rather a long process influenced by other art movements of the time and neither did he do it all by himself. I'll be a bit sarcastic now and say that most people will follow the flavor of the month like sheep. However, art movements are led by wolves who are smart and idiosyncratic enough to tweak existing art forms, giving at least a passing nod to tradition, and in the end coming up with something new. There is never a truly clean break, though, you can always find predecessors if you dig in deep enough. Having come up with something relatively new, a "whole new thang" will only become entrenched in the public mind if it convinces and makes sense to a strong core of individuals and then slowly seeps into the general public. Yes, I am in fact refering to Richard Dawkins' concept of the meme, which explains how ideas evolve and survive in a process similar to genetic evolution.
The only way you can play in the meme game is if you judge a work of art by your own individual taste. If it's convincing enough to alter your tastes and make you re-think your outlook, then all the better and tough luck if it can't. By following your own taste, you are not only being true to yourself, but in the end you are helping create a more vital, more robust, art form. Because only the strong survive (or the most unique or the most memorable or the most useful or, you know what, the most commercial). If you try to second guess what other people might enjoy, you're fooling yourself, and, worse still, the public - if you're a professional critic.
So, to answer my own question, yes, I should have given the Seghesio the higher socre.