As I read through the first pages of Boffrands book Livre d’Architecture the part in which he talks about good taste most stood out to me and I was eager to find out more about what different people had to say about what a „good taste“, or taste generally, might be.
So I chose taste as the topic of conversation and picked „Library of Rousseau’s Friends“ as Alice’s brain, so that I could perhaps find a way to get closer to an understanding of what taste can be defined as.
In the Book Collected works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Rousseau states that „there must be societies in which people are fairly equal, where the tyranny of public opinion may be moderate, where pleasure rather than vanity is queen; where this is not so, fashion stifles taste, and we seek what gives distinction rather than delight. In the latter case it is no longer true that good taste is the taste of the majority.“ I found that Rousseau made a very interesting remark in this excerpt by showing why or in which cases pleasure or let’s say the personal sensory reception of things (i.e. architecture, buildings) holds more value or relevance than „main-stream“ taste.
Then I proceeded by using the same topic of conversation but this time I chose the Xenotheka library as Alice’s brain to find a more specific definition. I found the book Modern Architectural Theory by Mallgrave in which a Paper published in 1744 by the Academy of Lyons is mentioned. In that paper the architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot made known his opposition to the roccoco style and affirmed that „the rules are taste: taste defines the rules.“ and he concedes that he prefers „the creations of unstudied genuis to those of the uninspired pedagogue“. So Soufflot and Rousseau share the same opinion, though Rousseau does so in a more abstract way and not specifically in regards to architecture like Soufflot does.
So what is good taste? According to Boffrand, taste is the faculty of distinguishing something excellent from something simply good. One has more or less taste according to the number of degrees between good and excellent that can be distinguished. So following his theory, one could theoretically acquire taste or shape their taste to the better by studying the Art of Architecture. Which means looking at the best examples of the most reflected and researched priciples of architecture, which are defined by the Ancient Greeks. Boffrands take on taste is a very classic one that is in similar to what Vitruvius would’ve said. That doesnt mean that it contradicts Rousseaus or Soufflots definition of good taste, Boffrand just puts explicit emphasis on the principles that need to be respected and recognized. What is interesting too is that Soufflot as well as Boffrand understand taste to be built up by rules or principles that are developped over time and well thought through. Unlike Rousseau they put more value on what is approved of by a majority rather than just a subjective experience.