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Skill Doesn’t Matter If You Lack Taste (nathanbarry.com)
58 points by obtino 1232 days ago | 42 comments



Reminds me of Ira Glass on taste and work:

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take awhile. It's normal to take awhile. You've just gotta fight your way through."

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I love this quote. Everytime i read it, it reminds me that it is fine if i feel that i am producing crap. I just need to keep on working at it and eventually i'll do fine

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I like the quote, but am always turned off by the use "good taste" there, where it seems more appropriate to say "a particular taste."

You create because you have a particular taste, you are successful if you have "good" taste as measured by the market. Also because you are self-critical and self-aware; you can't improve until you realize that your current output is crap.

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"If you watch the newer Star Wars movies pay attention to the transitions near the end. When they are switching between each of the battle scenes they use Powerpoint style transitions. Dissolve, blinds, swipe. It’s an amateur effect in a movie that is otherwise very technically difficult and visually impressive. The skill is there, but taste is lacking."

I'm sure the use of dissolves and wipes in the newer Star Wars movies had absolutely nothing to do with the previous Star Wars movies using those everywhere. I'm sure it was a lack of taste on the part of the editor.

If anything those were the best parts of those movies, they were at least consistent.

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To add to this, those wipes are very deliberate homages to the Flash Gordan serials and other films from that era that George Lucas watched as reruns when he was a child. Those exact wipes were in the originals too. Its just a fun little thing they put in the movies to give this quick-paced serial feel to them and to pay homage to 30s sci-fi no one really cares about.

I'm so sick of this Lucas bashing. He is incredibly talented and his unforgivable crime was growing older and not having the fire, drive, and hunger his younger self had. Instead he gave us good sound, amazing video games, all manner of extended universe fun, etc. Its just amazing the swipes people take at him. I noticed these people don't swipe at the Stones or Dylan for producing lack luster content in their golden years. Funny how that works. Hell hath no fury like a nerd scorned...

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Some people argue that the real reason the latter movies all sucked was that Marcia Lucas, his partner, creative collaborator, and film editor, left him. George might have had a thousand goofy ideas, but by some accounts Marcia had all the taste.

Chrome is flagging this link as malware, but I assume it was some bot infection they've cleared up. I don't see anything bad happening when I view the page load in a debugger.

http://secrethistoryofstarwars.com/marcialucas.html

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Part of that is because Dylan produced two great albums (Love and Theft and Modern Times) in the last decade, and Together Through Life wasn't half bad either.

And plenty of people have remarked that the Stones haven't been relevant in forever.

But I think more people are angry that he won't leave the original trilogy alone.

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I think that point was completely lost on the OP.

As far as lack of taste is concerned, people need to be more self critical and understand their limits.

I'm a good engineer, but not so great designer, so it's a lot more cost effective for me to find a good designer to work with.

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I agree and might go so far as to say the transitions were in good taste. "Taste" seems to me like a fairly generic word that can be easily misused. To me, taste implies consistency with tradition as well as good design, etc., but the OP seems to think that taste is directly synonymous with good design.

If he really wanted to use an example of bad taste from the new Star Wars movies, it seems like everything Jar Jar would have been the easy target.

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True, but that would be talking about script and character development rather than design.

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Ah, but that's our point I think. You mean to talk about design, but taste is not synonymous with design. If you mean to say that the SW screen wipes are terrible design even if they're properly implemented, I think you'd have less people squawking. But you said they were bad taste, which is subjectively incorrect because they are in keeping with the older films.

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How do you feel taste is different from good design?

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For what I just mentioned. Taste encompasses more than just design. Wikipedia actually describes it pretty well in my opinion: "Taste as an aesthetic, sociological, economic and anthropological concept refers to a cultural patterns of choice and preference." I would say design only really addresses aesthetic. Tomato tomahto maybe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste_(sociology)

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>> I think that point was completely lost of the OP.

Totally agree.

Here's the weird thing for me.

The title "Skill doesn't matter if you lack taste" is a gross oversimplification. One that can be countered with the another oversimplification "Taste doesn't matter if the work you produce is ineffective".

The two points he makes (Star Wars and Local TV ads), while tastefully written, don't seem to be (to me at least) fully fleshed arguments that support the post's thesis.

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Site does not render well on the iPad and a really poor choice of fonts for the title were what lost me. Never criticize condem or complain, people in glass houses, well..

I'm not trying to be overly negative I'm just pointing out a few things I noticed *palmslap bad Kenrik.

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It's pretty awful on a desktop, too. Here's what I see on my 1280x1024 screen with a browser taking up nearly all of that vertical space:

http://imgur.com/Z6aeQ

Where's the content?

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I'll have to check out the rendering on the iPad. Thanks for pointing out that bug.

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You're right. That was lost on me. I remembered the transitions in the original Star Wars, but didn’t think they were so over the top. Now I need to go back and watch the original films to see how bad they really are.

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By the by, the wipes Lucas used in the original Star Wars trilogy were inspired by the way Kurosawa (one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, say Wikipedia) used wipes and "help evoke a kinship to old pulp science fiction novels and serials." They are supposed to be campy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wipe_%28transition%29

At some point in their career I think everyone learns that a "good taste" and artistry requires a solid knowledge of history, regardless of whether you choose to build on it or depart from it. The naive approach only gets you so far. The old anecdote about how young Picasso trained on more traditional art techniques before becoming free to go off into the deep end.

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It's interesting to read about where they have been used. I think the effects that bothered me the most were the blinds and dissolve transitions.

"You will find as you develop in your career that a well-developed taste requires a good knowledge of history, regardless of whether you choose to build on it or depart from it."

I agree completely.

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That sort of cluelessness from the author of the post and the craptastic generic looking site it was on, really helped determining the importance of the article.

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That was my first thought and you're totally right but lets not miss the point here. Let's just assume the author didn't know this about the Star Wars franchise and let it go. I'm glad people brought it up though because I'm a huge Star Wars fan and I couldn't let it go either.

Despite this mistake I'm the post his point still stands. People learn all these skills but fail to understand when to properly use them. A lot of visual design tools like Photoshop have the ability to let you create incredibly complex, technically challenging works but just because you can doesn't mean you should.

This seems like a newbie mistake. Newbie learns cool new thing and them uses it everywhere because he can. Usually the cool new thing is more difficult and complex than other things newbie knows and somehow people begin to think harder is better.

We're essentially talking about how to use tools. As you fill your toolbox with new tools it's important to remember that every tool has its place and just because you've added a more powerful tool to your box it doesn't mean that from now on that tool should be used in lew of the others. If that were the case then you'd only need one tool. Each time you got a new more powerful tool you'd throw away your old ones and that's exactly what happens a lot of times.

I think that phase passes for most of us though and I don't think it's taste that makes people do this too. Rather than taste being the issue I believe it's a matter of skill. Learning how to use more complex and powerful tools is a good skill but an often overlooked skill is learning how all those tools work in concert and knowing when to use which combination. People who work in design especially usually have good taste to begin with, so it isn't taste that's lacking. Instead they're just so enamoured with their growth that they lose the forest for the trees whenever they level up.

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Taste doesn't matter if you lack skill and knowledge.

The linked post is a fine example of a tasteful message falling completely flat because it was argued without skill or sufficient knowledge. i.e. It was pretty much undone by the use of a stupendously and hilariously wrong example: Lucas' love for (and homage to) Hollywood-serial era transitions.

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“It is good taste, and good taste alone, that possesses the power to sterilize and is always the first handicap to any creative functioning.”

- Salvador Dali

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Reminds me of a certain hardware company.

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'Blaring messages about sales, quickly spoken copy, and flashing graphics are not going to make anyone look fondly on your brand...Rewrite your script. Never use phrases like “4 easy steps.” '

Tell that to direct marketers who very deliberately create such advertisements. While your statement may have validity, I would argue a more important point:

"Taste doesn't matter if you lack sales."

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"Taste doesn't matter if you lack sales."

A lot of things don't matter if you lack sales. And I should say that good taste is certainly not a prerequisite to sales.

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Taste is subjective and fleeting. The once lauded tastes of the 90s are now regarded as oh so dreadfully pedestrian by enlightened contemporary minds.

The crux of taste is rooted in celebrity worship and group think. Taste is a roll of the die and a hope that your vision resonates with those around you. It's no coincidence that every great artist is eventually regarded as jumping the shark; their tastes evolve or remain static, but time tends to displace the alignment between one's taste and the world around them (hence the need to "stay on top" of the latest trends).

Taste is almost negligible.

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Taste is subjective and fleeting. The once lauded tastes of the 90s are now regarded as oh so dreadfully pedestrian by enlightened contemporary minds.

You seem to have specific examples in mind. I have no idea what they are on this side of your skull. More specific language would be appreciated.

The crux of taste is rooted in celebrity worship and group think. Taste is a roll of the die and a hope that your vision resonates with those around you.

A lot of what is called "taste" is group think. Not all of it is, however. In addition to "taste" there is also Taste. A number of the hallmarks of Taste in instrumental music, like the ability to use slight modulation of rhythm to convey the visceral feeling of specific dance steps, are demonstrably cross cultural and enduring across generations. Many of the hallmarks of Taste in visual design (rule of thirds) have endured over hundreds of years. Note that these examples are rooted in the function of the human sensorium -- that's not coincidence.

This isn't to say that absolutely everything Louis Armstrong's contemporaries did still resonates today. It also isn't to say that absolutely everything the old masters painted resonates with 21st century viewers. But note how much of what Louis Armstrong and Michaelangelo did which still resonates and which contemporary artists still include in their practice. We now know from science that people are not "blank slates." This notion was just an ideological fiction. Our senses and perceptions mostly work in a particular way, and this is bound to give rise to Taste.

That said, you are mostly right, and our functioning as social animals with the ability to maintain ideologies as a group bonding mechanism also gives rise to "taste."

Taste is almost negligible.

If by this, you mean that the ratio of Taste/"taste" is frustratingly close to zero, I'd say you're right. Groupthink is agonizingly powerful, but that's only most of what there is, not all of it. (Sturgeon's Law)

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You seem to have specific examples in mind. I have no idea what they are on this side of your skull. More specific language would be appreciated.

That was a bit tongue-in-cheek, my point is that tastes are in a state of perpetual change and instances that are regarded as representations of "good taste" are generally reflections of today's zeitgeist. Taste (as in gustation) is a good analog for social taste; people have a general idea of what tastes good to other people, but they almost always know what they like to eat and they also know that everyone is different and preferences in taste vary over time and by location. A good chef (someone that might be regarded as having good taste), certainly has his own preferences, but his skill is the capacity to engineer a dish that meets the requirements of any taste (because "good" depends on the taster)

A number of the hallmarks of Taste in instrumental music, like the ability to use slight modulation of rhythm to convey the visceral feeling of specific dance steps, are demonstrably cross cultural and enduring across generations.

What you describe are skills. Someone who "has taste" simply has preferences that align with those around them; catering to taste is just marketing. This is not to say that works of intrinsic merit don't exist, but those who can appreciate the finer details of a given work (in any domain) are rare, thus we rely on the social taste as a heuristic for determining which things are good. Those who pay little attention to the trends around them and simply serve their own preferences/apathy are regarded as tasteless. Even those cheesy Star Wars transitions were hip at one time.

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What you describe are skills.

They are not just skills. The things I am referring to are tied to >awareness<. I say this as a musician of 23 years. Just because you have the neuromuscular resource to replicate a certain rhythm doesn't mean you know when and why to do so. (And if one has an incomplete understanding of exactly how you're trying to tweak the sensorium, one might also mess up the "how," yielding something that falls into an uncanny valley.) There is a certain knowledge of how and when and why which has to do with focused awareness of the moment and how the human sensorium works. This is tied to deep concentration, which seems to be the kind of deep concentration that meditation enthusiasts talk about. ("Being in the moment" is a part of this, but I don't think that's the totality of it.) This is why so many musicians emphasize >listening<.

This is not to say that works of intrinsic merit don't exist, but those who can appreciate the finer details of a given work (in any domain) are rare, thus we rely on the social taste as a heuristic for determining which things are good.

The former is Taste, the latter is "taste." The latter is like the people who only know they should become enthusiastic when opera singers hit the high note.

Those who pay little attention to the trends around them and simply serve their own preferences/apathy are regarded as tasteless.

This depends. Those who serve their own "taste" and fail to keep up with trends are eventually regarded as "tasteless" because they are using an outdated set of expectations. However, those with Taste, while they might be temporarily disregarded by those with "taste," eventually withstand the test of time. Often, when we are lucky, those with Taste set the trends.

Even those cheesy Star Wars transitions were hip at one time.

Yes, but when it comes to Taste, what matters is how well those transitions work in the context of the work they're in. Certain paints, techniques, themes can go in and out of "style" but what really matters is: did it work? (At a deeper level than mere expectations.)

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Steve Jobs had taste, I doubt he was subject to groupthink, though.

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Steve Jobs had a vision and the skills to manifest that vision into a real product that could be mass produced and sold for a profit. He may have had taste, but that's nothing special, every celebrity has taste as far as their legions of fans are concerned.

I'm not entirely convinced that taste is really all that relevant when considering the success of iOS. Apple engineered a very tiny computer that completely eclipsed all other phones on the market in terms of feature set (large touch screen, gps, edge, wifi, IM, e-mail, mp3 player, visual voicemail, motion controls, modern browser, integration with iTunes ecosystem etc). Details like icon spacing, bezel width, and font kerning really didn't matter at the end of the day.

Finally, if Steve Jobs had any taste, it certainly wasn't appreciated by the masses who pay extra to obscure the iPhone's design with a phone case that favors their personal taste.

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Taste depends on expectation and convention. There's no absolute standard to apply, only local and traditional practices.

As others have pointed out, the Star Wars transitions are part of the conceit of the movies. As an old fart, I grew up watching the movie serials that the Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, movies are made in homage of. If you aren't familiar with them then you are watching a very different movie than I am.

This is probably one of the reasons that I rather like the prequels; I'm viewing them in the context that they were created in. If Lucas erred it was in expecting future generations to be aware of the context and not expecting them to simply take the movies at face value. Since the movies made a lot of money, I don't feel he erred by much.

Lucas also is referencing a lot of post war Japanese film narrative technique; this is less critical to "reading" the film, though.

I've never heard anyone who knows about film narrative technique say that Lucas was an "unskilled" film maker. As for the films literary quality, YMMV.

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I posit that taste is a skill. There's no reason why someone might be able to work to become better at understanding, distilling, and working with known stylistic & cultural touchstones.

Of course, the meaning of "taste" in general is also ripe for a huge argument about semantics between folks with some free time on their hands.

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I think you're right that "taste is a skill." I think a lot of people would appreciate content on developing taste.

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I posit that this argument is true in proportion to how much freedom you have to accomplish a task.

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Related reading: Taste for Makers by PG http://www.paulgraham.com/taste.html

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Does anyone see the irony in referencing Star Wars in an article on taste. Not to mention the cinematic blasphemy of indirectly comparing Kurosawa to MS Powerpoint!

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"when you don't create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create." - _why

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Kind of ironic that the title of the post is written in an extremely tasteless font.

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Skill is secondary to utility

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