Friday, 4 July 2008

Nature or nurture?

The Three Graces by Antonio Canova, 1817.

Like The Three Graces, so too exist taste, flair, and elegance.
Where does it all stem from? Is it merely a manifestation of, or in some cases a reaction to, one's background ? Or, is it something more ?

An Aesthete' Lament regarding Hubert de Givenchy,
Something to ponder: Would he have been as elegant if he was a selfmade man and learned about taste on his own? Or does his elegance come from being a baron, ie having grown up in an aristocratic milieu?

Whilst taste can be taught, the same cannot be said of elegance. After all, good taste is nothing more than an accepted paradigm. Elegance is like flair, either one has it or one doesn't. Elegance is akin to the attainment of a state of grace. It is unshakable and immutable. Monsieur de Givenchy is one of the rare few who seem to have been born with it. One suspects, had he been born a peasant and been a pig farmer, undoubtedly he would have been the most elegant pig farmer the world had ever known.

In spite of her mysterious background, Gloria Guinness, dubbed La Ultima, was one of the most flawlessly elegant women of the XX Century.

Now playing: Sarah Vaughan - I'm Glad There's You
via FoxyTunes


lady jicky said...

I love the statue of the Three Graces . I think one is born elegant - its hard to teach but taste on the other hand can be if the person wants to learn.

Cote de Texas said...

What about Oscar de la Renta. I think he has such elegance and he came from, well, not much. Taste, yes. Elegance - with out a doubt. Looks? Can you be elegant and be ugly too? Or must you be gorgeously handsome to be elegant?

And I don't think you can aquire taste really. Good taste. YOu either have it or your don't imo.

Pigtown-Design said...

All of the money in the world doesn't buy good taste... see maison 21's most recent post about moscow mafioso!

Easy and Elegant Life said...

I believe that elegance can be acquired, but that one must be willing to acquire it, to unlearn that which is inelegant and retrain one's self to make the more elegant gesture, remark, or simply to choose the more elegant path. Then it becomes a question of refining one's presentation to the world. As with many things, ruthless editing is required.

Of course the effect may be too studied, at first. But shying away from affectation and with careful diligence, one may hope to follow in Archie Leach's footsteps.

Simplicity and restraint is to be much admired. Witness Mons. de Givenchy in the Charlie Rose segment. He is simply, but very well-dressed, nicely groomed and well-spoken. I believe, listening to his comments, that he is elegant because he makes the effort to be so.

Certainly a good upbringing is a tremendous benefit, as he would have been exposed to those with good manners who were used to living more graciously, during a more gracious epoch. But, wouldn't that have been learning by example?

And yes, I agree that taste is subjectively based on what is considered to be beautiful; but as a society haven't we embraced certain things/paintings/performances as empirically beautiful and therefore tasteful? Regardless of the prevailing fashions, wouldn't a painting by Ingres be beautiful? It is only those things on the extremes that have yet to be accepted as beautiful or tasteful that are suspect to our eyes. Training those eyes in the museums of the world and through wonderful resources like this blog, even allows one's tastes to evolve. (By the way, Thomas Fink has a wonderful essay on empirical beauty in "The Man's Book." In it he uses units of Helens-of-Troy to rate empirical beauty.)

Anyway, sorry to prattle on, but this is a topic that I find intrinsic to my pursuits. Thanks for the soapbox!

Mrs. Blandings said...

I adore Nora Ephron's opinion that "Everyone thinks that they have good taste and that can't possibly be true" or something along those lines. Elegance stems from self-esteem and empathy; those things can certainly be learned.