Before the eighteenth century, people either made or inherited most of the items they had in their homes. Some goods were bought, but only when strictly necessary. People didn't have - or want - much stuff.
Jump to the end of the century and everyone was a consumer. Shops were everywhere and retail therapy an important part of everyday life. The thinking around 'stuff' had shifted. Goods were no longer viewed as necessary household items, but instead they had become symbols of status and taste.
This shift happened for a number of reasons. Developments in travel and transport created a booming import and export market. Technological improvements created a thriving manufacturing industry. Rising prosperity and social mobility increased the number of people with disposable income. There was an explosion in the taste industries - Chippendale and Wedgwood produced catalogues to educate and entice.
Previously, the gentry had set themselves apart through their purchase and display of goods. Now that everyone was in on the act, they desperately needed a way to distinguish themselves and their 'betterness' from the masses?
Enter the concept of taste. It was no longer about how much stuff you owned, instead, the type of stuff was the indicator of class.
So far so splendid, but how did you know if you had good taste or bad taste? Could you simply rely on choosing what you liked? Was taste purely concerned with wallpaper, cutlery and porcelain? Or could it also be expressed in how you walked? your manners? the way you held a teacup? If you had bad taste were you a bad person?
The Spectator aimed to help. This periodical magazine tackled a range of topics from politics to fashions, manners to morality. One of their aims was to increase the number of women who were "of a more elevated life and conversation."
But there are none to whom this paper will be more useful than to the female world.....[readers should consider it] as a part of the tea-equipage and set aside time to read it each morning.
This week, for my magazine, I have been working on the the pages covering china, silver and glass: consumer items employed at a dinner party as plates cutlery and drinking vessels but also as symbols of the hostess's taste. And I have to say, the pages are looking neither tasty not tasteful. I've really struggled this week to find a way of illustrating the objects in a visually enticing manner. None-the-less, I'm going to post the progress so far, below.
Maybe I'm trying too hard to be tasteful. Pablo Picasso claimed
Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.
I shall go back to the draw board, indulge in some bad taste and post the results next week.