Taste breaks out of all rules: as soon as it is pigeon-holed it is dead. It must always renew itself, and be seen in new perspectives. Sometimes it can’t be recognised — but there is a hidden logic about it. The obvious becomes vulgar — and so taste has to invent something fresh and different — as with Francis Bacon on beauty: there must be something strange about it. What is good taste at one time is bad at another.

A certain amount of good taste can be acquired by reading, studying, and watching the wonders of the past. But it is an instinct that has to be nurtured. Some are born without it. It cannot be applied from outside (having a decorator in doesn’t fit the bill). John Betjeman is right when he talks about ghastly good taste — meaning the obviously tasteful. People should try to invent for themselves — only can something ‘alive’ be tasteful.

– letter from Cecil Beaton to the editor of House Beautiful, 1971

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