Anyone interested in taste whether in food, wine, the arts, or taste in whom you associate with, must contend with the charge of elitism since having good taste is not a widely distributed character trait.
I came across this quote from Robert Hughes, the dearly departed, vituperative art critic who never minced words when sending up the follies of the age. It is a simple but effective response to the charge of elitism.
“I am completely an elitist, in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work, or a good carpenter chopping dovetails, or someone tying a Bimini hitch that won’t slip.”
Indeed. Is there anyone who prefers the bad to the good?
Yet, the very same people who defend the merits of great sports stars and believe fervently that only the best should be elected to the Hall of Fame get worked up at the suggestion that one wine is better than another or that some books are worth reading and others aren’t. These are the same people who object to the claim that a professional film reviewer is a better judge of film than the “man on the street.”
If you believe in the importance of skill then you must make distinctions between the skilled and the unskilled.
But note the important distinction Hughes makes. He is a cultural elitist, not a social elitist—he doesn’t think the elite should rule or have privileges not available to everyone. He just thinks there is a difference between the good and the bad and we can and should recognize the difference.