beauty and talent, thrown around


I’ve recently noticed two trends in quick judgment which I find interesting.

Beauty, as used for houses.  Multiple people have entered the modern row home in which I live and exclaimed, “Wow, this is beautiful!”  What I’m pretty sure they actually mean is, “Wow, this is new-looking!”  Our house is well-lit, spacious, and looks modern and new.  By what I feel are widely held standards for beauty in interior spaces, however, it ain’t particularly beautiful.  There’s little art on the walls, no molding or other wood finishes, the railings are metal, and there are no great views out the windows.  Perhaps my generation needs to read more Sunset Magazine.

Talent, as used for singing men.  Someone is fiddling around on a piano, and a man walks over and starts singing.  He has a good voice.  Then he sits down and plays one half of a duet with the original piano player.  Someone whispers, “That guy [meaning the singer] is really talented.”  This may be true, and a man’s ability to sing and play the piano is sign of at least some talent.  But “talented” without a modifier is sweeping, high praise, and to me this display doesn’t suggest that.  It’s just talent, skill really, in this one realm.  If someone picked up a hammer, drove a nail cleanly in two hits, then fixed a leaking garbage disposal, a bystander would not declare him “talented.”  What is it about singing and music playing that lowers the bar for witnesses to declare someone talented?

I find this second, talent-equals-singing phenomenon happens more with men than women.  If a woman drove a nail and fixed a garbage disposal, I might jump to calling her talented.  So maybe it’s gender roles we’re talking about. Incidentally, I have a garbage disposal that is making a weird noise.

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