William Hazlitt – “Gusto” (1816)

“Gusto in art if power or passion defining any object.” So already we have gusto–connected etymologically with the concept of taste–taking on an active, not merely receptive, role in relation to external objects. Furthermore,  gusto–in which the eye acquires “a taste or appetite for what it sees”–is the very thing causes the sense to becomes mixed, in which a visual scene (like a Titian painting) translates the corporeal element to the bodily senses: “where the impression made on one sense excites by affinity those of another.” This is why, when a painting has a lot of gusto, we want to touch them. The flesh is painted like flowers or like ivory, but like flesh itself. Paintings that lack gusto are often those that are “too perfect,” that rarify vision to such a degree that the other senses becomes “refined away.”

Taste (gusto) can be the means of defining an object. Can see in this an early version of Rancière’s distribution of the sensible–but one in which the outside world is NOT neutralized; rather, it’s power is translated in and through definition. DEFINITION is crucial here, as opposed to description, because it draws attention to shaping, defining power.


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