Monday, February 12, 2007

High vs. Low

Something I think about quite a bit is the distinction between high and low, art and entertainment. The two polar views don't work for me at all; the one side insisting that high culture and mass culture are at absolute odds with one another, and the other side stating that there is no longer any distinction whatsoever. I think fine art and pop culture are in fact different, but it's a very slippery matter; one will almost always have characteristics of the other, and I've never really come up with a way to describe the difference which I found satisfying for very long.

The 2/5/07 issue of the New Republic has an article by Jed Perl about the overheated art market. He chimes in on the high/low debate in a way that I haven't thought of before, and I think I like it a lot:

"It is in the very nature of popular culture that its pleasures are the ones we share with a wide range of people simultaneously. And it is in the very nature of high art that its pleasures are ones that we experience as individuals. To insist upon this distinction is not to say that one experience is better and one is worse, it is only to clarify the character of each experience. The art in popular culture has everything to do with creating a work that catalyzes a strain of feeling in the mass audience. High art operates in a completely different way, for each viewer comes to the work with the fullest, the most intense, the most personal awareness of the conventions and traditions of an art form. The essential high art encounter is a private encounter - but we are living in the YouTube era, when people are often uncomfortable with privacy, with its challenges and its revelations. The intensity of the high art experience has everything to do with a disengagement from the pressures of the present. It is the unquantifiable experience par excellence."