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"High" culture

Both high culture and low culture are minority cultures. The combined influences of both strains constitute mainstream culture. In this sense, mainstream culture equals culture. The purpose of Jahsonic.com is to demonstrate this thesis.

Compare: "low" culture - nobrow culture

Related: academic - art - auteurism - authenticity - author - avant-garde - bourgeois - canon - civilization - classic - classical music - connoisseur - contemporary art - creativity - culture - education - elite - erotica - Eurocentrism - fine art - genius - good taste - greatness - hegemony - hierarchy - high art - High Modernism - intellectual - literature - merit - museum - modern art - opera - orginal - quality - rockism - serious - Shakespeare - snob - theatre - theory - value

Mona Lisa (ca. 1503-1507) - Leonardo da Vinci


High, in a cultural context, refers to the wealthy or more sophisticated part of a culture, for example High Society --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High [Oct 2004]


High culture is a term referring to the "best of breed" (from some elitist viewpoint) cultural products. What falls in this category is defined by the most powerful sections of society, i.e. its social, political, economic and intellectual elite.

For example opera is considered high culture.

The absolute opposite of high culture is popular culture. -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_culture (Revision as of 20:48, 9 June 2005) [Aug 2005]

See also: culture - low culture


Highbrow is a colloquial synonym for intellectual. It can apply, adjectivally to music, implying most of the classical music tradition and much of post-bebop jazz; to literature, i.e. literary fiction; to films in the arthouse line. It is also used as a noun.

Egghead, which was American English and is now obsolescent, is a pejorative form: anti-intellectual. Other terms formed by analogy are lowbrow, and middle-brow. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highbrow [Mar 2005]

see also: high - high art - high society

The economics of high and low culture

Sometimes we distinguish between "high" culture, the items achieving greatest critical acclaim, and "low" culture, the most popular cultural items. Economic incentives support this split between high and low culture. Capitalism supports product diversity and gives many artists the means to work outside of the popular mainstream. The resulting split between high culture and low culture indicates the sophistication of modernity, not its corruption or disintegration. A world where high and low culture were strongly integrated would be a world that devoted little effort to satisfying minority tastes. Genres that rely heavily on equipment and materials, which I describe as capital-intensive, tend to produce popular art. Genres with low capital costs, which I describe as labor-intensive, tend to produce high art. The movie spectacular with expensive special effects is likely to have a happy ending. The low-budget art film, directed and financed by an iconoclastic auteur, may leave the viewer searching. -- Tyler Cowen in In Praise of Commercial Culture

High and low are concepts in flux

Although theater is now a highbrow form, this was not so until the nineteenth century. --Fringe and Fortune (1996) - Wesley Monroe, Jr., page 73

Historian Lawrence Levine articulated Shakespeare's popularity shift this way:

“By the turn of the [nineteenth] century, Shakespeare had been converted from a popular playwright whose dramas were the property of all those who flocked to see them, into a sacred author who had to be protected from ignorant audiences and overbearing actors threatening the integrity of his creations." --Lawrence Levine

Paglia on high art

Dear Camille:

My wife (an artist) maintains that film is today's art, that the adulation that was once reserved for poets, musicians and artists is now transferred to movie stars and the respect accorded to literature, music and art is now transferred to movies. Any thoughts on the puerile sentimentality that Hollywood is modeling for the country and how it is affecting the national psyche? -- Michael Karounos

Dear Mr. Karounos:

Your wife and I are clearly on the same wavelength! The master premise of my work is that the glorious Western high art tradition has shifted tracks in the 20th century and that popular culture is its true heir. I call this century, in fact, not Sartre's Age of Anxiety but the Age of Hollywood.

[...] I challenged the audience to name a single major, potentially enduring work in any of the high arts in the last 30 years since pop art, which closed the gap between high and popular culture and killed the Romantic avant-garde. Alas, the high-art well seems to have run dry.

Because of my lifetime love of pop, I am indeed alarmed at what you so correctly call "the puerile sentimentality" of the entertainment industry. My generation was educated by a rich range of popular culture, from European art films to virtuoso cutting-edge rock albums. Something has gone very wrong: Pop's blinding success has bred several generations now of pop parasites, who know only what has come just before them. Artistic history is out, and smirky juvenility is in.

As someone who has devoted her career (at great cost) to arts education, I am repelled by the increasing banality and superficiality of American popular culture, which is overrun by silly girls and vapid boys. There are tremendous opportunities for artistic achievement, but that requires strong, passionate personalities, not I'm-so-cool poseurs.

American talent seems paralyzed by a crisis of will. My prescription: Go study Bernini, whose lavish imagination and power of execution are writ everywhere in Baroque Rome. Where is the American Bernini? Male or female, your time has come! -- from http://archive.salon.com/col/pagl/1998/09/nc_29pagl.html

In Defence of High Culture (2001) - John Gingell

In Defence of High Culture (2001) - John Gingell [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
The authors attempt to outline a notion of high culture and its role within education, following a broad modern tradition springing from Matthew Arnold. The book is written with a concern for clarity and argument that is not always found within that tradition, and the authors reject the elitist conclusions of many who have followed the tradition, such as Eliot, Leavis, Bantock and Scruton. The different chapters deal with Matthew Arnold as the founder of this tradition, questions of choice and conceptions of culture, the notion of 'the best' that has been thought and written, popular culture, 'high culture' and how not to think about it, and with cultural pluralism and the plurality of cultures. A distinctive theme of the book is the plotting of a path between subjective and objective approaches to culture, and the drawing of parallels between the philosophy of culture and the philosophy of science. The authors make clear what they take to be the implications of their argument for education, and for secondary schooling in particular.

About the Author
John Gingell is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University College, Northampton.

See also: high culture

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