Tuesday, January 13, 2015

High Art versus Low

There's a thread of thinking, one that I may have been guilty of to a degree, that runs like this:

Where do these "critics" get off, anyways, telling us what's good and what's bad? High Art is for effete overeducated probably liberal idiots. Give me some good old Norman Rockwell.

This is wrong in a bunch of ways. To be fair, kitsch is under-appreciated, but it's not like nobody goes to see those incomprehensible art house films. The good ones can make millions of dollars. It's not like nobody likes Cindy Sherman, tons of people go to her shows. If you don't know anybody who goes to art house films, maybe you need to make more friends.

The point is that the distinction between High and Low Art isn't real. It's not one kind of art for New York Faggots, and one kind of art for Real People. New York Faggots are, it turns out, just a real as you and I. There's just art, of various kinds of sorts. Some of it is more broadly appealing, some it only appeals to a small segment. Some of it is expensive, and some is cheap.

Critics aren't interested in your damned Peter Lik print because there's nothing to say about it. They are interested in Cindy Sherman, because she's challenging, she's pushing boundaries, she's trying stuff out. The fact that tons more people like Peter Lik than like Cindy Sherman is irrelevant.

The critic's job is not to figure out what the most popular thing is, and then sing its praises.

The critic's job is to find out what's new, what's interesting, what's powerful, and to talk about it. Even the simple reviewer's job is not to tell you what movies to go see. The reviewer's job is to tell you enough about a movie to let you make your own choice.

A critic, a reviewer, inevitably passes some sort of judgement on whatever they're talking about. This is an artifact of the process. The critic or reviewer has been thinking pretty hard about the thing, and has, as one does, come to some conclusions. These conclusions are shared as a matter of course with all the rest. Two critics may well arrive at differing conclusions, they are after all different people. Hurrah for dialectic, or something like that.

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