High an Low Art
Many people believe that the division into high and low art is already a thing of the past, that postmodernity effectively eradicated it. I would like to contradict this view by putting the thesis that the division of art into high and low always existed, and postmodernism changed only the relation to low art. A modern or modernist version of division into high and low art becomes a division into elitist and mass art. In the nineteenth century, well-known opposition of the mass art, subdued to market mechanisms, and the elitist art countering these mechanisms were formed. This opposition finds its extreme expression in the writings of Jose Ortega y Gasset and Clement Greenberg – representatives of the Frankfurt School. Mass art wants to be a popular art, it’s obvious, but the thesis does not always work. Whether or not a mass-produced objects belong to popular art depends not only on the producers, but also, and perhaps mostly – on the consumer. It is high time for aesthetics to become popular, posthumously appealing to Richard Shusterman, who was an American aesthetics theoretician. What aesthetics would bring to reflection on popular art? Shusterman says that aesthetics should validate popular art,but such legitimacy is probably unnecessary, because no one refuses popular art the status of art. It is also not clear why educated elites should contribute to improvement of popular art if this art is not addressed to them and it does not even provide any entertainment to them. It would mean putting popular art under the guardianship of the elite, and that would start a returning to some version of Platonism. On the other hand, one may wonder whether popular art is not constantly being improved by the industry, experts, psychologists, sociologists, marketing specialists and public employees. Of course, they are improving popular art in the context of box office. Post-modernity has not overcome the opposition of low art / high art, it only has redefined and changed our attitude towards it. Hierarchical tolerance and hierarchical pluralism thus replaced hierarchical intolerance. The proponents of high art have ceased to demand the liquidation of low art.