It probably comes as no surprise that I’m not the biggest fan of high art.
Oh, I like the good stuff, make no mistake. Whether you are talking about Mozart or Rembrandt, I get the appeal. I see it, hear it, appreciate it. But I don’t consider high art to be all that. And while I am well aware of the dangers and abuses of it, I think commercial at is vastly underrated.
Art exists on a spectrum (as do most things). At the one end, you have very simple art (a stick figure) and the opposite end, you have technical mastery (say, photorealism). Most people perceive of all art falling on that line. In reality, though, art is more like a circle. Technical expertise is tempered by the appropriateness to the subject matter. No matter how good your painting of a horse, it will rarely be appropriate for an episode of My Little Pony.
I feel many people mistake technical mastery for the whole of art. ‘Look how good a painter he is’, ‘hear how good she sings’. All well and true, and very worth recognizing and lauding. But what is being painted, what is being sung, how does it stand on its own and in connection to other works, where is it coming from both personally and socially? The last thing needed to appreciate art should be homework, but at the same time, art is not produced in a vacuum.
It is for this reason why I often hedge at revering high art. High art is often to me more of a technical display than a whole production. I can appreciate the mastery of Thomas Wolfe’s amazing wordcraft but I still find Look Homeward, Angel boring. Likewise can I appreciate the entertainment of Lost in Space episodes (the original, I haven’t seen the new series yet) while acknowledging how poorly written it tended to be.
Art in all its forms exists for consumption and to serve a purpose. Art produced without an audience is a tragedy, and art produced for no purpose is vandalism and graffiti. Art is meant to be experienced. High art has no certainty of superior experience any more than red wine has over a bottle of Coca-Cola. It depends on ones tastes, on ones context, and many other factors.
If you are a connoisseur of high art – old paintings, high-brow movies, elaborate meals – bless you and more power to you. But don’t get on your high horse about somebody who likes Star Wars video games and Snickers. Art is art and commercial art has every bit as much place in this world as the creations of antiquity.
If you’d like to hear more unhinged rants about art consumption, or any number of other topics, I will be at RavenCon this weekend in Williamsburg Virginia. The panel schedule is:
Come check it out!