Cultural Anthropology

Culture and Class Issues in Determining High vs Low Art Forms



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There are truly no "high" or "low" art forms anymore. Historically, those who controlled through power, religion, or money could dictate who was to be considered as the best of the art world.

Now, there is simply art, which symbolically communicates the ideas, beliefs, values, norms, and experiences of members of a society or social group. Art is traditionally and wrongly considered to be "high" art when the art sells at extremely high prices, is recognized by the intellectual and social elites, or is recognized by the educational elites, much do the disgust of many artists and members of society.

Human culture is where the concept of striving for excellence in matters of artistic expression has its origins. Art is the product of culture. Art is a product of all cultures, regardless of whether they are impoverished or whether they grab up most of the world's resources and wealth. And excellence in artistic works as symbolic expressions of human life, thought, and beliefs is possible anywhere and at any time that humans have free time to create such symbolic expressions.

A beautifully tricked out motorcycle or an exquisitely put together low rider vehicle is a masterful work of art, whether they ride high or low. A young urbanite who refines street dancing to an art form that is now incorporated into the mainstream of dance throughout the world has created the highest of classical art forms by dedicating time and effort to achieve cultural excellence.

A baroque music string quartet is a group of technicians who have mastered the rules for playing instruments according to codified musical directions, but baroque quartet music is not necessarily high art, unless the world's best musicians are interpreting the works and taking the music to the highest levels that it can be taken to.

Much of the most acclaimed and expensive modern and new visual art gains prominence as the result of hype, and in some cases, price fixing, as occurred with the Southebys scandal. The art is made to sell at the highest price possible and is made with the probability that it will increase in value over time. Judging the art for its comparative quality, excellence, and brilliance is another matter. The average citizen who purchases original artwork chooses what appeals to them on a symbolic and emotional level, which is why the mass produced prints of Thomas Kinkaid have reaped wide audiences and lots of money, while his peers languish in relative obscurity.

As a result, culture and class issues involve power, money, and the ability to channel the most power and money in favor of a particular artistic work. The masses make it clear as to their opinions of high or low art, as do the elites. But today, the elites no longer control who can publish and sell a book, expose their art to the world, or create a completely new school of music, dance, or theater. While most agree that the great artistic treasures of the past must be preserved and made available to the public for study and for understanding of culture, most also agree that the future of culture lies in the will of those who, but for technology, would be excluded or prevented from achieving to their highest potential to produce the best products of all cultures.




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