Cultural Anthropology

Culture and Class Issues in Determining High vs Low Art Forms



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"Art shapes society through audiences." This is probably the truest statement out there. It can be argued that art has many functions. It can be used to entertain, to inspire, to make a statement, to empower or to control. Many sociological discussions have come about what is considered popular art. A mindlessly violent television show is still part of the art world of television, but it has been shown to have had some effect on society with the desensitization of the public in that violence that once was beyond belief is now commonplace. This would be art shaping society.

Subcultures are also a shaping factor in society. Each subculture produces its own art. Tattoos are a perfect example. At one point tattoos were only seen on men from the military, men who had done time in prison, gang members and bikers. Each one of these can be considered a subculture and they each had their own definitive tattoos. After much time tattoos have become so acceptable to society they are no longer part of a subculture of artists but mainstream - one can get a walk-in tattoo at the mall.

Society and art are both affected by the boundaries created and imposed upon it. There are two different types of boundaries; there are physical and symbolic boundaries. Physical boundaries are just that. They are the boundaries created by state, nation and landscape boundaries. Symbolic boundaries are ones that are created by society and the art worlds within the societies.
High and low art forms are symbolic boundaries.

What differentiates an artwork from being considered mainstream or folk-art? It is the boundaries we create that define this. In the physical boundary of the USA a quilt on the whole, is considered to be folk-art. Made by common people who are not considered artists but are considered as more of everyday people. They do not fit the romantic notion of an artist; therefore; they cannot be part of mainstream cultural art. Within a closer-knit community as in church the person/people who have made the quilt may very well be seen as artists because the symbolic boundaries have been created to include the quilter as part of the mainstream culture of art within that smaller society of a church.

Social classes are also institutions that define high and low art forms. It is culturally accepted in the US to believe that Rap and Hip-Hop music are forms of music that typically come from socio-economically deprived inner cities- AKA "the ghetto." Just because the artist may have left his deprived socio-economic status behind when the CD goes mainstream and big-time, the music is still constrained into that social class.

Much as Rap and hip-hop do not move up in social status it is believed that Classical music, i.e. Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart, do not move down. This music may not be part of the cultural mainstream, but they have a well regarded place in the upper classes. This status has to do with the availability of the masses to experience this music. Mainstream music can be heard everyday on the radio for free so it is available to everyone. Classical music, though sometimes available on certain radio stations devoted strictly to classical music is mostly listened to live.

These live shows are performed by Symphonies and the symphonies control their audience with ticket prices. The artist here are shaping society by having higher ticket prices; therefore, disallowing the economically challenged to participate in this experience. It becomes an artistic supply and demand.
This supply and demand creates a belief in high and low art forms. This controls the way society views art and artists.

Easily accessible art or art considered as Folk art is considered as low art forms because of its status and availability to lower social classes. High art forms are harder to partake in and, therefore, are able to hold their higher status and be considered as a privilege of being part of the upper classes in society.

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