High art versus low art

Authored by: John A. Fisher

The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  April  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782869
eBook ISBN: 9780203813034
Adobe ISBN: 9781136697142


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Hamlet versus South Park; J. Alfred Prufrock versus Mickey Mouse; Beethoven's Fifth symphony versus Justin Bieber's “Eenie Meanie.” Such contrasts instantly evoke a familiar and important cultural divide, typically expressed as the distinction between “high” and “low” art. In spite of its familiarity, however, there are many different intuitions about what the general contrast is. Is it a contrast between art forms (e.g. poetry versus videogames; symphonies versus Top 40 pop songs) or between genres within art forms (e.g. avant-garde novels versus mystery novels), or is it a distinction between individual works in the same art form or genre (Wozzeck versus Turandot; Citizen Kane versus Conan the Barbarian; “A Day in the Life” versus “Louie, Louie”; West Side Story versus Hair)? The complexity of the distinction raises a number of basic questions: Do the terms express one fundamental distinction? Is that distinction theoretically coherent? Does it mark significant aesthetic differences and artistic value? Finally, what is the relation of this distinction to the concept of art?

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