Re: RARA-AVIS: letting time sort it out

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 22 Jun 2006

At 05:02 PM 21/06/2006 -0400, you wrote:

>Brad wrote:
>"It's worth bearing in mind that pretty much everything we now think of
>as 'high art' - the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Mozart, the
>novels of Melville - is simply the popular culture of the distant past
>(or rather that part of the popular culture which has withstood 'the
>test of time')."

I'd challenge this even more strongly than Mark. Shakespeare, I suspect, is an exception and for a number of reasons. Most of what we consider high art, at least historically, survived on the generosity of wealthy patrons when it was produced, not concert ticket and souvenir sales. I'm not sure who filled the orchestra pits at the premiers of Greek tragedies, but my understanding is that Romans preferred spectacle over pantomime at the coliseum. And how many of those tragedies, medieval morality plays or folk songs survive today? More than a handful, however masterful their creators? And Mark said:
>In fact, a pretty good argument could be made that most
>acclaimed 20th Century art alienated the public, from Dada to Damien
>Hirst. As the art industry grew, and as it became more and more a
>signifier of class, it became more important to limit the aura, and
>therefore the rarity and expense, of "real art," as opposed to the
>mechanically reproduced mass culture. Even if Pop Art used images of
>mass art, they were careful to present them and sell them as high art.

That takes an interesting turn on the historical classics, doesn't it? First off, the last century or so has been significantly different than others in the amount of education and literacy provided the hoi paloi, and in having the wealth to provide leisure time for most people to consume the arts. The whole concept of multi-billion dollar pop art industries, media industries would have seemed laughable just two centuries ago, and not because of inflation. So, I'm suggesting that historically, by and large, successful artists created works to suit the taste of established, wealthy patrons- mostly the church and royalty. Their own individual expression had to be conveyed subtly, not to annoy the patron or upset his/her world. Such subtly conveyed ideas may actually have appealed to a popular audience. Patronage is sought now, partially but precisely because the artists' ideas are thought worthy, but unacceptable to a popular audience. Otherwise they go on a two-continent, 50 date tour. Or write a teleplay.

Anyway, part of my point was going to be that public literacy is a relatively new thing, and that a popular, or pulp, or dime-novel publishing form, where average folks read words from the page (as opposed to having words read to them, as in the case of Shakespeare's plays) was exceptional, and short, and was eclipsed when technology brought performance into the home. Not that book=literature, but did Melville have a popular audience of, say ordinary farm workers, or even stevedores and whalers? How many of them could read in Melville's time?

As for timelessness, Einstein said time was relative and pretty much an illusion anyway. If a bit of art is here in the present, however it got to be here, then I guess it has to be better than whatever art is not here in the present and so cannot be evaluated at all, making Miker right, sort of.

In a manner of speaking.

Damn that bites, Kerry

P.S. I thought all the critics HAD been institutionalized by the current administration. No?

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