Elitism vs. Populism in Art.

This question if from Mr. McQ, who, being an artist, is very interested in the subject.

I disagree very much. Of course I’m very firmly entrenched in the elitist camp, apparently.
If I were to show your average Joe, Jose, or Josephine the most groundbreaking, formally ahead-of-its-time, excellent, evocative and functionally efficacious painting of, say, 1425, they would shrug.
Whether they LIKE it or not is a completely different question from whether it’s “important” in art historical terms.

Here’s the way I see it. Elitism or art snobbery is the condition of liking or disliking something based on who else likes or dislikes it.

If you like Jackson Pollock because he’s considered a great artist, or because your art-geek friends like him, or because a Jackson Pollock painting is worth a lot of money, then you’re probably an elitist. If you like Pollock because his style agrees with you, or you understand and appreciate the statement he was making with his art, then you’re not an elitist.

This applies to just about everything. I once had a girlfriend who refused to see Star Wars because it was “too popular”. She was being elitist. The other day a coworker told me he doesn’t like anime because only fanboy wankers watch anime. He was being an elitist also. (I’m not an anime fan either, but mainly because I haven’t had a chance to see much of it yet).

In my opinion, you should use your own personal set of values, perceptions, and aesthetics to judge whether something has artistic merit. If this means you appreciate something that’s widely considered hackwork, then you should stand up for your opinion and have faith in your own judgment. I think Steinbeck is a brilliant author, but I also think Stephen King is nearly as brilliant. If that makes me an ill-born commoner, then so be it.

How does he define “masterpiece?”

Most people recognize the brilliance of ‘O Fortuna’.

Every work should be judged on its own merits. To the extent that those “merits” include historical context or other such things that require varying degree of education, some people consider that elitism. I don’t; each person judging art is an individual, too, with varying degrees of education.

The problem here lies in attempting to codify an “law” of art that will be applicable in all situations, for all people. This is doomed to failure.

History gives us the exact opposite lesson. Any history of Shakespeare will give dozens of famous authors, critics, and actors who despise his writing, his playcraft, and his characters. Any history of art will give dozens of examples of the current avant garde trend being denounced in the strongest possible terms by the establishment of the day. Any history of classical music will talk of riots at the introduction of new sound types. Any history of popular music will show that every type of music from jazz to rock to hip hop was hated by the previous generation and often by the current one. Any thread on this Board that talks about favorite or worsts or top 100s or whatever will give people agreeing and disagreeing violently with every single selection.

There is no such thing as universal art. There is no definition of a masterpiece. There is no possible reconciliation of all viewpoints.

This is not to say that no such thing as art, good art, or great art exists. However, audiences have to be both educated and individually appreciative, and critics have to marshal their abilities and experience to make a case for any particular work.

But that’s all it is or can ever be. A case. And all cases can be refuted.

Yeah, what he said.

Perhaps, but most, I’d guess, recognize it as “important” because they’ve heard it in the soundtracks of multiple movies, like Beethoven’s Ninth or Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” That might skew their recognitions of its brilliance in the direction of, “I’m supposed to think it’s important, so it must be.”

Or they saw how wicked GREAT it was the first time I heard it, as the music describing and defining a battle in fog in “Excalibur.” I’m both elitist AND populist. :smiley: