High art, low art, and in between.

To what extent can one validly make comparative statements between different styles/genres of art? How can you objectively fill in the blank “classical symphonic work X is ___ than modern atonal work Y,” or “Opera is ___ than rap”? I’m looking for a word short of “better,” but perhaps more descriptive than “different.”

Or is any such attempt entirely subjective?

In what ways can you compare the merits of, say:

representational vs. abstract painting;
film vs. theater;
photography vs. painting;
fiction vs. poetry;
ballet vs. performance art;
or a greater stretch, abstract painting vs. Shakespearean theater.

I can imagine a couple of variables that might come into play.

  1. The level of “skill” required to create the work. As in, “If I can do it, it isn’t art.”
  2. The type and strength of the emotional reaction the work inspires in the audience.
  3. The size and diversity of the audience.

Any thoughts?

Wow, what a great OP! You posed a tough question. To a certain degree, all art criticism contains some subjectivity. To say, “A is better than B” is to say “I prefer A to B.” On the other hand, one can argue that certain forms of art are more complex and contain greater shades of meaning.
Britney Spears, I submit, is an inferior singer when compared to Barbara Streisand, based on technical skill, the responses elicited in the listener, and the content of the material they sing.
Opera is vastly superior to rap for the following reasons:
a) operatic singing requires training and talent; rappers just have to be able to speak quickly
b)opera libretti contain allusions to history, literature, and classical mythology; rap contains references to bitches, hoes, booty, drugs, guns, and big gold chains
c)operas are rich with musical complexity; rap songs are just talking over a simple beat, often plagiarized(sampling isplagiarism) from the original work of other artists.
That said, there are bad operas and bad performances, while some rappers, notably The Roots and Busta Rhymes, have songs containing remarkable lyrical skill and beautifully arranged tunes. I would take Busta Rhymes over a crappily performed Carmen anyday.

I just want to add another variable to your list: the influence the work has on other artists. More accurately, the influence of the body of work of an artist. I see this often in lists of great artists, musicians, etc, given as a reason for stating something as great art, or someone as a great artist.

It is also important to take note of what the aims of the pieces of art are. ‘Art for art’s sake’ is one standard by which things can be judged, but practical impact on the world is one just as valid. A good protest song that moves the masses and helps inspire social change may be much less complex and subtle than a particular Chopin composition, and yet have far greater impact on society.

Let’s see: Good opera requires skill not availible to everyone. Good rap requires skill not availible to everyone. Good opera is written by people describing their world as they observed (much of it wasn’t history when they wrote it!!!). Good rap is written by people describing their world as they observed. In modern times Opera is largely (and by largely I mean “mostly”, not “exclusively”) enjoyed by upperclass whites. In modern times rap is enjoyed largely (and by largely I mean “mostly” and not “exclusively”) by lowerclass blacks. DING DING DING we have a winner. Any “genre” of art, performance or physical, cannot be compared to other “genres” in terms of quality. Quality is an inherent measurement of value within a genre. There’s lots of bad opera. There’s also lots of bad rap(including most of the stuff that gets a lot of airplay). But we cannot make broad statements about the quality of one genre compared to others. Any illusion we have of doing so comes exclusively from opinions our culture holds to performances of said genre.

Critics are one part of the puzzle. The ability of the artist and the work to stand up to them is another.

As one who as been a tertiary-level fine arts student, I have a couple of unrelated observations to make:

  1. People who say “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” never actually say what it is they like, whether it be dogs playing poker, naked fat chicks or stock-car racing.

  2. People who look at, for example, a Picasso painted in the 1920s and say they can’t stand “modern art”. Ok, this isn’t really an observation, these people just get on my tits.

“I can’t stand modern art.”
There. Can I get on your tits now?
Love that expression!

Sorry, Dinsdale old sport, my tits are currently off-duty at the moment (and I’ll probably be following them shortly). :slight_smile:

People sometimes forget that different styles, well, all styles of art have their own unique forms of language in order to understand them properly, and unless you’re fluent in both opposing languages, there’s no way you can possibly make an informed, objective comparison.

Even representational painting has its own secret language that can reveal whole other stories than what appears to be going on in the picture.

Delacroix’s famous painting of glorious Liberty leading the Revolutionaires to victory, baring her breasts in the name of freedom sniff. Look closer at the picture and there is a subversive wit at work. The half-naked body of a dead or dying Royalist lies under Liberty’s feet, and she’s not even bothered to look at him. The message being “One man’s Liberté comes at the expense of another’s, and revolution is simply a case of replacing one group of thugs with another.”

A few years back, there was a 19thC French painting that was exhibited here, a picture of a doe-eyed servant girl at the well with a broken jug. The painting was called “The Broken Pitcher”. A couple of old biddies saw this and thought “Ooh, isn’t that lovely?” Then the curator pointed out that the painting was in fact laden with sexual innuendo, the broken pitcher represented the girl’s lost virginity, a spout on the well represented a penis, and there was a great likelihood the girl had been shtupped (sp?) by one of the toffs she worked for.

Needless to say, the old folks were a little taken aback by this revelation.

Jayron, rap is the dominant form of pop music today, so take off the race goggles. Obviously you have no appreciation or understanding of either art form. I don’t expect a rapper to be able to sing “Largo Alla Factotum,” just as I wouldn’t expect a tenor to rap “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can’t See.” However, the skills required to sing opera well are far more demanding than the skills required to rap well.
It takes years of training to become an operatic singer. All a rapper has to do is talk fast. If he can bust some dope rhymes, all the better.

Your sensitivity and open mindedness is refreshing.

What do sensitivity and being open-minded have to do with anything. I know and appreciate both opera and rap. One takes years of training and talent; the other does not. Prove me wrong.

This fact has no bearing on the quality of said genres. one cannot say things like:

Statements of quality that attempt to compare different genre’s to each other are meaningless and base. One can say that Mozart is better than Puccini, or that Public Enemy has more talent than Sean Combs, but there is no basis for quality comparison between operatic performance and hip-hop performance. Rap is NOT just talking fast and rhyming, any more than Opera is just being able to hit really high notes.

There is more to rap than just a fast–talking MC. There is the music, including the particular part of a piece (the hook) that can attract more people to the record than the lyrics. There is the DJ who has to mix the hook or hooks being rapped over with a synthesized beat, making that old record seem fresh again. That is in itself one of the biggest contributions of rap: its ability to revive old records in a fresh way.

Opera and classical music, believe it or not, does the same thing with music as rap. Chopin’s famous funeral march was an extention of a snippet of Mozart’s Don Quixote, the part where Don was being dragged to hell by the ghost of the person he killed at the start of the opera. Brahms, Bartok and Ives each ‘remixed’ folk music into classical masterpieces.