High art

DEFINITION

Fine art, also known as beaux-arts, art that is of universal transcendence, having withstood the test of time and representing the epitome of artistic achievement, as opposed to low art, which is also known as mass culture. Until recently, a distinction was typically made between high and low art. Traditionally, high art consists of the meticulous expression in fine materials of refined or noble sentiment, appreciation of the former depending on such things as intelligence, social standing, educated taste, and a willingness to be challenged. Low art is the shoddy manufacturing in inferior materials of superficial kitsch, simply catering to popular taste, unreflective acceptance of realism, and a certain "couch potato" mentality. Although many earlier artists took inspiration from popular and folk art, the most systematic approaches towards blurring the differences between high and low art were taken by Cubism, Dada and Surrealism. Pop Art further weakened the distinction, and artists as various as Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-1988), Jeff Koons (American, 1955-) and the Guerrilla Girls (American), influenced strongly by the different branches of postmodern thought, have dealt it the further blows. It is not surprising, given for example that the song O Superman by performance artist Laurie Anderson (American, 1947-) reached the top ten of the pop charts in the U.S. and England, that video and camera artist William Wegman (American, contemporary) has appeared on television's The Tonight Show to promote a book of photographs, and that both have done segments on Saturday Night Live. In spite of this, one still wonders if the distinction still exists, albeit in a slightly different form. Few would seriously argue that the droves who follow televised wrestling matches and afternoon soap operas have any genuine interest in contemporary art. It is even less likely that the millions who read supermarket tabloids or romance novels would ever choose to read advanced art criticism.

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