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High culture and low culture

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    Posted: 04 Jan 2010 at 21:11

Recently something, I don't remember what it was, made me reconsider my opinion about the division of culture into high and low and I found out that I don't have one. So I'd like you to share yours with me.

What is high (and low) culture? How can you define or describe it? What makes certain part of culture high or low? Does it even matter? Can such division be justified? Do we need to distinguish between the two?

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Considering the sort of utter rubbish I've seen in art museums and heard on NPR of late, I'm not all that sure there is a difference anymore. Wink
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jan 2010 at 06:11
What is high (and low) culture? - How can you define or describe it? - What makes certain part of culture high or low?

High culture is a term usually reserved for the elite of a society, like the aristocracy or intelligentsia. Think of it in the context of ancient art (Leonardo Da Vinci), literature (Herodotus or Homer) and architecture (The Greek Parthenon, The Giza pyramids and the Taj Mahal) for the historical countries of Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, India, Byzantium, Persia and ect... 

Low culture is usually a derogatory term to explain pop phenomenons like Madonna and Britney Spears, sleazy sex novels and playboy magazines, McDonald's or Wal-Mart and your standard run of the mill Hollywood film alongside reality television shows and low brow Television show like the Simpsons. In other words, low culture is usually reserved for the masses of a society. Another term for low culture is also popular culture
.

Does it even matter?

Not to me.

Can such division be justified?

I really don't know? I haven't given it any further thought.

 Do we need to distinguish between the two?

Good question! What do you immediately think of when the name "Madonna" is brought up in a conversation?





Edited by Panther - 05 Jan 2010 at 06:13
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High culture is complex arts, science and technologies. There is a repertory of knowledge that usually is not reacheable by most of the population, simply because it is too complex for them to grasp. Not many people understand the maths of Quantum Mechanics, or can read Bach music, or understand the perspective painting techniques, etc. That's what "I think" means high culture.

Pop culture, on the other hand, it is something anyone can produce without much training.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Slayertplsko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jan 2010 at 13:26

Well, Madonna - a pop star, a singer with poor technique and intonation. But I usually don't think of Madonna and the subject is scarcely brought up in conversation. 

Pinguin: where would the following belong: ragtime, baroque music, Shakespeare, death metal, Monet?

Anyway, it's interesting that you mentioned science and technologies, I never really thought about that. But then, isn't all science - whether it's nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, linguistics, musicology, sociology, archaeology, virology etc. - very complex and not reachable by most?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jan 2010 at 13:40
Absolutely. Frontier science and high tech is elitist. Most people has never been in contact with that.
Barroque music and Shakespeare are obviously high culture. Barroque requires the knowledge of writing music, at the very least. And to write as Shakespeare you have to know your grammar and  read tons of books before even attempting to write the first frase of a Hamlet.



Edited by pinguin - 05 Jan 2010 at 13:42
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Slayertplsko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jan 2010 at 13:57

So this means that Monet, death metal and ragtime belong to low culture?  

I'm not sure if I understand the phrase ''the knowledge of writing music''. Do you mean ''being able to read music notation'' or ''having knowledge of music composition related theory'' (such as harmony, counterpoint etc.)?



Edited by Slayertplsko - 05 Jan 2010 at 13:57
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jan 2010 at 14:13
How pompous! A low-brow pontificating on the artifacts of society in a manner indicative of little else other than a dearth in understanding.
 
Forsooth, the varlet has a tongue!
Yet, amidst all the crapulous cawing
Leading to naught but silence ere long,
One need only wonder
From what bowge of hell did that beast emerge.
 
For your information, Pinguin, Shakespeare represented the popular culture of his day!


Edited by drgonzaga - 05 Jan 2010 at 22:51
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Slayertplsko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jan 2010 at 15:19
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

For your information, Pinguin, Shakespeare represented the popular culture of his day!
 
True. Similarly, impressionist paintings of the likes of Monet and Manet were considered inferior to the preceding forms of art, and the music of Monteverdi and Lully and their likes was also considered inferior to the Renaissance contrapuntal compositions of the likes of Palestrina. Of course, more analogies could be presented.
 
This can mean either that we have been experiencing a sort of degradation of culture for centuries or that such distinction between high and low is perhaps based on only a little more than just current social convention. Or is there another possibility?


Edited by Slayertplsko - 05 Jan 2010 at 15:24
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The first thing we have to dismiss from our minds is the confusing blather of "journalese". If we get hung up on "Pop" anything we will be missing the clear distinction between popular culture and the affectations of the artiste as misunderstood genius all stemming from the persistence of the   Enlightenment world and their Academies and the ensuing carnage generated by Romanticism. Because one does not wish to endure the tediousness of a Wagnerian opus or the utter boredom of a late Baroque opera does not mean one is a "low" brow. In fact one can surmise that a poor Victorian worker purchasing a mass produced print from his meagre income in late Victorian England probably had a greater appreciation of the effects of art than some plutocrat plundering portraits so as to line the walls of his new neo-gothic estate in the Midlands! For any art to succeed it must have a "popular" foundation, that is society as whole must find its worth. The notion that one must be educated in order to appreciate and recognize art is little more than pompous elitism or worse an enforced conformity. Has culture "degraded", I do not think so. Are there charlatans out there who are trading on tricks under the guise of popularity most certainly. In many ways one could say that such was the message brought forth by the creative spirits at the opening of the 20th century.
 
All "cultural" moments in history leave their imprint because in a way they expressed the popular perceptions of that instant. Yet none of these moments are unrelated to what went before nor is any present a sharp break from the foundations laid in the past. Much can ossify and produce decadence but such usually happens in societies and cultures that themselves are dying as a result of other factors. The only trick to the whole game is to recognize the philistine (no degradation of the original peoples intended there).


Edited by drgonzaga - 06 Jan 2010 at 15:46
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Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

.... 
For your information, Pinguin, Shakespeare represented the popular culture of his day!
 
Well, Shakespeare at least knew how to write, which put him in the very small elite that knew how to do it at his time... Wink
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jan 2010 at 23:17
Originally posted by Slayertplsko Slayertplsko wrote:

So this means that Monet, death metal and ragtime belong to low culture?  

I'm not sure if I understand the phrase ''the knowledge of writing music''. Do you mean ''being able to read music notation'' or ''having knowledge of music composition related theory'' (such as harmony, counterpoint etc.)?

 
I meant musical education. Guys like Bach and Mozart knew music at an abstract level, as if they were dealing with mathematics. Compare that sublime art with a tune of ... Reagetton Confused
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jan 2010 at 23:19
Originally posted by Slayertplsko Slayertplsko wrote:

...True. Similarly, impressionist paintings of the likes of Monet and Manet were considered inferior to the preceding forms of art, and the music of Monteverdi and Lully and their likes was also considered inferior to the Renaissance contrapuntal compositions of the likes of Palestrina. Of course, more analogies could be presented.
 
This can mean either that we have been experiencing a sort of degradation of culture for centuries or that such distinction between high and low is perhaps based on only a little more than just current social convention. Or is there another possibility?
 
Indeed. Degradation is a good term for the conditions of arts such as music and painting. But after a Dark Age a new rebirth follows. I hope the rebirth happens soon enough.
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Pinguin, if you are going to criticize something at least indicate your objection by identifying the object of your scorn by its proper name: reggaeton and not "reagetton". Or is it just because you are too much of a prudish bird to dance a perreo!?!
 
I bet you watch Sabado Gigante with your window blinds shut!?! 
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I used to watch Sabados Gigantes (that's was the original name) when was made in Chile, for Chileans. Now I can't stand it with such weird peoples as the Hispanics in Miami... LOL
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Jan 2010 at 04:53
Originally posted by Slayertplsko Slayertplsko wrote:

Well, Madonna - a pop star, a singer with poor technique and intonation. But I usually don't think of Madonna and the subject is scarcely brought up in conversation. 



I used to think of all the religious paintings first. Now i just cringe when i here the name. Most unfortunately for us in the states and the UK who do not like Madonna as a singer and entertainer, she just will not go away! Crap... do they still have college courses about her?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Slayertplsko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Jan 2010 at 11:41

Thank you Drgonzaga for your post, I enjoyed it and pretty much agree.

Originally posted by pinguin pinguin wrote:

Indeed. Degradation is a good term for the conditions of arts such as music and painting. But after a Dark Age a new rebirth follows. I hope the rebirth happens soon enough.

But you know, even when the polyphony succeeded plainchant, many felt like it was the end of the world in music (we're talking about high/late medieval times). So this would mean that plainchant was the highest form of art in music?

Was Geoffrey Chaucer as ''high'' in his day as he is today? I doubt. I'm sure others could provide more instances.

My view is as follows; what is considered high and what is considered low is just a mere social convention at the particular time (and it may be a convention of the whole society or only of a few of its members). As you see, what is highbrow today, used to be lowbrow in its time - probably in most cases. 

I consider it a flaw that there is too much generalization - Why is Lizst praised but Alkan is practically forgotten? They both were highly acclaimed piano virtuosi at their time (perhaps Alkan even more acclaimed as a composer than Lizst was). Was Alkan too ''high'' to survive in the cultural degradation that has been around for at least seven centuries? (please note that I was a bit ironic in my last sentence)

It seems to exclude the ''possibility'' that the so-called high forms produced not only masterpieces but works of mediocrity as well and vice versa - I love Bob Dylan's three-chord and three-minute songs. I believe that within that musical idiom he was able to create as much art as possible - not much tools or skill he had; a few basic chords used for the most basic harmonic functions - tonic, subdominant and dominant, sometimes perhaps submediant - a simple melody and a simple rhythmic pattern. But when I listen to his songs I feel that no other music exists. But then again, I might put Shostakovich's 8th or Mozart's Requiem and feel it. I might feel it at a particular moment of a Wagnerian music drama, but at a different moment of a same piece I might feel it not.


Originally posted by pinguin pinguin wrote:

I meant musical education. Guys like Bach and Mozart knew music at an abstract level, as if they were dealing with mathematics. Compare that sublime art with a tune of ...

What I said - reading notation, harmony etc. - is part of musical education. Or do you mean some different kind of musical education? If so, please specify. 

Richard Strauss once said ''I have more skill, but he [Sibelius] is greater.'' (''skill'' probably meant more knowledge and experience in orchestration, harmony etc. - simply more education) Despite having more skill (or education if you like) as a composer, he did not consider Jean Sibelius to be ''lower''. In fact, he called him ''greater''.

Does writing a plainchant require more skill than writing a motet or a concerto grosso?


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Jan 2010 at 16:24
Just for you Pinguin: Ay! Don Francisco...
 
Through which, given your comment on "Hispanics" in Miami underscores just how disconnected you are not only in terms of "cultural" connections but with the human spirit as well, specially after all your repeated diatribes against the United States education and its supposed assault on dismissing Amerinds.
 
Sabado Gigante is popular in a Latin American setting just as Benny Hill was popular to English viewers with his "show" despite all the howlings from the usual suspects with their brayings about the vulgar! That farandula is "low brow" to you is not surprising in view of the contradictory nonsense sometimes expressed in your writings such as the nonsense on Einstein as Jewish and not German! Obviously in your lines of "thought" we must now assert that the eponymous Don Francisco is not Chilean at all but instead Jewish, after all his surnames are Kreutzberger and Blumenfeld!
 
The key word: Satire...if you are much too cultured to understand its modern expressions be a pompous ass and look for it in Aristophanes, Juvenal, Petronius, Swift and many many others who are quite dead, hence they must not be "Pop"!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Jan 2010 at 00:22
Well, Don Francisco is an extraordinary TV conductor, but I wouldn´t say he is much educated at all. Actually, he made his career recognizing it, and never putting complex things in his programs.
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqxXUF8jPNo&feature=PlayList&p=25B970601EE6CDD7&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=43

Open a new window, Pinguin, the air is getting stale in here!



Edited by drgonzaga - 07 Jan 2010 at 02:59
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  • Popular culture is and has always been a hybrid form of high and low culture. High culture makes its way into the "low culture"if it has appealed to the mass population. It then becomes low culture because suddenly it is commercialized and thus deemed part of low culture-one that has the appearance of being an obsequious attempt to connect to the "regular folk". No one markets cultural/creative/artistic phenomena to the mass when it is not accessible to the "low minds" because there is no money involved in it. So it dies like a twister in an open field.
  • However, if we look carefully, we can see that even Gypsy music and culture from Spain, once teamed as low and filthy and was threatened to the point of extinction, started to become an easily identifiable symbol of the dome meaning culture as more and more people began to align themselves with exploring their culture.
  • On the other hand, Shakespeare was once deemed as low culture, and is now considered the epitome of high culture in literature.
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Originally posted by Amusing Amusing wrote:

  • . No one markets cultural/creative/artistic phenomena to the mass when it is not accessible to the "low minds" because there is no money involved in it. So it dies like a twister in an open field..

Consider the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and the Royal Opera House and the Bolshoi and suchlike.

The way you make money out of it is by convincing people that supporting such organisations they:
- gain status by doing so
- preserve their personal heritage
- contribute to their city's, state's, country's status in the world.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Logic Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Feb 2013 at 07:05
Originally posted by Panther Panther wrote:

What is high (and low) culture? - How can you define or describe it? - What makes certain part of culture high or low?

High culture is a term usually reserved for the elite of a society, like the aristocracy or intelligentsia. Think of it in the context of ancient art (Leonardo Da Vinci), literature (Herodotus or Homer) and architecture (The Greek Parthenon, The Giza pyramids and the Taj Mahal) for the historical countries of Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, India, Byzantium, Persia and ect... 

Low culture is usually a derogatory term to explain pop phenomenons like Madonna and Britney Spears, sleazy sex novels and playboy magazines, McDonald's or Wal-Mart and your standard run of the mill Hollywood film alongside reality television shows and low brow Television show like the Simpsons. In other words, low culture is usually reserved for the masses of a society. Another term for low culture is also popular culture
.

Does it even matter?

Not to me.

Can such division be justified?

I really don't know? I haven't given it any further thought.

 Do we need to distinguish between the two?

Good question! What do you immediately think of when the name "Madonna" is brought up in a conversation?



 
For the purpose of sharing common interests and interacting in manners which seem acceptable to certain groups, then yes we need to distinguish. For reasons relating to social divisions, no we don't need to.
 
What I'm saying is that people who listen to Madona may not be interested in classical music, and vise versa, so it is within the interests of the different people to share with those who appreciate their taste more. However, when it comes to employment, education and social services, there is no need to distinguish since this could prove to be discrimination.
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