Re: Robin's Arts Post (Was Re: Extropic Flare In NY Art Scene

Natasha Vita-More (
Wed, 22 Sep 1999 20:21:18 -0700

At 10:48 AM 9/21/99 -0400, Robin wrote:
>I was particularly interested,
>however, in the aspects of the article that touched on elitism
>arising out of baser motives, the "seemy" side of art. A big function
>of art to many people seems to be various sorts of status, and the
>article gave hints to help me understand this phenomena.

>To make an analogy, people who like education focus on how it can help
>you learn things, which can make you more productive and better able to
>appreciate the good things in life. But education also serves other
>functions: it helps people to signal that they are "smarter", i.e.,
>better able to put up with school and do well, to convince employers
>and others to associate with them. It can also be a place where people
>make contacts with future bigshots. People can want badly to go to
>Harvard even if they don't actually learn anything there.

>Similarly, I'm curious to understand the analogous alternative
>explanations for interest in art, beyond pure personal enjoyment.
>The evolution from highbrow to nobrow seems an important clue.

Baser motives that might give rise to art elitism could be caused by an individual's need for money and recognition rather than by an individual's interest to obtain in-depth knowledge and appreciation of the arts.

[But, are you asking about baser motives as foundational motives, or immoral motives? I assumed the former. To answer you referencing base as immoral or depraved: here a person might strive for elitism with the intent to damage or destroy art and the arts.]

One function of art elitism is to bring status to a person who *needs* status. It also brings status to those who want the knowledge regardless of status. However, not everyone who is an art elite gives a damn about status. Conversely, some people study art simply to acquire status in their communities.

Art and the arts bring with them a social status. Whether it be the knowledge of good wines, literature, Tiffany, or Versace; or the ability to recognize a Renoir, a Warhol, or a Bill Voila; to identify Chopin, Bach or Annie Lennix; or Dostoyesky, Hemmingway, or Ginsberg -- there is a quality of discernment that differentiates one type of art or one artist from another. The ability to recognize and identify art produces social status.

To work off your analogy: The art world, as academia, also serves other functions: it helps people to signal that they are smarter and more educated; able to win awards; to convince grant donors, Hollywood, museums, the music industry; cyberculture to associate with them; and as a positioning to make contacts with future bigshots. Artists may want to go to Pratt or Julliard, even if they don't really learn anything.

Interest in art beyond personal enjoyment: It is more a personal appreciation for aesthetics. The phrase "state of the art" does mean something. This is the best clue. State of the art interprets that it can't get any better at that point in time. The phrase, which has been borrowed by just about every domain of study or business, and used across disciplines, is an affirmation and an announcement that our product, or my work is as good as it can get by anyone or anything at this particular point in time.

By making this statement, one is professing elitism.

The evolution from highbrow to nobrow is an evolution from a cultural elite to a culture where anyone can carry a Gucci bag and feel good about it regardless of the fact that it uses plastic instead of leather, a polyester blend rather than silk, faux gold rather than 14 caret, and missing the inside lining. Just to carry a bag that has an historical status may mean more to the purchaser of the bag than having the status symbol because -- to that person -- the value of the object matters less than carrying the Gucci rip-off logo bought at K-Mart or Ross for Less.

Another factor is that even if the quality of the object is not recognized by the purchaser, the symbol of it is, and this may make the purchaser feel more socially accepted. But, the other person who recognizes quality knows it is a rip-off and either is turned off by the attempt or admires the attempt. I suppose whether one frowns on the attempt or admires it might have something to do with the rest of the person carrying the rip-off Gucci bag. What is the person's vocabulary, what are her/his mannerisms, and what shoes is he/she wearing -J

Nobrow isn't a phrase I associate with art or the arts culture. Artists are so busy producing films and videos, desigining new technologies, writing stories, putting on conferences, that I wouldn't surmise that just because a large segment of the population is intersted in Jerry Springer that the artist would place a lot of emphasis on this. Usually, the majority of society is more accepting of lesser quality of information.

Same situation in the sciences: how many people in society actually take the time to think about the quality of research that Eric Drexler or Marvin Minksy produce. Not too many. How many people appreciate knowledge over faux-intelligence; or science over psuedo-science.

Then again, grung is "in" and there is an eltism with grung. The Face magazine is very glossy and full of what one might think is nobrow art, but it really is highbrow. In otherwords, one could be entraupraneural in creating art (fashion, music, fiction) that appeals to a lowbrow sensibility but done with a kistch quality that actually creates an elite following.
Here is a clue to a nobrow culture from quotes I found on the Internet:

" A good dose of juvenilia can be found on the "no-brow" South Park series."

"Awash in ooeey-goeey yummy American culture, they smiled in happy, no-brow bliss, watched Springer until it was over, . . ."


Natasha Vita-More: To Order _Create/Recreate: The Third Millennial Culture_**
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