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

Robin Hanson (
Tue, 21 Sep 1999 10:48:18 -0400

On 9/20/1999, Natasha wrote:
> >"Nobrow Culture" by John Seabrook in New Yorker, 9/20/99, p.104. ...
>You gotta have fun with this piece - and so I did. ...
>The real taster-test to cultural elitism is if you know of John Cage. ...
>The person(s) who have an absorbed knowledge of a particular subject can no
>longer communicate with ease with those who do not share references, or do
>not have the skill to bridge reference-gaps. Thus an elitism can develop,
>not out of one thinking she or he is better, but out of a need for the
>communication and finding stimulating and well-rounded or well-thought out
>communications rather than shallow or non-shallow attempts by those who
>want to communicate but haven't the knowledge.
>The old totem of elite, as Seabrook says, requires culture, quality, time
>and money. So does the appreciation and study of biotechnology. ...
>most people are there just to chill out and watch one another, secure
>in the knowledge that they are the culture." ...
>If one wants to be knowledgeable (and if knowledge is power) develop
>interest and understanding of the arts. You may not like it at first, ...
>So, drink my essence and eat my thoughts.

Well expressed, Natasha. Yes of course elitism can develop out of the best of intentions and for good reason. 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.

>unsure, but keep going. Learning how to log on and build a Web site wasn't
>easy as pie for everyone in just starting out, nor was calculus nor was
>understanding the double helix, which way it is spiraling, what are those
>ladders holding them together or pushing them apart, and those pearly dots
>along the strands. It takes time to learn.
>But, back to the subject of tomatoes: I know a little about tomatoes. I
>grew them, canned them, stewed them, and painted them in oils. Tomatoes
>grow well with white stakes and navy blue ribbons to hold the trailing
>growth upright. They also grow quite well with a brick boarder and
>marigolds. And, I'll tell you my secret: a comfortable chair, a jigger of
>scotch (or beer if you're lowbrow, or if you, like me, are current nobrow
>in this regard, Arrowhead water) and a good book. That is how I grew my
>Natasha Vita-More:
>To Order _Create/Recreate: The Third Millennial Culture_**
>Organizations: Transhumanist Arts Centre - Home of Extropic Art:
> Transhuman Culture InfoMark:
>"We are transhumans ..." Meme Orbits Saturn in 2004!

Robin Hanson Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323