Monday, September 17, 2012

Pop Culture and Art: Game On

Leo Lowenthal's piece, Historical Perspectives of Popular Culture, was written to cover "aspects of the historical and theoretical frame of reference which seem... to be a basic requirement for the study of mass communications, and yet a blind spot in contemporary social science" (3). The chapter goes on to do this by gathering these aspects into five groups and discussing them both individually, and each as a segment of the general "historical perspective" umbrella. In Section #2, which is devoted to fixing the "historical locus of popular culture today," Lowenthal delves into one of my favorite debate/discussion topics that can be summed up in three tiny (yet oh-so-thought-provoking) words: What is art? (4).

Citing Horkheimer, Adorno, Aristotle, and De Tocqueville, throughout the section, Lowenthal begs us to think of "the differences between popular culture and art, between spurious gratification and a genuine experience as a step to greater individual fulfillment" (9). Lowenthal clearly thinks lowly of pop culture-spawned art pieces, installations, and performances, stating that "a product of popular culture has none of the features of genuine art"(14). He even goes so far as to declare artistic products that have been "replaced by the phenomena of popular culture, [...] nothing but a manipulated reproduction of reality as it is" (7). Ouch.

Personally, I abide by the saying "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." While a census of the general public might not akin a piece of Banksy's (street) art to a piece of Michelangelo's (ceiling) art, the meaning, message, importance, and beauty that one gleans from any given piece is deeply personal and, I believe, should not be dictated by anyone but yourself.

What do you think about the relationship between popular culture and art? Are there any modern, pop culture-driven artists you find just as inspiring and imaginative as the historical greats?


  1. You bring up a great debate topic Thia Laurain, what is art? I am going to side on you for this one. Art is one of those flexible interpretations where no one answer is correct. There is no way to prove which art is the right one, it all comes down to the individuals experiences and beliefs. It is like asking someone; what is love? It is going to change with every person. Adorno sees what we classify as classical music as fine art and popular music as "trash" or maybe in his case "pseudo-art." But I believe he didn't ask the questions that you are asking: What is art and how do we define it? Is there a standard way to interpret different mediums of art? Etc.

  2. In defense of Adorno, he actually published quite extensively on aesthetic theory. Here's a gloss of his Aesthetic Theory. And to respond to Thia's final question, here's an example of a contemporary artist and his most well-known work, based on a popular video game: Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds.

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