The Notion Of A Cultural Elite Is Threatening

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We now live under the hybrid tyranny of middlebrow. No serious person believes the Oscars are a list of the best films, or the Grammys the best music. Charitably one could say they represent a kind of averaging out, an index of the taste of a group of informed people. At worst, critics acting en masse, with one eye on what’s popular and one eye on what’s good, end up praising work that doesn’t upset them. That’s why there’s so much stuff that looks like art, smells like art, but when you bite into it, it just tastes of cardboard.

— Hari Kunzru, writing in The Observer, via The Great Leap Sideways.

There Are 14 Comments On This Article.

  1. Ugh, these ridiculous pseudo intellectual art house quotes are really starting to grow tiring. Stick to photo discussion, and leave this BS to the college town coffeeshops.

  2. Not sure why it’s ridiculous or BS. The worst thing you can do in photography discussions is talk only about photography.

  3. Sticking solely to photo discussion is a part of what that article is trying to say is stifling all art forms. You need infusions of discussion and ideas from outside of your particular art form and the world at large. Otherwise your world become tiny, viewing inward and frankly starts to border on incestuous. That is how everyone’s work starts to all look alike and there is plenty of that in photography!

  4. Age of the critic over? Are we really producing work for the critic or are doing work for ourselves and and our clients? Critics in my opinion are mostly jaded people with strong opinions. Me included but I don’t get what the fuss is about, maybe because my job is photographer- not critic. That’s part time when the claws come out. LOL

    • The essay is about mediocrity , the “middlebrow”, the masses averaging out what is a “winner”, even the professional critics are going with the flow, hence the “art that tastes of cardboard.

      I my personal experience I am my own toughest critic, but the work we produce for our clients is the most critiqued of all.

  5. I’ve been saying that for years Rob. It’s true in film, music, art and particularly in commercial art. If what was great was what was being promoted there would be a whole lot of talented people that could make a living again, and another bunch that would be off to work at starbucks. Instead we have a mediocre society drowning in a sea of crap.

  6. The revolt against critics is really a revolt against all authority. It is mostly due to a slavish belief in democracy and the idea that all opinion is equally valid. If all opinion is equally valid then specialism doesn’t exist and value judgements are made solely based on popularity with the crowd. This type of radical egalitarianism comes mostly from the left side of the political spectrum, but it doesn’t matter where it comes from because it IS happening.

    Fine art is the domain of genius and those that recognize it. Nature has made it an elite affair. The democratic crowd wants to participate but is intimidated. They react by creating a middle or mass culture that is easier for them to understand and control. But don’t think for a split second that high culture can simply co-exist with middle/mass culture. The two are bitter enemies.

  7. Ayn Rand wrote a novel about this exact notion 70 years ago. Sorry Hari, you’re not as clever as you think.

  8. My analysis, please take no offense:
    Mike – middlebrow; Bill – BINGO; Leigh C. – BING…..O;
    Stanchung – the scribblings are about the mediocrity as VJP Points out. Photography if you consider the metaphor has been flooded with middlebrow notions, a result of the high quality low price camera and the “I own one so I must be producing professional meaningful work”, and diluting the art of the established. The masses these days push with a blind enthusiasm to label what is tasteful art, but rather we get a cheeseburger dropped into a doggie bag;

    Mark Gamba – at the tip of the spear; Mike Moss – the elite don’t know what is good art is, they are led by their nose. The only thing that matters to them is the smell of fresh money. Now day’s old money smells of death and lacks innovation; Alex – She might be if she founded her discourse on the coming to age of the latte social media class; Keith – naked as a jaybird; Me – I like to be informed by honest work, keeping in mind that the mediocrity is popular because it can be had now the immediacy diverts our attention from what is honest passionate effort. I try to do what keeps me honest with myself and not pandering to the short term memory of mediocrity.

    • I wasn’t using “elite” to refer to the wealthy. It was a reference to connoisseurs that have the experience and talent necessary to make refined value judgments.

      • No doubt Mike, I think we would both agree though that the elite, who are connoisseurs, do have some substance of wealth. I would poke more fun however I might get in trouble with some distant family.