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• Arguments for this discussion are based on the ideas of Ted Cohen, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. His specialist area of study is Philosophy of Art • I read 2 articles by him published in the “Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”. • High and Low Thinking about High and Low Art (1993) • High and Low Art and High and Low Audiences (1999)
An example might be the opera “The Magic Flute” by Mozart? (is it better than other music because it’s high)? • Other art appeals more widely and is said to be “popular” (or easy to access). A film like Hitchcock’s “The Birds” might fall into this category? (is it of less worth because so many people like it)? Examples of High and Low terms? What do we mean by theseArt .• • There is a common assumption that some art is highbrow and serious and can only be appreciated by certain groups of people.
Questions about this? • You may already be disagreeing with my examples and wanting to offer some of your own? • You might think that the distinctions of “high” and “low” are rather simplistic and general? What about everything in between! • Is it easy to define what art is – how do we decide when something can be called a work of art or when it isn’t art at all? • This presentation will attempt to debate these contentious issues…………. ..
• If this is the case. then trying to grade works of art on a scale of high to low is unnecessary? .What makes a piece of art? • Ted Cohen wonders if using the terms High and Low in relation to art is really the same as talking about Art and non Art? • In other words is Art only something appreciated by specialist audiences who have superior knowledge and insight? A Shakespeare play is a good example as the language and depth may be off-putting to some.
why do you need to distinguish the kind of thing Shakespeare is from the kind of thing the Simpsons is?” . than the Simpsons. or something. why do you feel a need to say anything more than that? • And if you do.• “…if you think Shakespeare is better Ted Cohen “High and Low Thinking about High and Low Art” (1993) or deeper.
Examples are electronic classical music or avant garde performance art • What is common to the audiences is a feeling that only they can really enjoy the work and this is a feature of some art appreciation • He feels it adds an extra dimension to the enjoyment of the piece in that it is not available to others • However. Parochial Art (not to be confused with High art) .. this can apply to all art and not just highbrow stuff….• This is a term he uses to describe art that is made with specialised specific audiences in mind – it could be high or low.
for example. the film “Doctor Zhivago”. Art is often defined as either “fine” or “popular”. A popular work of art can be liked by both high and low audiences. Cohen feels – it is this: 1. .How do you decide if something is high or low art? • There is an problem with the descriptions. one person can like both types. Wordsworth’s poetry and Leonard Cohen’s songs 2. for example. However.
How do you decide what is high and what is low art? So. if a film like Doctor Zhivago is enjoyed by one person as good entertainment and by another as a reflection on the Russian Revolution – where does that leave us in trying to decide if it’s high or low? .
Can art be high and low at the same time? same • Two people can really like the person but in different ways. the divisions are not about high and low. You like her because she is funny and plays tennis well • Cohen feels it’s the same with art. I like her because she is a good artist and very intelligent. though • If you love some art you want others to like it too – but does it matter if you like it for different reasons? .
Cohen suggests would be to ask the artist if the piece of art was intended to be high or low? • He argues that an artist must include themself in any intended audience – otherwise the art is fraudulent. it is very unlikely that an artist would deliberately set out to create a “low” piece intended to be superficial. What would be the point? Maybe the artist could tell us if it’s high or low? . In other words.• One way of making the distinction.
but will appeal to a certain audience is not really an artist at all.The joker • He gives the example of telling a joke • Would you tell a joke if you thought it wasn’t funny or you didn’t really understand it? • Cohen likens the artist to the joker. . There is absolutely nothing wrong with creating “popular art” that appeals to many people • What he does object to is an artist producing something that has no personal conviction in it • He thinks someone who sets out to make something that is not important to them.
not imposed by a theory or moral obligation belonging to someone else. • He felt he ought to go. but this was a purely personal decision as a Jew. Moral and aesthetic Cohen likens his appreciation of art to his sensibilities .• decision to visit Auschwitz while on a lecture tour in Poland some years before this article was written. • To him this decision was linked to the way he lives his life.
Aesthetic Sensibility • In the same way Cohen doesn’t want his “aesthetic sensibility” dictated by superimposed categories such as art/non art or high and low art. • To him these categories just won’t stand up they just “blur and blotch” • .
• • • • • • • • Some examples of what he regards •as Art “King Lear” by William Shakespeare Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” The Simpsons Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” Hoagy Carmichael Hebrew Bible Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” Paintings by Rembrandt • ARE ALL THESE ART? ( Ted Cohen thinks they are but adds he isn’t sure if he cares)! .
then he regards it as Art • In other words art to him is about the worth and appeal of artistic experience to groups of people who feel as he does about particular things Collective response is a measure of artistic merit . • He says that if it matters to him that others have a high regard for something..• Instead Cohen puts forward a very different way of looking at art that helps him to define if something has artistic merit – or not….
Collective response • He is not going to base his preferences on whether a piece is high or low art. or if it even classed as Art at all • If enough people of similar taste get pleasure from something artistic – he feels that is a good measure of its worth .
And it is my membership in these groups that locates me aesthetically as I think of it. some of the objects link me to other people. Some lead me into rather smaller groups. that reflects the dimensions of my sensibility” . some lead me into large and varied groups.Collective aesthetic response “Some of these objects link me to my fellows.
The common factor is the appeal of the group • The link is not made by how deep or superficial something is.Back to High and Low Art • If we agree with him then notions of “high” and “low” art become irrelevant because groups can be linked by art like Shakespeare play or a Marx Brothers’ movie. • It is the way the piece connects groups of people that defines it as art .
Collective response to art • Could you make your own list of what you consider to be your favourite pieces of art. if we had the time this afternoon? • The lists would all be different and that is important • He feels that in defining what art is one should ask the question: • “Why I (or anyone. for that matter) would ever seriously care to assert or deny that something is art” .
Collective response • When deciding on what makes something into a piece of art he feels the most important thing is: “to explain the significance of the thing in my life I must suppose that is also has a place. or deserves to have a place in the lives of others” .
• Collective response Cohen gives intimacy as an example a memorial service for a friend where a string quartet played music that the dead person loved “We were finding one another and our friend in that music of Mozart and Haydn. Does it matter that Mozart and Haydn are high art (very high art indeed)?” .
Collective response • He feels art should be trans-personal and appeal to a wide range of different people. however. just because something has breadth of appeal it can still be taken seriously • As he says Hamlet is popular because it is a deep and meaningful play and Dallas is popular because it is superficial and trashy –so using popularity to define art is problematic…. .
They feel that one another respond in the same way. and for the same reasons .Art as the focus of a community Cohen feels it is useful to define art in terms of a focus of a community. that thing is art – is their bond. or a group whose intimacy is underwritten by their conviction that they feel the same about something and that.
What makes high art “high”? Is it that it appeals to a snobbish audience? What makes them snobbish about it – is it that they have a taste for snobbish art? 2. Questions to finish . When a work of art appeals to a high and low audience – is it both a high and low work? 3.Cohen asks these questions to conclude his reflections: 1. 6. How many works can a single work of art be? How many people can one person be? 5. Is someone likes both high and low art – does it mean they are refined and superficial at the same time? 4.