- High culture
High culture is a term, now used in a number of different ways in
academicdiscourse, whose most common meaning is the set of cultural products, mainly in the arts, held in the highest esteem by a culture, or denoting the culture of ruling social groups. [Bakhtin 1981, p.4] [This observation can also be linked to Karl Marx's famous quotation from " The German Ideology", "the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force". [http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01b.htm] ]
Although it has a longer history in Continental Europe, the term was introduced into English largely with the publication in 1869 of "Culture and Anarchy" by
Matthew Arnold, although he most often uses just "culture". Arnold defined culture as "the disinterested endeavour after man's perfection" (Preface) and most famously wrote that having culture meant to "know the best that has been said and thought in the world" - a specifically literary definition, also embracing Philosophy, which is now rather less likely to be considered an essential component of High Culture, at least in the English-speaking cultures. Arnold saw high culture as a force for moral and political good, and in various forms this view remains widespread, though far from uncontested. The term is contrasted with Popular cultureor Mass cultureand also with Traditional cultures, but by no means implies hostility to these. T. S. Eliot's "Notes Towards the Definition of Culture" (1948) was an influential work which saw high culture and popular culture as necessary parts of a complete culture. "The Uses of Literacy" by Richard Hoggart(1957) was an influential work along somewhat the same lines, concerned with the cultural experience of those, like himself, who had come from a working-class background before university. In America, Harold Bloomhas taken a more exclusive line in a number of works, as did F. R. Leavisearlier - both, like Arnold, being mainly concerned with literature, and unafraid to champion vociferously the literature of the Western canon.
Much of High Culture consists of the appreciation of what is sometimes called High Art. This term is rather broader than Arnold's definition and besides
Literatureincludes Music, Visual arts, especially Painting, and traditional forms of the Performing arts, now including some Cinema. The Decorative arts would not generally be considered High art.
The cultural products most regarded as forming part of High culture are most likely to have been produced during periods of High
civilization, for which a large, sophisticated and wealthy urban-based society which provides a coherent & conscious aesthetic framework, and a large-scale milieu of training, and, for the visual arts, sourcing materials and financing work. All this is so that the artist is able, as near as possible, to realize his creative potential with as few as possible practical and technical constraints. Although the Western concept of High Culture naturally concentrates on the Graeco-Roman tradition, and its resumption from the Renaissance onwards, it would normally be recognised that such conditions existed in other places at other times. A tentative list of High Cultures, or cultures producing High art, might therefore be:
*Several cultures of the
Middle Eastat various periods
*Europe from the 14th century
Promotion of high culture
The term has always been susceptible to attack for
elitism, and, in response, many proponents of the concept devoted great efforts to promoting high culture among a wider public than the highly educated bourgeoisiewhose natural territory it was supposed to be. There was a drive, beginning in the 19th century, to open museums and concert halls to give the general public access to high culture. Figures such as John Ruskinand Lord Reithof the BBC in Britain, Leon Trotskyand others in Communist Russia, and many others in America and throughout the western world have worked to widen the appeal of elements of high culture such as Classical music, Art by Old masters and the literary classics.
With the widening of access to university education, the effort spread there, and all aspects of high culture became the objects of academic study, which with the exception of the classics had not often been the case until the late 19th century. University
liberal artscourses still play an important role in the promotion of the concept of high culture, though often now avoiding the term itself.
Especially in Europe, governments have been prepared to subsidize high culture through the funding of
museums, operaand balletcompanies, orchestras, cinema, public broadcastingstations such as BBC Radio 3, ARTEand in other ways. Organisations such as the Arts Councilin Britain and, in most European countries, whole ministries administer these programmes. This includes the subsidy of new works by composers, writers and artists. There are also many private philanthropic sources of funding, which are especially important in the US.
High culture and its relation to Mass culture, have been, in different ways, a central concern of much theoretical work in
Cultural studies, Critical theory, Media studiesand Sociology, as well as Postmodernismand many strands of Marxistthought. It was especially central to the concerns of Walter Benjamin, whose 1935-6 essay " The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" has been highly influential, as has the work of Theodor Adorno.
High culture has also been an important concept in political theory on
Nationalismfor writers such as Ernest Renanand Ernest Gellner, who saw it as a necessary component of a healthy national identity. Gellner's concept of a high culture was much broader than just the arts; he defined it in "Nations and Nationalism" (1983) as: "...a literate codified culture which permits context-free communication". This is a distinction between different cultures, rather than within a culture, contrasting high with simpler, agrarian "low cultures". Pierre Bourdieu's book: " La Distinction" (English translation: "Distinction - A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste") (1979) is a study influential in Sociology of another much broader, class based, definition of high culture, or "taste", which includes etiquette, appreciation of fine food and wine, and even military service, but also references to different social codes supposed to be observed in the dominant class, and that are not accessible to the lower classes. This partly reflects a French conception of the term which is different from the more serious-minded Anglo-German concept of Arnold, Benjamin, Leavis or Bloom.
Working class culture
Dead white males
Bakhtin, M. M. (1981) " [http://books.google.com/books?id=JKZztxqdIpgC The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays] ". Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
* [http://www.authorama.com/culture-and-anarchy-1.html Full text of Matthew Arnold's "Culture and Anarchy" online]
* [http://members.tripod.com/GellnerPage/SmithLec.html "Memory and modernity:reflections on Ernest Gellner's theory of nationalism" - Lecture text by Anthony D Smith]
* [http://faculty.frostburg.edu/phil/forum/HighArt.htm On high art]
* [http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/13/jan95/wilkin.htm "On the "High Art" of Nicolas Poussin" - New Criterion Magazine, 1995]
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