Artistic Values

Study Preview The mass media are inextricably linked with culture because it is through the media that creative people have their strongest impact. Although the media have the potential to disseminate the best creative work of the human mind and soul, some critics say the media are unduly preoccupied with trendy topics and people that often lack substance. Historically, critics have often belittled pop culture, claiming it obscures true art.

Learning Objectives By the end of this module you will be able to:

  1. 7.6.1 Assess the definition of “culturally significant” media
  2. 7.6.2 Analyze subjective standards of media creativity
  3. 7.6.3 Differentiate high art and pop art
  4. 7.6.4 Characterize the pop art debate

7.6.1 Media Content as High Art 1. Objective: Assess the definition of “culturally significant” media

The impact of great composers from eras before the mass media has been exponentially extended through recording, film, and television. The printing press greatly expanded the audience for religious scriptures, whose messages can be traced to man’s earliest origins.

Media as High Art

Mass media messages however can be art representing high culture as well as controversial statements.

Such was the case with filmmaker D.W. Griffith, who in 1910, created Birth of a Nation, a film whose depiction of the Ku Klux Klan was seen as racist.

In the 1950s, French New Wave directors offered unique stories and messages. Film critic Andre Bazin devised the term “auteur” to describe creators of

significant and original cinematic contributions. Jean Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Ingmar Bergman, who made Breathless, The 400 Blows, and The Seventh Seal, respectively, can be described as such.

American auteurs John Ford, John Huston, Howard Hawks, and Elia Kazan all left their distinctive mark, as opposed to predominantly generic Hollywood films of that era. More recent auteurs include Richard Linklater, who directed Boyhood, and Quentin Tarantino, director of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Linklater’s film was made over a 12-year period, and the actors, like their characters, all aged during that time. Tarantino’s films are noted for their graphic violence, and in some cases, revisionist history.

Australian Peter Weir’s acclaimed films as Witness, The Truman Show, and Master and Commander show the lone individual confronting nature, the wilderness, man’s evil, and other obstacles.

Culturally significant media content is hardly limited to movies. Older media forms, including novels and short stories, have long been home for creative people whose work adds insight to our lives and deepens our understandings and appreciations. A recent BBC review, titled The 21st Century’s Greatest Novels, included Ian MacEwan’s 2001 Atonement, which was adapted into a critically acclaimed film, and

Hilary Mantel’s 2009 historical novel Wolf Hall, a version of which recently aired as a PBS miniseries.

7.6.2 “High,” “Low,” “Greater,” and “Lesser” (Not Really) Art 1. Objective: Analyze subjective standards of media creativity

Not all media content is “high art.” Even when it’s a collaborative effort, a piece of high art is distinctive. High art requires a sophisticated audience to appreciate it fully. Often it has enduring value, surviving time’s test as to its significance and worth.

In practical terms, high art has generally referred to fine and performing art forms that were restricted to those in society whose wealth or social status made it possible for them to enjoy opera, ballet, theater, chamber music, symphonies, and other entertainment that were not accessible to most people.

A television soap opera, whatever its entertainment value, is likely to lack the creative genius of Shakespeare’s enduring Romeo and Juliet, and all media content does not rank as high art or “highbrow.” Middlebrow tastes recognize some artistic merit but don’t have a high level of sophistication.

Nevertheless, modern media theorists and researchers such as those whose focus is cultural studies and audience reception theory have posited that popular culture, formerly called “lowart” or “lowbrow,” has merit. Popular demand for market-driven content has put a damper on the notion that the only significant and enduring art content is that of the past or that which is accessible only to the very wealthy.

Modern mass media are commercial enterprises that produce vast quantities of content, much of it entertainment. In the 1920s, for example, the demand for movies led to the creation of the Hollywood studio system, whereby actors, directors, and other “creatives” were signed to contracts. The creatives had to agree to a fixed number of films in factory-like fashion. Renowned writers such as Aldous Huxley and F. Scott Fitzgerald also produced creative story lines and scripts, some of which were less critically acclaimed than their novels.

Mass-produced content permeates the media. The Canadian book publisher Harlequin produced popular romance novels that particularly entranced housewives, some of whom even formed Harlequin-centered book clubs. Although not “high art” in the

conventional sense, these books filled a void in the lives of their readers. Perhaps it was a sense of adventure or passion that their real lives lacked, but regardless, they processed the plots, integrated them into their daily routines, and took what was relevant in them to make sense of their own relationships and lives. The same has applied to soap operas, some of which, like the wildly popular soap Dallas (1978– 1991) became the subject of global research into how people incorporate mass media as a sense-making tool to create meaning in their existence.

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