high art and pop art

Although historically critics have panned some media content as “lowbrow,” the fact is that such art finds audiences, sometimes large audiences, and has a firm place in the mix that mass media offer. There is nothing artistically pretentious in pulp fiction, including the Harlequin romances, nor their soap-opera equivalents on television, but they serve some purpose.

Similarly, beginning even before the 21st century, the distinctions among high art or “highbrow,” middlebrow, and low art are fading and even becoming, to an extent, obsolete. In our celebrity-crazed, social media-heavy culture, there are fewer and fewer people, regardless of class, who don’t interact with popular culture on a regular basis.

Even elitists may have fun with pop, but they traditionally have drawn the line at anyone who mistakes it as having serious artistic merit. To elitists, pop art is low art that has immense, although generally short-lived, popularity. Their assessment of people who create pop art is that they are masters at identifying what will succeed in the marketplace and then providing it. The mass media provide market-driven content that, in the critics’ view, does not produce aesthetic or meaningful work, but rather content that creates a pressure on people to be first, to be ahead, and on top of things. The result, say elitists, is that junk takes precedence over quality. There are those that argue that pop art and allied pop culture, including popular sitcoms, divert audiences from reading critically respected literary works and digesting time-honored artistic creations.

A Fresh Look at Pop Art The same sort of economic, class-based, and intellectual distinctions have been drawn between “fine art” and “pop art.” Pop art includes content that several decades ago would not have been considered art at all. Susan Sontag, the late media critic, discussed some positive ways in which pop art contributes to culture.

Pop Art as Evocative Sontag made the case that pop art could raise serious issues, just as high art could. She wrote: “The feeling given off by a Rauschenberg painting might be like that of a song by the Supremes.” Sontag soon was being called the High Priestess of Pop Intellectualism. More significantly, the Supremes were being taken more seriously, as were a great number of Sontag’s avant-garde and obscure pop artist friends.

Pop Art as a Societal Unifier In effect, Sontag encouraged people not to look at art on the traditional divisive, class- conscious, elitist–populist continuum. Artistic value, she said, could be found almost anywhere. The word camp gained circulation among 1960s elitists who were influenced by Sontag. These highbrows began finding a perversely sophisticated appeal in pop art as diverse as Andy Warhol’s banal soup cans and ABC’s outrageous Batman.

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