Sunday, July 15, 2007

Roger Scruton versus Saatchi & Saatchi

Today I explain the title of The Sunday Times arts magazine and my part in its invention.

25 comments:

  1. Plato in the dialogues has Socrates and Euthyphro attempting to explain piety. And an easier job to explain piety in fifth century Athens, than culture in twenty first century Europe.

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  2. In the ballpark anyway, Bryan. And I sorry I forgot to compliment you on the article.

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  3. Where's the 'e' gone out of 'judgement' Bryan? Is this spelling in the print edition as well?

    I don't agree with Mr Kunzru's claim about the link between high culture and politics, but I'm confused by the logic of the argument here. High culture, true culture, it is argued, has been eroded by "egalitarian reforms in education", and yet high culture is a "universal undertaking: about the condition of being human." The point about establishing a distinction between high culture and low culture is that high culture is appreciated only by a social elite of individuals, those eduacted in the humanities departments of universities in Europe and America. It means nothing to those who are "rather poorly educated." But if you then have this distinction, dependent upon education level, how can it be a universal undertaking, how can it be "an attempt to communicate with mankind as such"? If high culture is universal, then it's something which cannot be eroded by egalitarian reforms in education.

    It seems, then, that high culture is not merely about those things in the "realm of the human heart", but about the things in those hearts belonging to the rather better educated humans.

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  4. I think the reason guys like Scruton and Wolfe are so refreshing on this issue is they reveal the prudishness (and mindlessness) of the modern anti-prude. You can be the biggest cultural snob in the world provided you can recite the mantra about everything being relative and everyone deciding what the good is for himself. As a plus, you can stop worrying about whether modern art and culture speak to the general population or act as a force of social cohesion. Thee lttle people have American Idol and Paris to inspire them. Chacun a son gout.

    The point about establishing a distinction between high culture and low culture is that high culture is appreciated only by a social elite of individuals, those eduacted in the humanities departments.

    That's part of the mantra, Gordon. Everybody tends to nod in agreement at that one, forgetting that both Shakespeare and opera were once popular entertainment.

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  6. I don't see any need for an evolved education so as to be able to stand in front of a great El Greco or Van Gogh's Starry Night or what ever and appreciate it. All it takes is shutting up one's chattering mind and experiencing something as it is. It could be argued that you have to be moulded to a far greater degree in being urned into a parody of oneself where one swallows & enjoys the general horseshite that the ruling elites use to keep the populations docile idiots a la Brave New World-you have to be educated into the kind of perspn who sits in front of the idiocies of mainstream culture & is contented with this humiliating state of servitude..

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  7. they haven't gone and done a reverse ferret on him? I can't make up my mind if he was talking bollocks or not but it might explain why I never got on at school. I ain't gonna be no knowledge mule for no one!

    Interesting that the Saturday edition calls its culture section, The Knowledge. I thought that's what taxi drivers did.

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  8. And the outcome was Culture (the “The” has now gone), the publication you are holding now.

    Another maddening example of the disappearing "the" is the inane term "in studio", as in "today, we have in studio Bryan Appleyard". It's "the studio".

    I think low culture does a better job of transmitting ideas of the heart than what passes as high culture. Comic book movies like "Transformers" and "Spiderman" follow a traditional theme of good versus evil and the need for courage from ordinary people better than the dreary amoral dreck that earns Oscar nominations, like "American Beauty".

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  9. Hmm...Spiderman or Tarkovsky as a better transmitter of ideas of the heart. Though whatever that deadening phrase 'high culture' refers to, it's not American Beauty.

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  10. on your piece - yes, I think they could each be right without too much contradiction. we do get a dilution of true worth with this new internet thing, but I'm not sure it's the same as being destroyed. if it's true quality you'll be sure someone will find it eventually, and if it's true quality it will be well received by a large audience.
    In the past we tended to be given only what a few (the elite) decided was good - of course, these choosers are worried now.

    That, imo, is still the case with Culture. Why does it seem impossible to review culture impartially? Who are they? Their opinions become more and more meaningless.

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  11. To steal the words of Galton and Simpson out of the mouth of Hancock " I'd know a Beethoven painting anywhere." By the same measure of cultural awareness, Hancock would probably have raved about Van Gogh's 4th Symphony. I know where Hancock was coming from. He saw the painting and listened to the music and loved both; the correct identity of the composer and the painter were irrelevant. Poor education is no bar to appreciation of so-called 'high' culture, no matter what the elitists say. My formal education is a desert (even the cacti shrivelled and died). But in teenage years, having bought the latest Presley, I accidently heard a radio broadcast of Elgar's Enigma; the effect, if not exactly life changing, was life enhancing. Suddenly, I realised I could appreciate 'high' and 'low' cultures because both spoke to the heart; the lack of formal education was no barrier. High culture the preserve of the elite? I don't think so, Mr Kunzru. Anyway, I must look at Amazon to see if they're carrying Van Gogh's 5th.

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  12. ''low culture'' is pejorative, isn't it? I mean, does it mean worthless or not worth that much? Are The Beatles low culture, for instance? I think they must have been but...

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  13. ah, johntyh, I think music and paintings are fairly accessible to hoi polloi (note no The because that would be ridicerous).

    but what about poetry? I'm buggered if I know what it's about and I'm in Mensa. (Well, I got nominated but I turned them down).

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  14. Andrew
    I'd say the Academy Award is as valuable a delineator between low and high culture as we have nowadays.

    But "ideas of the heart" really doesn't capture the divide, because all art betrays the heart of the artist, no matter how absurd or bizarre that heart is. I think what Scruton is trying to articulate is between those ideas of the heart that transmit wisdom, and those that merely encourage passionate indugence. The divide is between cultures that are and are not decadent.

    "American Beauty" is an example of decadent ideas of the heart. It trashes the traditional ideas of familial commitment in favor of childlike self indulgence and escapism.

    The comic book genre has been one of the few art forms promoting traditional virtues in modern society.

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  15. Not sure about poetry, Ian. The only poetry I know could get you arrested if you recited it in a public place.

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  16. I'd try & leave the Academy Awards far away from being any kind of meaningful delineator of anything, Duck- didn't Titanic get multiple awards fairly recently? You may have a point but I presume you're somewhat aware of the Nazis's fondness for labelling something decadent art & instead a desire for good strong simple truths? American Beauty is, I think, quite a good film though I'd agree that it's probably pretty vacuous at its intellectual/emotional heart. Comic-books good guys & bad guys visions though I'd say are at least as unsatisfying.
    All the labels like high & low art I feel a deep recoiling from. Good or bad art perhaps much better. And those questions like what makes art art...nearly impel me to violence, and I'm not a violent person. As if once we've decided something is real art then the right response is triggered in the mind to this art, whereas if tis decided not to be art, this response is not triggered.

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  17. Susan B., lover of culture high and low,July 15, 2007 10:30 pm

    Peter Burnet: Paris certainly inspires me. The one with the Seine running through it.

    Bryan, dear boy, have you not seen the tons of literary criticism devoted to "Popular Culture" (only called "low culture" by non-academics)? It's a genre unto itself. There are scholarly articles on The Simpsons and Bay Watch and comic books and belly-button piercings.

    But, of course, few people who really live and breathe popular culture (never reaching for the higher stuff) will ever read any of these articles. Maybe it matters not.

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  18. You have to watch those labels but I don't know how we got to despise something as useful as a label - how would we know where to look or how to catagorise what we liked or disliked simply without labels?

    But worse than the inaccurate label is the static label. We should be aware that labels change and need changing, then we would no longer hate them. High and Low, what do they mean? We have an idea what they mean but if you think about it, it's not the same as Good and Bad, nor is it the same as Popular and Unpopular.

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  19. Personally, Ian, I don't see that the label of high, low or middle is of any use in my life. I don't feel any need or desire to label Rembrandt anything nor to worry if with A Day in the Life & its ilk The Beatles enter the exalted realms of high-art. It also strikes me as possibly a kind of possessing by society on the works of people like Beethoven or Goya, who actually put the lie to ordinary society's sense of reality. Society says this is our civilization exalted by such High Art, & a kind of attempt to castrate, rareify the works of people like Rembrandt. I'm afraid my thoughts here are not likely to become unified but the idea of society is that orindary reality is the foundation of being, & genius a kind of icing upon this cake...the ability to elucidate this life, with especial regard to its finer aspects is High Art, the elucidation of its banalities prehaps low art. But this is a total falshood. As Dosteovsky says in his intro to Brothers Karamazov,"The eccentric(genius) embodies the very essence of his time while his contemporaries somehow seem to have been cut loose from it by an alien wind."
    I'm afraid I'll a bit scattered but for me, good art & bad art has an awful lot more resonance than high & low, & their mediocre segmenting of life...as an aside, you'll find a dog having a shite in a Rembrandt great etching- does the subject matter mean this has become low art?

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  20. As Michel Houelebecq so eloquently puts it, 'That's culture for you... it's a bit of a pain in the arse, but that's good, everyone is returned to his nothingness.'

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  21. A bit reminiscent, Nige, of that great despiser of all things mediocre, Nietzsche & his line half-remembered: "They have something of which they are proud which distinguished them from the goatherds; they call it culture."

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  22. I'm late to this party, but that's never stopped me before, so I shall carry on as if someone was likely to read this. It seems to me that high culture is usually whatever the self-appointed keepers of good taste and refinement like, while low culture is anything they don't. At any rate, "I know what I like and I like what I know."

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  23. And that's all you need to know, Ronin.

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