Serious Art Won’t Hurt You?

Time was, people aspired to consuming high art. Now they apologise for it. Or at least feel like they need to defend it. Peter Plagens says the turnaround is no mystery. “As for high art’s problem, it’s simple, but with complex fallout. High art is elitist. Only a relatively few people have the educated taste for it, the patience to enjoy it and, frankly, the ability to get it. We live, however, in a passionately egalitarian society, most of whose members absolutely resent the idea that Mr. Fairfax Van Richbuckets has, when he goes to the opera, a better esthetic experience than Mr. Harry Twelvepack does when he springs for a couple of Bon Jovi tickets. (Of course, Harry doesn’t have much regard for his kid sister’s taste for Justin Timberlake, and she can’t understand her younger cousin’s jones for that new Hilary Duff movie. Hierarchies are everywhere.) Connoisseurship on any but a micro level (‘Man, that’s a great Clint Black T-shirt—must be six colors in the silkscreen for it) is practically a dirty word these days, and I’d be surprised if the word ‘vulgar’ is uttered pejoratively more than twice a year in the United States outside of a Tipper Gore tea party.”