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Is art for "the masses"?

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There's an Op-Ed piece from the London Times that Ari posted on Links which might raise some eyebrows.

Usually when the "is art for the masses?" topic is discussed -- gingerly, if at all, because it's so rooted in issues of class and education and taste -- the point by those who say "No!" is that for anything to be sophisticated, whether it's wine or painting or ballet, it can only be appreciated by people who understand it in all of its manifestations and subtleties. IF you try to make art that everyone can understand (like, appreciate) you'll wind up with Fox TV. (Lest this position raise egalitarian hackles, it's usually phrased as a matter of education, not rank or privilege. Anyone can learn to appreciate art, but you're unlikely to "get" art, particularly avant-garde art, if you've just come in off the street and think a painting is what's on a greeting card.)

The Times fellow, though, has a go at the audience. It's Them that shouldn't be allowed in, because They don't know how to behave. It's mostly aimed at the middle-class.

Any comments?

Whisper It: Art is Not Aimed at the Toe-Picking Masses

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Quite the rant, that one.

From my reading of it though, the issue of whether art is for the "masses" or not seemed secondary to the author to whether the masses should disturb him while he enjoys his art. It was more about proper behavior (noisemaking electronics off, children reined in) and consideration for those around you.

Being a curmudgeon who hates being disturbed at the ballet (except if I'm the one whispering to my friends ;) ) I sympathize with Mr. Pollard's desire. If he thinks etiquette and consideration are class issues, we part company there. I think it has more to do with television than class. People are so used to entertainment coming to them in privacy they aren't altering their behavior in public to accommodate others, and it needs to be taught. Absolutely anyone of normal intelligence can be taught what it means to be considerate in a public place. Can they be taught to appreciate what they see? That's a different issue, but I don't think the author could care less, as long as they shut up while they're watching it.

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I had a German friend once who was shocked at how passive American audiences were. Why don't they boo? Don't you care about art? Good grief, let's get a dialogue started here. He'd boo at performances I was supposed to be reviewing, so I stopped taking him to performances. Cultural differences, cultural differences. (I'm sure I'll be told by 50 people that all Germans don't boo. I'm not saying that they do. I'm saying this one did and thought it was part of the theater-going experience.)

Our Ranter did make a point of saying he considered the people disturbing him middle class -- he may mean that they're the masses. Hard to tell.

But I did think it was about etiquette and not art. If no one was disturbing him, I guess, he'd think they were all basking in art, and no doubt viewing it in exactly the same way -- the right way! -- that he was. It's like all those ghastly commercials with the women looking attentively, intelligently, and the men being idiots, plugged into their walkmen and listening to rock (quietly, quietly, not to disturb) until they can contain themselves no longer, and ..... Come to think of it, he's right. They shouldn't go to the opera/ballet/concert.

But I agree with Leigh -- it has nothing to do with art, or appreciating art. (I don't think it's TV, though. I think it's the death of the dining room table. People don't teach children manners or how to behave.)

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I'm afraid Mr. Pollard sounds to me very much like the sort of person Calvin Trillin refers to as a "baby bigot." (And perhaps another kind of bigot, to judge from his charming description of Afghan refugees. What a nice man.) While I'm no fan of obstreperous kiddies whose parents don't teach them to mind their public manners, it is a fact of life that children don't gaze at art objects in silent contemplation – but that doesn't mean it doesn't benefit them to be there. (And others as well. I like seeing kids at museums, myself, even if they are pulling faces at the naked ladies. It's worth it to see their reaction to something they really like.)

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Boorish behavior is not limited to any one class. Respect and good behavior has to be taught and the teaching unfortunately can be lacking regardless of the economic background of the boor. Misbehaved kids and adults exist across socioeconomic boundries.

Now whether the high arts are for the masses...I hope so or it feeds the whole elitist argument doesn't it? The most wonderful performance of the Nutcracker is the free performance given for public school children in NYC by the NYCB. You can feel the energy and the "wow" and the awe that this audience sees in the ballet on the stage before them. They may not understand it on the level that a well educated ballet-nik may but they enjoy it nonetheless. They may go "wow" at at different point in the ballet but the enjoyment is real. They may not be absolutely quiet but they are into it.

As to our writer of the article I do sense a baby-bigot who believes that children are better not seen at all in the public domain. I also sense a plain bigot. :mad:

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I couldn't agree more with Leigh that the issue is not one of class. I teach at a private school that costs upwards of $15,000 a year, so I think we can agree on the class of the kids who attend.

The manners of many of these kids is shocking. (I teach 9-10 year olds.) It is extremely common for them to keep on talking once I have signaled for quiet. In fact, if something occurs to them while I am in the middle of giving instructions, they think nothing of turning and talking to their friends. I have had children get up and walk away while I was speaking to them and their three partners. Just yesterday, after the class was told to return to their seats after clean-up, they all continued milling around. I know they heard the instruction, because several kids accurately repeated it.

The astounding thing is, these kids don't know they are being rude! Apparently, they have not been taught the simple rules of etiquette: listen when someone is addressing you, wait your turn, that sort of thing.

I agree with Alexandra that the fault lies beyond television (although, Leigh, I like your hypothesis about private vs. public entertainment). I think it has much more to do with a self-centered culture in which the rules always apply to the other guy, not to me. I think the increased pace of life is also to blame. People just aren't used to waiting anymore.

Alexandra, I agree whole-heartedly that the family dinner is important. We do honor this tradition, even though it frequently means waiting until class or rehearsal is over around 8:00 (like tonight). Our friends think we're crazy.

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