High culture

High culture

Discussion
Ask a question about 'High culture'
Start a new discussion about 'High culture'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia


High culture is a term, now used in a number of different ways in academic discourse, whose most common meaning is the set of cultural
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 products, mainly in the arts
ARts
aRts, which stands for analog Real time synthesizer, is an audio framework that is no longer under development. It is best known for previously being used in KDE to simulate an analog synthesizer....

, held in the highest esteem by a culture. In more popular terms, it is the culture of an elite
Elite
Elite refers to an exceptional or privileged group that wields considerable power within its sphere of influence...

 such as the aristocracy
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

 or intelligentsia
Intelligentsia
The intelligentsia is a social class of people engaged in complex, mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them...

, but also defined as a repository of a broad cultural knowledge, as a way of transcending the class system. It is contrasted with the low culture
Low culture
Low culture is a term for some forms of popular culture. Its opposite is high culture. It has been said by culture theorists that both high culture and low culture are subcultures....

 or popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 of, variously, the less well-educated, barbarians, Philistines
Philistinism
Philistinism is a derogatory term used to a particular attitude or set of values perceived as despising or undervaluing art, beauty, spirituality, or intellectualism. A person with this attitude is referred to as a Philistine and may also be considered materialistic, favoring conventional social...

, or the masses
Hoi polloi
Hoi polloi , an expression meaning "the many", or in the strictest sense, "the majority" in Greek, is used in English to denote "the masses" or "the people", usually in a derogatory sense. Synonyms for "hoi polloi" include ".....

.

Concept


Although it has a longer history in Continental Europe, the term was introduced into English largely with the publication in 1869 of Culture and Anarchy
Culture and Anarchy
Culture and Anarchy is a series of periodical essays by Matthew Arnold, first published in Cornhill Magazine 1867-68 and collected as a book in 1869...

by Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold was a British poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School, and brother to both Tom Arnold, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold, novelist and colonial administrator...

, although he most often uses just "culture". Arnold defined culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 as "the disinterested endeavour after man's perfection" (Preface) and most famously wrote that having culture meant to "know the best that has been said and thought in the world"—a specifically literary definition, also embracing Philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, which is now rather less likely to be considered an essential component of High Culture, at least in the English-speaking cultures. Arnold saw high culture as a force for moral and political good, and in various forms this view remains widespread, though far from uncontested. The term is contrasted with popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 or mass culture and also with traditional cultures, but by no means implies hostility to these.

T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

's Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948) was an influential work which saw high culture and popular culture as necessary parts of a complete culture. The Uses of Literacy
The Uses of Literacy
The Uses of Literacy has been described as a key book in the history of English and Media Studies and in the founding of Cultural Studies. -Massification of Culture:...

by Richard Hoggart
Richard Hoggart
Herbert Richard Hoggart is a British academic and public figure, whose career has covered the fields of sociology, English literature and cultural studies, with a special concern for British popular culture.-Career:...

 (1957) was an influential work along somewhat the same lines, concerned with the cultural experience of those, like himself, who had come from a working-class background before university. In America, Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom is an American writer and literary critic, and is Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University. He is known for his defense of 19th-century Romantic poets, his unique and controversial theories of poetic influence, and his prodigious literary output, particularly for a literary...

 has taken a more exclusive line in a number of works, as did F. R. Leavis
F. R. Leavis
Frank Raymond "F. R." Leavis CH was an influential British literary critic of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. He taught for nearly his entire career at Downing College, Cambridge.-Early life:...

 earlier—both, like Arnold, being mainly concerned with literature, and unafraid to champion vociferously the literature of the Western canon
Western canon
The term Western canon denotes a canon of books and, more broadly, music and art that have been the most important and influential in shaping Western culture. As such, it includes the "greatest works of artistic merit." Such a canon is important to the theory of educational perennialism and the...

.

High art


Much of high culture consists of the appreciation of what is sometimes called "High Art". This term is rather broader than Arnold's definition and besides literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 includes music, visual arts
Visual arts
The visual arts are art forms that create works which are primarily visual in nature, such as ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, and often modern visual arts and architecture...

 (especially painting
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

), and traditional forms of the performing arts
Performing arts
The performing arts are those forms art which differ from the plastic arts insofar as the former uses the artist's own body, face, and presence as a medium, and the latter uses materials such as clay, metal or paint which can be molded or transformed to create some physical art object...

  (including some cinema
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

). The decorative art
Decorative art
The decorative arts is traditionally a term for the design and manufacture of functional objects. It includes interior design, but not usually architecture. The decorative arts are often categorized in opposition to the "fine arts", namely, painting, drawing, photography, and large-scale...

s would not generally be considered High Art.

The cultural products most regarded as forming part of high culture are most likely to have been produced during periods of High civilization
Civilization
Civilization is a sometimes controversial term that has been used in several related ways. Primarily, the term has been used to refer to the material and instrumental side of human cultures that are complex in terms of technology, science, and division of labor. Such civilizations are generally...

, for which a large, sophisticated
Sophistication
Sophistication is the quality of refinement — displaying good taste, wisdom and subtlety rather than crudeness, stupidity and vulgarity.In the perception of social class, sophistication can link with concepts such as status, privilege and superiority....

 and wealthy urban-based society provides a coherent and conscious aesthetic framework, and a large-scale milieu of training, and, for the visual arts, sourcing materials and financing work. Such an environment enables artists, as near as possible, to realize their creative potential with as few as possible practical and technical constraints. Although the Western concept of high culture naturally concentrates on the Graeco-Roman tradition, and its resumption from the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 onwards, such conditions existed in other places at other times. A tentative list of high cultures, or cultures producing High Art, might therefore include:
  • Ancient Egypt
    Ancient Egypt
    Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

  • Ancient Greece
    Ancient Greece
    Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

  • Ancient Rome
    Ancient Rome
    Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

  • Ancient China
    History of China
    Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in the Neolithic era, but the Yellow River is said to be the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. With thousands of years of continuous history, China is one of the world's oldest...

  • Ancient India
    History of India
    The history of India begins with evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent from...

  • Byzantium
    Byzantium
    Byzantium was an ancient Greek city, founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas . The name Byzantium is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion...

  • Persia
  • Several cultures of the Middle East
    Middle East
    The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

     at various periods
  • Europe from the 14th century

Promotion of high culture


The term has always been susceptible to attack for elitism
Elitism
Elitism is the belief or attitude that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most...

, and, in response, many proponents of the concept devoted great efforts to promoting high culture among a wider public than the highly educated bourgeoisie
Bourgeoisie
In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

 whose natural territory it was supposed to be. There was a drive, beginning in the 19th century, to open museum
Museum
A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities...

s and concert halls to give the general public access to high culture. Figures such as John Ruskin
John Ruskin
John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political...

 and Lord Reith
John Reith, 1st Baron Reith
John Charles Walsham Reith, 1st Baron Reith, KT, GCVO, GBE, CB, TD, PC was a Scottish broadcasting executive who established the tradition of independent public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom...

 of the BBC in Britain, Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

 and others in Communist Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, and many others in America and throughout the western world have worked to widen the appeal of elements of high culture such as Classical music
Classical music
Classical music is the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 11th century to present times...

, Art by old master
Old Master
"Old Master" is a term for a European painter of skill who worked before about 1800, or a painting by such an artist. An "old master print" is an original print made by an artist in the same period...

s and the literary classics.

With the widening of access to university education, the effort spread there, and all aspects of high culture became the objects of academic study, which with the exception of the classics had not often been the case until the late 19th century. University liberal arts
Liberal arts
The term liberal arts refers to those subjects which in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free citizen to study. Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic were the core liberal arts. In medieval times these subjects were extended to include mathematics, geometry, music and astronomy...

 courses still play an important role in the promotion of the concept of high culture, though often now avoiding the term itself.

Especially in Europe, governments have been prepared to subsidize high culture through the funding of museum
Museum
A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities...

s, opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 and ballet
Ballet
Ballet is a type of performance dance, that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with...

 companies, orchestra
Orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

s, cinema, public broadcasting
Broadcasting
Broadcasting is the distribution of audio and video content to a dispersed audience via any audio visual medium. Receiving parties may include the general public or a relatively large subset of thereof...

 stations such as BBC Radio 3
BBC Radio 3
BBC Radio 3 is a national radio station operated by the BBC within the United Kingdom. Its output centres on classical music and opera, but jazz, world music, drama, culture and the arts also feature. The station is the world’s most significant commissioner of new music, and its New Generation...

, ARTE
Arte
Arte is a Franco-German TV network. It is a European culture channel and aims to promote quality programming especially in areas of culture and the arts...

 and in other ways. Organisations such as the Arts Council
Arts council
An arts council is a government or private, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the arts mainly by funding local artists, awarding prizes, and organizing events at home and abroad...

 in Britain, and in most European countries, whole ministries administer these programmes. This includes the subsidy of new works by composers, writers and artists. There are also many private philanthropic sources of funding, which are especially important in the US, where the federally-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a non-profit corporation created by an act of the United States Congress, funded by the United States’ federal government to promote public broadcasting...

 also funds broadcasting. These may be seen as part of the broader concept of official culture
Official culture
Official culture is the culture that receives social legitimation or institutional support in a given society. Official culture is usually identified with bourgeoisie culture...

, although often a mass audience is not the intended market.

Theoreticians


High culture and its relation to mass culture have been, in different ways, a central concern of much theoretical work in cultural studies
Cultural studies
Cultural studies is an academic field grounded in critical theory and literary criticism. It generally concerns the political nature of contemporary culture, as well as its historical foundations, conflicts, and defining traits. It is, to this extent, largely distinguished from cultural...

, critical theory
Critical theory
Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

, media studies
Media studies
Media studies is an academic discipline and field of study that deals with the content, history and effects of various media; in particular, the 'mass media'. Media studies may draw on traditions from both the social sciences and the humanities, but mostly from its core disciplines of mass...

 and sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

, as well as in postmodernism
Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a philosophical movement evolved in reaction to modernism, the tendency in contemporary culture to accept only objective truth and to be inherently suspicious towards a global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from the...

 and in many strands of Marxist thought. It was especially central to the concerns of Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish intellectual, who functioned variously as a literary critic, philosopher, sociologist, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist...

, whose 1935/36 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is a 1936 essay by German cultural critic Walter Benjamin, which has been influential across the humanities, and especially in the fields of cultural studies, media theory, architectural theory and art history...

has been highly influential, as has the work of Theodor Adorno
Theodor W. Adorno
Theodor W. Adorno was a German sociologist, philosopher, and musicologist known for his critical theory of society....

.Gramscianism can see elite culture as "an instrument of social control".

High culture also became an important concept in political theory on nationalism
Nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

 for writers such as Ernest Renan
Ernest Renan
Ernest Renan was a French expert of Middle East ancient languages and civilizations, philosopher and writer, devoted to his native province of Brittany...

 and Ernest Gellner
Ernest Gellner
Ernest André Gellner was a philosopher and social anthropologist, described by The Daily Telegraph when he died as one of the world's most vigorous intellectuals and by The Independent as a "one-man crusade for critical rationalism."His first book, Words and Things —famously, and uniquely...

, who saw it as a necessary component of a healthy national identity. Gellner's concept of a high culture extended beyond the arts; he defined it in Nations and Nationalism (1983) as: "...a literate codified culture which permits context-free communication". This is a distinction between different cultures, rather than within a culture, contrasting high with simpler, agrarian low cultures.

Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher.Starting from the role of economic capital for social positioning, Bourdieu pioneered investigative frameworks and terminologies such as cultural, social, and symbolic capital, and the concepts of habitus, field or location,...

's book: La Distinction
La Distinction
La Distinction is a book by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu , based on Bourdieu's empirical research on French culture. Taken from studies conducted by Bourdieu in 1963 and concluded in 1967-68, the book was originally published in France in 1979...

(English translation: Distinction - A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste) (1979) is a study influential in sociology of another much broader, class-based, definition of high culture, or "taste", which includes etiquette, appreciation of fine food and wine, and even military service, but also references different social codes supposedly observed in the dominant class, and that are not accessible to the lower classes. This partly reflects a French conception of the term which is different from the more serious-minded Anglo-German concept of Arnold, Benjamin, Leavis or Bloom. Bourdieu introduced the concept of cultural capital
Cultural capital
The term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets; they may be educational or intellectual, which might promote social mobility beyond economic means....

, knowledge and habits acquired by a dominant class upbringing that his surveys in post-war France found led to increased relative social and economic success despite a supposedly egalitarian educational system.

See also

  • Classics
    Classics
    Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

  • Cultural capital
    Cultural capital
    The term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets; they may be educational or intellectual, which might promote social mobility beyond economic means....

  • Bildung
    Bildung
    The term refers to the German tradition of self-cultivation, , wherein philosophy and education are linked in manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation...

  • Status–income disequilibrium
  • Achieved status
    Achieved status
    Achieved status is a sociological term denoting a social position that a person can acquire on the basis of merit; it is a position that is earned or chosen. It is the opposite of ascribed status. It reflects personal skills, abilities, and efforts...

  • Intelligentsia
    Intelligentsia
    The intelligentsia is a social class of people engaged in complex, mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them...

  • Aristocracy (class)
    Aristocracy (class)
    The aristocracy are people considered to be in the highest social class in a society which has or once had a political system of Aristocracy. Aristocrats possess hereditary titles granted by a monarch, which once granted them feudal or legal privileges, or deriving, as in Ancient Greece and India,...

  • Bildungsbürgertum
    Bildungsbürgertum
    Bildungsbürgertum, a social class that initially emerged in mid 18th century Germany as an educated class of the bourgeoisie with an educational ideal based on idealistic values ​​and classical antiquity...

  • Cultural capital
    Cultural capital
    The term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets; they may be educational or intellectual, which might promote social mobility beyond economic means....

  • General knowledge
    General knowledge
    General knowledge has been defined by differential psychologists as referring to 'culturally valued knowledge communicated by a range of non-specialist media' General knowledge therefore encompasses a wide range of knowledge domains...

  • Cultural studies
    Cultural studies
    Cultural studies is an academic field grounded in critical theory and literary criticism. It generally concerns the political nature of contemporary culture, as well as its historical foundations, conflicts, and defining traits. It is, to this extent, largely distinguished from cultural...

  • Intelligentsia
    Intelligentsia
    The intelligentsia is a social class of people engaged in complex, mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them...

  • Classicism
    Classicism
    Classicism, in the arts, refers generally to a high regard for classical antiquity, as setting standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate. The art of classicism typically seeks to be formal and restrained: of the Discobolus Sir Kenneth Clark observed, "if we object to his restraint...

  • High
    • Highbrow
      Highbrow
      Used colloquially as a noun or adjective, highbrow is synonymous with intellectual; as an adjective, it also means elite, and generally carries a connotation of high culture. The word draws its metonymy from the pseudoscience of phrenology, and was originally simply a physical descriptor...

    • Higher education
      Higher education
      Higher, post-secondary, tertiary, or third level education refers to the stage of learning that occurs at universities, academies, colleges, seminaries, and institutes of technology...

    • Dead white males
      Dead white males
      Dead white males or Dead White European Males is a derogatory term that refers to a purportedly disproportionate academic focus on contributions to historical and contemporary Western civilization made by European males....

  • Non-high:
    • Low culture
      Low culture
      Low culture is a term for some forms of popular culture. Its opposite is high culture. It has been said by culture theorists that both high culture and low culture are subcultures....

    • Popular culture
      Popular culture
      Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

    • Working class culture
      Working class culture
      Working class culture is a range of cultures created by or popular among working class people. The cultures can be contrasted with high culture and folk culture, and are sometimes equated with popular culture and low culture ....


External links