Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Guilty Pleasure of Lowbrow Art

People often like to differentiate between highbrow art and lowbrow art and look down on the latter. But is it really that low? Doesn't it have an important function in our lives? Do we really have to feel ashamed for enjoying it?

Many highbrow individuals enjoy lowbrow art as some kind of "guilty pleasure".

Having a master's degree in literature, I often feel obliged to adore highbrow art. Which I often do. Yet what I sometimes also adore is lowbrow art, even though I agree with all those critics saying it's garbage.

And I know I'm not alone. There are many fans of Fifty Shades of Grey who are intelligent, highly educated people, perfectly aware of all its flaws. But they enjoy the series nonetheless. As some kind of guilty pleasure.

So if lowbrow art does find fans among people who typically aren't supposed to like it - Is it still lowbrow art?

And, more importantly: What is it about the guilty pleasure it gives us?

Highbrow vs. Lowbrow

Let's start with the most basic question: What is highbrow and lowbrow art in the first place?

Well, highbrow culture is usually of intellectual nature. You need a certain degree of intellect and education to understand it. The education part often (not always) also means that you (or your parents) have a considerable income. This is why highbrow culture is often associated with the upper class.

Lowbrow culture, on the other hand, is considered vulgar and even primitive, something you don't need much brain for. Cheap entertainment for the masses. Which is why people enjoying lowbrow culture often are considered stupid and uneducated by fans of highbrow art.

The Sin of Bad Taste

But then it happens ... One highbrow individual catches himself enjoying something lowbrow. - How horrible! Shame! Loss of status! All those accusing fingers!

This is why many such individuals prefer to hide their "guilty pleasure". No one likes to be labelled stupid or uneducated. And then everyone is surprised why works like Fifty Shades of Grey become such successes: Everyone hates them, but everyone (secretly) loves them.

So there has to be something lowbrow art accomplishes better than highbrow art.

The Beauty of Lowbrow Art

I've already mentioned it: Lowbrow culture is entertainment. Something that doesn't ask its audience to put much thought into. And what do we need entertainment for?

To relax.

Because, honestly, Schindler's List is the last thing I want to watch after a hard day's work. After using my brain for hours I just want to put it on standby. A tired brain isn't able to think properly anyway.

While highbrow art often makes us feel uncomfortable lowbrow art does the exact opposite: It helps us to let go of our worries for a while and regenerate our strength. It's like medicine for a tired brain.

Don't Feel Ashamed!

I'm not sure if a normal human being can even function properly without at least a very little lowbrow art in their life. So we should stop thinking of it as a "guilty pleasure". We shouldn't feel guilty for trying to relax.

In truth, so-called lowbrow art really isn't low. It's important. Sure, some lowbrow artworks are better than others, but in the end it all comes down to personal taste. And people who look down on others because of their taste are pitiable, arrogant creatures who should learn to just mind their own business.


  1. Good grief- lowbrow and highbrow are just echoes of the pronouncements of some celebrity twit imposing their values on others. I go to (the supposedly highbrow) museum and see carvings that were painted two thousand years ago and meant to protect the occupants of some equatorial hut from spiritual intrusions. Were the hut dwellers unintelligent? Probably. We listen to those who tell us the works in the Whitney are highbrow and we believe them. Are we intelligent? Probably not. It comes down to ideas like what is desirable, what is acceptable, but it never gets to ideas like what is really true about physics, love, infinity, identity. In current times we substitute monetary value for actual worth, intellectual or otherwise, while we let others think for us and we end up beholden to the untrustworthy, unscrupulous and vacant, but who are best at the game. It's almost shameful but not quite because very little, other than feelings themselves, means anything anyway.

    1. I think the problem here are the words themselves. Different artworks serve different puposes. Some artworks explore more complicated issues while others target feelings. Both purposes are valuable and it's up to every indivudual to think for oneself and decide what one really likes and what not. As I said in the article, I don't think lowbrow art is low. Nor is highbrow art high. And in most cases it isn't even clear whether an artwork is "high" or "low". But, like it or not, I'm afraid these words do exist. All we can do is to like what we like and to dislike what we dislike. Regardless of what others tell us.

  2. As a kid I liked Kiss: Psycho Circus. I had at first mixed feeling that it's not as good as Half-Life or Unreal but then I still enjoyed it.

    I didn't even know it got poor ratings nor did I cared. Sometimes I miss those days without internet that we couldn't even know ratings and just randomly go into things.

    And I still like this game. Now that I know it had poor reception it amuses me even more.


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