Brooks Jensen, the publisher of Lenswork magazine, recently did a podcast comparing “culture” to “pop culture.” Ironically it was the same day I asked people on my tumblr and facebook pages about what they thought would last from modern pop culture. Brooks’ point in the episode is we should feed ourselves a diet of refined culture instead of junk culture, which I 60% agree with, as the last few months I’ve been watching all these Orson Welles films and exploring the classic rock/ classic dance music artists who were innovators. Brooks also goes on to lump Elvis with Justin Bieber as “low culture” and says people should read fine literature instead of comic books which is where I went apeshit and wrote the missive below, posted on Brooks’ blog:
Hi Brooks, I’ve never been inclined to comment on a podcast before but to hear Elvis and Justin Bieber lumped together as low culture, or a dismissive remark about the entirety of comic books made me leap to the computer. I essentially agree that a steady diet of well crafted work as our guideposts is better than a steady diet of junk, but the well rounded person doesn’t discriminate too much, because we can learn from everything. I’ve heard many artists, musicians, photographers etc. say they pull influence from everywhere because they are part of the world. It is that openess that lead them to create great art.
The Muppets may be corporate Disney-owned products, but they can make us feel good, we can learn of the subversive genius of Jim Henson (who also made avantgarde films), we can bond with our children over it, in my case I have a strong personal connection to them because I grew up with them. It doesn’t feel like “low” culture to me at all. My photography generally runs towards those things considered pop culture- I’ve done a series referencing old b-movies for example. At the time they were not deep and not crafted like Citizen Kane, but time has made them staples of film making, revealed the psychology of the post-WW2, Cold War era paranoia. They’re historical documents.
I also think it’s good for the creative mind to switch off for a while, do something not particularly deep or “cultured.” I know it helps me come back with fresh ideas, or be more appreciative of what we consider the “classics.”
If museums and galleries are the curators of what culture is, then the battle of high culture is long over. The Phoenix Art Museum just had a summer exhibition of video game art and design and it was as lovely as the exhibit of Wynn Bullock and Imogen Cunningham at a gallery called Art Intersection. The video game show said as much about the world we live in, the limits of the creative id of humanity, and of course it reached thousands of more people who could not or would not be able to connect to the black and white, immaculately crafted Bullock images. That shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed.
Anyways, thanks for the continued inspirational podcasts!