The Old Masters: Part 1

Hi all,

Today, I will write a bit about the differences between high and low art.  I will also discuss how art has shifted its role and direction throughout history.

First, to understand who or what an “old master” is, we must understand what “high art” is.  And no, I’m not talking about the movie starring Ally Sheedy. Art is separated by two categories, high and low art.   In Western culture and some East Asian cultures, art of mind or imagination is of the greatest value, and thus given the most importance as high art.   All high art can be traced by to Continental Europe and has its roots in the intellectual ideas of Greece and Rome.   Examples are the Renaissance and Romanticism.   Ballet,plays, classical music, and museums are all considered high art.  High art will also often use abstract ideas or tackle contemporary social problems.  Historically, being an educated person meant being trained or educated in the high arts.   Low art then would be by those less educated and considered of the barbaric and lower classes.  All pop culture is considered low art.  It is then safe to say that art is a reflection of different classes, and that each class has their own culture.

One may argue, however, that there is often a blur between low culture and high culture.   Some artists often blend different artistic elements from both high and low culture into their work.  The line between art and pop is a very thin one.  All art may be considered pop, but can all pop be considered art?


If one was to argue that high art is of the mind, then who is to say that anyone who paints from their imagination isn’t an artisan of the high arts?  What about the Paleolithic dweller who painted on cave walls?  Who can say that his art isn’t “high art” since one does not know for certain where the source of his inspiration is derived from.  The greatest quality of art is that it is up to interpretation, meaning, and value.  It is then safe to say that both high and low culture are necessary to a complete culture.  If one wanted to analyze the experiences of the lower class, what better venue than through low art?  To taste the luxuries of the upper class, there is high art.

And now onto the Hierarchy of Genres(1700-1799).   These categories of art were not only considered the most important by society between the 17th century until now, but were promoted in European academies.   They include in descending order:



-Genre (Everyday life)


-Still life

At the top of the hierarchy would also be religion or those conveying moral beliefs.  For example, the Last Supper or the Crucifixion.   If you study each major religion in the world, such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, you will find that each has certain important images.


Furthermore, valuable or high art has long been associated with “experience.”  For example, what specific emotions does a piece bring to the viewer?   For most people, they are satisfied viewing art from the comfort of their homes.  Consequently, high art institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, have modified the viewer experience by allowing visitors to become interact with certain displays/artworks.

Art has become very accessible in modern terms.  In the past, for one to view a specific artwork, one would have to travel to the museum where it was displayed.  Now, all that has to be done is to search on the World Wide Web.  Has our society’s ability to reproduce art devalued the original?  There are certainly art theft and forgery problems in the art world due to the black market.

It is rather odd that even though some high art pieces reflect the values of the time that the painter was living in, they still hold meaning today.

Thanks for reading!







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