About a new longing for valuations and drawing boundaries

The question of whether the old distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ is really abolished, as is often claimed, or whether, on the contrary, we do not experience their return in changed constellations, seems to be tiring. But it remains relevant, at least if one assumes that every culture and subculture is hierarchically structured, that there is always something to which more meaning and value is attached than something else and which is therefore treated more carefully and prudently.

High and low

The programmatic demand for a dissolution of the border between ‘high’ and ‘low’ began in the 1960s. From today’s perspective not without success: nobody will question the fact that neither politicians nor journalists nor curators currently speak of ‘high culture’ in the cultural sector – at least not without irony. And those who catch themselves accidentally taking it seriously will feel embarrassed that they continue to recognise a boundary between ‘high’ and ‘low’. It’s long since out of the question that Bowie is just as highly cultural as Beethoven, that ready-mades have long been standard not only in art, but also in applied fields such as fashion, or that sometimes it’s almost impossible to distinguish between when it’s a gag on the Internet and when it’s visual art.

Moreover, anyone who speaks of ‘high culture’ must at the same time have an idea of what is ‘low’. And what is even rarer talked about than ‘high culture’ is ‘lower culture’. Yes, with ‘low’ or ‘low culture’ we have literally lost the language. For ‘low’ is far too obviously associated with humiliation or even insult – and with it a hierarchisation of culture or even discrimination against individual cultures. This is particularly evident in the conceptual evasion manoeuvres: in the academic and intellectual realms one prefers to speak of ‘high’ and ‘low’ rather than of ‘high’ and ‘low’. Or one looks for other contrasts to high culture that sound less judgmental, such as ‘popular culture’ or ‘everyday culture’.

Reserved or relativistic

Even when it comes to the term ‘art’ (which is occasionally used in everyday language in the sense of ‘high culture’), one often shows oneself to be reserved or relativistic: it is often observed how critics as well as artists twist when the question arises as to whether your ‘work’ (now a preferred alternative term to ‘artwork’) is at all ‘art’. This applies in particular to art that is not only perceived by an art audience, for example because it is political or circulates on the Internet. In such a case, for example, something like That doesn’t matter whether it’s art or not is said.

In a panel discussion at the Maxim Gorki Theater on the occasion of a book publication on the Center for Political Beauty, art critic and curator Alexander Koch answered the question of whether the work of the ZPS should be regarded as art as follows: “Although he adds that the attribute ‘art’ is of course associated with certain advantages, for example legal ones: “But the question becomes interesting when one says that there is an artistic freedom that protects certain activities” Culturally, I interpret Koch as saying, one no longer has to argue about whether something is art or not.

After all, he is of the opinion that if it is art, it can be decided whether it is good or bad – at least if one reveals the criteria in advance. But even that is now being questioned in some places. Art journalist Anika Meier, for example, wrote that net artists would no longer “primarily” pursue the goal of “creating art that art critics praise as good art” For the currency is likes, comments, and followers” and not subjective judgments of people who believe they can rise with their opinions about the judgments of others.

The question of whether measuring Likes is really more productive than a subjective judgement does not need to be answered further. Especially not if one considers how Likes are created and how fictitious their numbers can be (e.g. if they have been bought or have merely been created out of social interests). In any case, it must be established which gesture is connected with such a statement: the demand for more equality instead of elitism.