Popular art and snobbery

When I meet people with whom I feel a strong intellectual kinship (which seems to be less and less common these days; man, Covid really threw a wrench into a our social fabric, to mix a metaphor), I find that they are frequently people who like high-brow art. For myself, to be honest, I’ve never understood that.

It’s not surprising that people who have a taste for philosophy, for history, for the classics and the medievals, who have an interest in education and moral formation and religious experience, would also be the sort of people who like opera and classical music and old or especially artsy fiction and films, and things of that sort.

I think there’s a place for classical music or even opera, but to be honest, in my personal view that place is as background music. The last time I went to a symphony performance (which I haven’t done often in my adult life), I brought along a book to read.

I listen to pop music. I watch blockbusters. I read pageturners. I know it’s not cool, but it’s the truth.

The professor who was most influential on me, and for whom I have a great and enduring fondness, would certainly cast me into outer darkness for speaking such folly. He made eloquent and convincing appeals for the need to consume art that elevates the soul and improves the character, rather than what merely caters to the lower passions.

And I don’t disagree with that, in principle, even though in practice I contradict it almost every day (most often in the form of easily consumed fictional audiobooks). I agree that ideally, that should be the place of art.

I think why I’ve always resisted that sort of high-brow approach to art is because I’ve seen all too often how it can be corrupted, and I’ve never wanted to expose myself to the temptation to become the sort of person who is corrupted by what ought to improve us. For many of the people I’ve known, consuming high-brow art has been a posture, a justification for arrogance. They don’t really understand it. They don’t actually even like it! But they endure it because of the greater pleasure they get from feeling better than the dirty plebs who consume the popular arts, and from bonding with fellow connoisseurs who join them in complaining gleefully about the degradation of taste in society.

In my view, baseless and willful arrogance of that sort is one of the most distasteful, and the most degrading, and the most repellant of human vices. That’s why I tend to take as my guide to art the preferences of the many. The corruptions I expose myself to from that sort of art seem far less dangerous, in my experience, than the corruption I risk from the alternative.

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