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HIGH LOW CULTURE - Another label? What is it?

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Too? Who is adding this layer of classism to culture? Let's dive in...


High and low culture are terms used to distinguish between different forms of artistic expression and cultural production. While the definitions of high and low culture have evolved over time, they continue to shape our perception of artistic value and societal hierarchies within the cultural space.

High culture traditionally refers to artistic endeavours associated with refined taste, intellectual depth, and exclusivity. It encompasses works such as classical music, opera, ballet, and literature that are often considered intellectually challenging and cater to a niche audience. High culture is often seen as embodying sophistication and cultural prestige, requiring a certain level of education or familiarity to appreciate and understand fully. Luxury.

On the other hand, low culture, sometimes referred to as popular culture or mass culture, encompasses forms of entertainment that are more accessible, widely consumed, and often commercial in nature. This includes genres such as popular music, blockbuster films, television shows, and mainstream literature. Low culture prioritises entertainment value, broad appeal, and commercial success over intellectual depth or artistic experimentation.

Who made these terms? Why are we adding this layer of classism to culture?

The distinction between high and low culture has been debated and critiqued. Some argue that this categorisation creates a false dichotomy, perpetuating elitism and excluding certain forms of cultural expression from recognition or validation. However, others argue that high culture serves as a valuable repository of artistic achievement and intellectual exploration, while low culture reflects a broader audience's evolving tastes and interests. Who said?

To better understand the impact of high and low culture, let's look at three examples:

  1. The Beatles: One of the most iconic bands in music history, can be seen as a bridge between high and low culture. Initially associated with the low culture of pop music, their groundbreaking experimentation with sound, lyrics, and album concepts elevated their work to a level of high cultural recognition. Their music continues to be celebrated for its artistic merit and cultural impact, transcending traditional genre boundaries.

  2. Comic Books: Comic books have traditionally been considered a part of low culture, often dismissed as juvenile or lacking artistic value. However, in recent years, they have gained critical acclaim and recognition as a legitimate form of storytelling and art.

Logo Box Hoodie Monogram | Red
Louis Vuitton | Supreme Logo Box Hoodie Monogram | Red

  1. Street Art: Street art, often associated with graffiti and urban culture, has historically been viewed as a form of low culture, seen as vandalism or defacement of public spaces. However, artists like Banksy have revolutionised street art by blending social commentary, political satire, and intricate artistic techniques. Their work has garnered international attention, challenging the distinction between high and low culture and prompting discussions on the value of art in unconventional spaces.

High and low cultures converge in streetwear, often blurring the lines between the two. One notable case study exemplifies this: luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton and streetwear label Supreme. A classic.

Louis Vuitton, renowned for its high-end fashion and luxury accessories, teamed up with Supreme, a brand rooted in street culture and urban aesthetics. This collaboration generated significant buzz within the fashion industry and beyond, bringing together two seemingly contrasting worlds. The collection featured various products, including clothing, accessories, and footwear, adorned with the iconic Supreme logo alongside Louis Vuitton's monogram pattern.

This collaboration showcases the intersection of high and low culture in streetwear. On one hand, Louis Vuitton represents the epitome of high fashion, known for its heritage, craftsmanship, and exclusivity. On the other hand, Supreme represents the underground street culture, celebrated for its bold branding, limited releases, and close connection to skateboarding and hip-hop.

The partnership between Louis Vuitton and Supreme illustrates how the boundaries between high and low culture can be transcended, challenging traditional notions of artistic value and cultural hierarchies. The collaboration brought high fashion credibility to streetwear and introduced streetwear aesthetics to a wider audience, blurring the boundaries and expanding the possibilities within the fashion landscape.

This case study underscores the influence and impact of streetwear as a cultural force, demonstrating that the fusion of high and low culture can result in innovative and groundbreaking collaborations. It also highlights the evolving nature of cultural trends and consumer preferences as streetwear gains recognition and legitimacy within the fashion industry.

High and low culture concepts shape our understanding of artistic value and influence how we perceive and consume cultural products. While the distinction can be limiting and subject to criticism, it also reflects the diversity and dynamism of cultural expression. Although it remains a huuge contradiction - the image above of the collaboration hoodie can be found on some websites - today, retailing at $6,995.00! Low, for who exactly - the actual culture? Appropriators? Celebs? These combinations are not cheap (subjective), so how can they be defined as low?

Cultural expression and artistic value can emerge from unexpected sources, and collaborations between seemingly disparate worlds can spark creativity and redefine cultural boundaries. It encourages us to embrace the fluidity of cultural movements and explore the diverse influences that shape contemporary artistic expression.

Long live culture, simply - our way.

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