The difference between our positions, of course, is that Mr. [Raymond] Williams [in Culture and Society, 1780-1950] blames it all on the cheapjacks and exploiters, while I see it as a reciprocal process, in which the ignorance and vulgarity of the mass public meshes in an endless cat's cradle with the same qualities - plus rapacity - in the Lords of Kitsch. The cheapjacks do indeed sell adulterated cultural goods, but the awkward question shall we say challenge?) is why the masses prefer adulteration to the real thing, why the vast majority of the British people read News of the World instead of the Observer and go to see Carry On, Nurse! instead of L'Avventura. Mr. Williams says it is because they are ill educated and socially disadvantaged. This is part of the answer but far from the whole. The difficulty is that most people, of whatever education or social position, don't care very much about culture. This is not a class matter and is not unique to our age. Some Renaissance nobles patronized the arts but most of them were more interested in hunting and fighting. Very few of my classmates in Yale '28, a notably un-disadvantaged social group, spent more time than they were forced to in that institution's excellent library - a fifth would be a generous, a tenth a realistic estimate. If between 80 and 90 per cent of the population just don't care about such matters, then standards can be maintained only by thinking in terms of two cultures, a diluted, adulterated one for the majority, rich or poor, and the real thing for the minority that wants it.These are empirical impressions by Dwight Macdonald, but let's see what Pierre Bourdieu has to say (in Distinction, A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Harvard University Press, 2; Translation by Richard Nice):
The definition of cultural nobility is the stake in a struggle which has gone on unceasingly, from the seventeenth century to the present day, between groups differing in their ideas of culture and of the legitimate relation to culture and to works of art, and therefore differing in the conditions of acquisition of which these dispositions are the product. Even in the classroom, the dominant definition of the legitimate way of appropriating culture and art favors those who have had early access to legitimate culture, in a cultured household, outside of scholastic disciplines.What Dwight Macdonald seems to forget is that a scholastic education is very important to those who don't live in a cultured household, not to those who come from such a background. This difference (implying an intellectual and an anti-intellectual approach to art) divides the dominant class in two (176):
Through the mediation of the means of appropriation available to them, exclusively or principally cultural on the one hand, mainly economic on the other, and the different forms of relation to works of art which result from them, the different fractions of the dominant class are oriented towards cultural practices so different in their style and object and sometimes so antagonistic (those of 'artists' and 'bourgeois' that it is easy to forget that they are variants of the same fundamental relationship to necessity and to those who remain subject to it, and that each pursues the exclusive appropriation of legitimate cultural goods and the associated symbolic profits. Whereas the dominant fractions of the dominant class (the 'bourgeoisie') demand of art a high degree of denial of the social world and incline towards a hedonistic aesthetic of ease and facility, symbolized by boulevard theatre or Impressionist painting, the dominated fractions (the 'intellectuals' and 'artists') have affinities with the ascetic aspect of aesthetics and are inclined to support all artistic revolutions conducted in the name of purity and purification, refusal of ostentation and the bourgeois taste for ornament; and the dispositions towards the social world which they owe to their status as poor relations incline them to welcome a pessimistic representation of the social world.As you can see these are complex matters and I don't want to explore them any further. If it took Pierre Bourdieu 668 pages to explore the subject I'm not going to do the same in a measly blog post. Bourdieu above talks about the dominant fraction of the dominant class (the bourgeoisie) and the dominated fraction of the dominant class (the 'intellectuals' and 'artists'). If he's right, and, to be honest, I'm not completely sure (he seems to be describing aristocratic, not bourgeois taste), I would say that good taste lies in the hands of the latter, not the former (I wouldn't say that boulevard theatre is a great example of good taste, exactly).
On the other hand Distinction was published 35 years ago which means that things have changed a bit. Bourdieu describes Modernist aesthetics ("purity and purification, refusal of ostentation and the bourgeois taste for ornament") which, I would say, is out, but he also described what, in my opinion, but I may be wrong because I don't follow these matters closely, is perfectly up to date: "the dispositions towards the social world which they owe to their status as poor relations incline them to welcome a pessimistic representation of the social world." In other words: high art today tends to be highly politicized and, to be honest, that's the difference between the anti-aesthetic stance of Marcel Duchamp and the aestheticization and social critique of today's readymade as we can hear in Nicole Wermers' explanations below (that's, by the way, why Conceptual Art is not, and can never be, part of the PPP).