To soften the blow, culture has been divide into high or low categories. What about the in-between? In the 1920s, middlebrow was use as an insult in English. It was use to describe works that mistakenly equate good taste with serious art, and those who could not tell the difference.
Nearly 1500 Australians were ask about their cultural preferences, participation, and we map their responses onto a spectrum. It is clear that there is a divide between people who aren’t interest in arts and culture and those who love high-quality or avant-garde art forms.
The middle space was the most densely map area. This area which is fill with favourites like Phantom of the Opera and Rhapsody in Blue as well as light classical music, jazz, TV documentaries, and police shows, Monet, Ken Done and Tim Winton, Jane Austen, and many other titles can help us understand middlebrow culture.
Graces And Airs Culture
The new forces of modernist high cultural and mass commercial culture, which were merged in the early 20th century, created ongoing disputes over cultural authority and value among consumers and critics alike.
The language of eyebrows indicated not only different, but also dramatically opposing tastes. Worse, these brow levels could also be used to indicate high, middle, and low-class tastes. Anyone who rises from the bottom could threaten those higher up.
The most dangerous threat to cultural elites wasn’t the vulgar, but the middlebrow’s pretenses to culture or good taste. Virginia Woolf said that the middlebrow was: Of middle bred intelligence not in pursuit of any single object, art or life, but both indistinguishably and rather nastily with money fame power prestige.
Middlebrow art was not serious, but it offered only easy pleasure. The culture of middlebrow consumers was not for its social prestige, but rather for the enjoyment of it. Radio and book clubs were middlebrow institutions that made high culture available to everyone, dumbing down it.
Major Works, Minor Arts Culture
Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, defined middle cultural as the major work of the minor arts or minor work of the major art. However, almost any item could be consider middlebrow depending upon how it was perceive and package.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Jane Austen’s landscape painting are not essentially middlebrow, but this term could be used to describe many occasions for their consumption today, Vivaldi over dinner; landscapes in the gallery giftshop; Austen in The Jane Austen Book Club. These works are still consider to be serious art but they have been package for pleasure or tasteful consumption.
A new field of middlebrow research has emerged in the 1990s. It focuses on the cultural history of the middlebrow to better understand it. Researchers have identified the recurring aspects of middlebrow culture. They see it as a form of purposeful recreation, or empathetic engagement, but also as a source for pleasure. It is open to high and popular culture, but with clear boundaries.
Australian Cultural Fields conducted a survey of cultural preferences across Australia in 2015. The new book, Fields, Capitals, Habitus, Australian Culture, Social Divisions, and Inequalities, focuses on the “middle” space of cultural engagement and tastes in Australia.
A Map Of Middle Culture
It was possible to map the preferences of individuals for books, TV, music, heritage, sport, and participation at cultural activities so that they could be group together. The same goes for attitudes towards certain artists, writers, composers, TV and sports personalities. These results were compare to social variables such as age, gender, education, and occupational class.
The exercise revealed two distinct zones of taste and engagement and a middle area. One side shows a low participation zone (42% of respondents) with negative responses for almost all book types. This includes Impressionism, Renaissance, abstract, and classical art.
Engagement and likes are limit to reality and sports TV, commercial television, country music, landscapes or portraits, books about sports, Stephen King, family, homeland heritage and rugby league.
The other side (21%), has positive tastes, especially for traditionally prestigious or learned items like literary classics, modern novel, Impressionism and Indigenous books, Aboriginal and Migrant heritage, ABC and SBS, author David Malouf, and Margaret Preston. Certain popular or de class genres, such as dance music and landscapes, are subject to dislikes.
The cultural middle ground is where you will find the greatest concentration of likes or dislikes. This allows us to see the middlebrow. Positive reactions are centre around classical music and Aboriginal and Renaissance art, Australian history and biographies as well as crime novels, TV news, and lifestyle programs.
The middle space is more crowded in terms of names artists and works. Jane Austen, a prominent figure in the literary world, sits proudly at center, along with Jodi Picoult, Woolf, Bryce Courtenay and Jodi Pickoult, as well as painters Rembrandt Monet, Monet, and Jackson Pollock. Musically, Phantom of the Opera and Nessun Doma are performing.
The middle space also includes dislikes: Ben Quilty and Francis Bacon, Kate Grenville and Ian Rankin. However, the mere presence of negative responses suggests cultural capital. It is important to have a view, even negative, on such figures.