What’s considered high or low culture—or utterly lacking in it—is, like so many of the constructs we imbue with value, determined by our own experiences and beliefs and preferences. We’re all so ready to tout the stuff we do and we like as the world’s best, and to condemn as inferior, ugly, stupid, reprehensible, or outright evil whatever is unfamiliar or not to our taste. A raffish bunch of spray-painting ruffians bring street art to the masses and it expands upward and outward to legitimize graffiti as fine art. Nameless folk art masters labor for decades in their continued anonymity, carving and building pieces out of recycled materials, ragtag odds and ends, and found objects, and some eventually are “discovered” by high-end curators of Outsider Art and get gallery representation, some dying still unknown while their work changes hands until it’s decorating some rich collector’s mansion. Much never comes to light at all. Meanwhile, other artists make millions in a few short, meteoric years despite making works that not every critic respects or every art-lover craves.
Do we admire and praise a song, a dance, a play, or a novel because it is inherently Good and meaningful, life-affirming, unique, intellectually challenging, or universally considered beautiful? Certainly, there are people who feel that definition applies to one that they prefer themselves, but there is no circumstance in which I could possibly imagine a large sector of any given population agreeing fully on such a thing, let alone the whole world. Our loves must inevitably be seen as provincial or peculiar to those who don’t have an identical context for them. Which is nearly everybody, by nature. I may come from a small farming town in an area with a still vital native American population, set in a highly varied natural landscape and a relatively liberal-leaning political region, and you may come from an urban center where classical and jazz music rule the scene, big business drives the economy, and the artistic trend is funded and heavily influenced by the conservative suburbs where the business moguls’ next underlings and their families live.
Educated or not, religious or secular, youthful or antiquated; every iteration of society and the individuals in it tends to affect the view of what culture is, and what within it is valued. I will admit to being provincial enough myself that I wish everybody on earth generally had the tasteful idea that my creative output is the highest form of written, drawn, sculpted, photographed, invented, designed, and painted culture ever, anywhere. But even I am not delusional and foolish enough to think that the remotest possibility, and short of it, I’d far rather delight in the great range of possibilities that exist in our unbelievably different wishes and tastes and expectations, instead.