In Praise of Commercial Culture  

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"[ Harold Bloom ] considers the true masterpieces of the Western canon to be inaccessible to most readers. Culture, Bloom's substitute for religion, requires a Gnostic rather than Catholic view of the truth. Only those who read, reread, and study the classic works can hope to unlock their secrets. A work easily accessible on first reading is unlikely to be truly great. The best writers know far more than their audiences, who are wrongly tempted to dismiss Finnegans Wake as nonsense. The elitist venture of criticism can proceed without much regard for the preferences of the audience." --In Praise of Commercial Culture (1998) by Tyler Cowen


"Sometimes we distinguish between "high" culture, the items achieving greatest critical acclaim, and "low" culture, the most popular cultural items. Economic incentives support the split between high and low culture. Capitalism supports product diversity and gives many artists the means to work outside of the popular mainstream. The resulting split between high culture and low culture indicates the sophistication of modernity, not its corruption or disintegration. A world where high and low culture were strongly integrated would be a world that devoted little effort to satisfying minority tastes. Genres that rely heavily on equipment and materials, which I describe as capital-intensive, tend to produce popular art. Genres with low capital costs, which I describe as labor-intensive, tend to produce high art. The movie spectacular with expensive special effects is likely to have a happy ending. The low-budget art film, directed and financed by an iconoclastic auteur, may leave the viewer searching."--In Praise of Commercial Culture (1998) by Tyler Cowen

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In Praise of Commercial Culture (2000) is a book by Tyler Cowen.

Blurb:

Does a market economy encourage or discourage music, literature, and the visual arts? Do economic forces of supply and demand help or harm the pursuit of creativity? This book seeks to redress the current intellectual and popular balance and to encourage a more favorable attitude toward the commercialization of culture that we associate with modernity. Economist Tyler Cowen argues that the capitalist market economy is a vital but underappreciated institutional framework for supporting a plurality of co-existing artistic visions, providing a steady stream of new and satisfying creations, supporting both high and low culture, helping consumers and artists refine their tastes, and paying homage to the past by capturing, reproducing, and disseminating it. Contemporary culture, Cowen argues, is flourishing in its various manifestations, including the visual arts, literature, music, architecture, and the cinema.

Successful high culture usually comes out of a healthy and prosperous popular culture. Shakespeare and Mozart were highly popular in their own time. Beethoven's later, less accessible music was made possible in part by his early popularity. Today, consumer demand ensures that archival blues recordings, a wide array of past and current symphonies, and this week's Top 40 hit sit side by side in the music megastore. High and low culture indeed complement each other.

Cowen's philosophy of cultural optimism stands in opposition to the many varieties of cultural pessimism found among conservatives, neo-conservatives, the Frankfurt School, and some versions of the political correctness and multiculturalist movements, as well as historical figures, including Rousseau and Plato. He shows that even when contemporary culture is thriving, it appears degenerate, as evidenced by the widespread acceptance of pessimism. He ends by considering the reasons why cultural pessimism has such a powerful hold on intellectuals and opinion-makers.


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