Lowbrow (art movement)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Lowbrow, or lowbrow art, describes an American underground visual art movement that arose in the Los Angeles, California, area in the late 1970s. Lowbrow is a widespread populist art movement with origins in the underground comix world, punk music, street culture, and other California subcultures. It is also often known by the name pop surrealism.

Lowbrow vs. "fine" art

Museums, art critics, mainstream galleries, etc., have been uncertain as to the status of lowbrow in relation to the fine art world, and to date it has been largely excluded - although this has not stopped some collectors from buying the works. Some art critics doubt that lowbrow is a "legitimate" art movement, and there is thus very little scholarly critical writing about it. The standard argument of critics is that critical writing arises naturally from within an art movement first, and then a wider circle of critics draws upon this writing to inform their own criticism. This apparent absence of internal critical writing may be because many lowbrow artists began their careers in fields not normally considered fine art, such as illustration, tattooing and comic books. Many lowbrow artists are self-taught, which further alienates them from the world of museum curators and art schools.

Many in the art world have deeper difficulties with lowbrow's figurative focus, its cultivation of narrative, and its strong valuing of technical skill. All these aspects of art were deeply disparaged in the art schools and by curators and critics throughout the 1980s and 90s.

However, a number of artists who started their careers by showing in lowbrow galleries have gone on to show their work primarily in mainstream fine art galleries. Mark Ryden (from his 'Tree Show' exhibition]), Robert Williams, Manuel Ocampo, Georganne Deen, and the Clayton Brothers are examples.

Echoes of lowbrow's approach can be found in the art history of the 20th century, beginning with the work of the Dadaists and the leading proponents of the American Regionalism movement (artists like Marcel Duchamp and Thomas Hart Benton) in which such art movements have questioned the distinctions between high and low art, fine art and folk art, and popular culture and high-art culture. In some sense lowbrow art is about exploring and critiquing those distinctions, and it thus shares similarities with the pop art of the 1960s and early 70s. One can also note that just as the lowbrow artists play in the blurred (or perhaps evaporated) boundaries between high and low culture, other more "mainstream" contemporary artists use artistic strategies similar to those employed by lowbrow artists. Examples include: Lisa Yuskavage, Kelly D. Williams, Kenny Scharf, Takashi Murakami, Jim Shaw, John Currin, Mike Kelley, and the San Francisco-based Mission School, which includes Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen.

Lowbrow artists

Some well-known lowbrow artists include:


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Lowbrow (art movement)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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