Thursday, February 2, 2012

Art and the Super Bowl

For many Americans, the year's biggest sports event is this weekend.  I'm not going to watch the super bowl, but last weekend was a big sports weekend for me, because US figure skating national championships were on!!!  I used to be a skater myself, and have now comfortably retired into the role of avid fan.

Anyway, what do sports have to do with art history?  Why am I even mentioning them on this blog?

Art History is in some ways a very traditional discipline.  Founded in its modern form by the German scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann with his 1764 book History of Ancient Art, it has since then mostly concerned itself with "high arts".  You can imagine those grand old art historians, with their noses in the air, discussing the aesthetics of marble sculptures, masterpiece paintings and the architecture of monuments.

Even today there are things we classify as "high" culture, and things we classify as "low" culture.  Just a few examples:

High Culture                vs.                Low Culture
Opera                                                Pop music
Ballet                                                Breakdancing
Art in museums                                Graffiti
Literature "classics"                          "Trashy" Romance Novels
Philosophy                                        Sporting Events
High Fashion                                    Quilting and Knitting
Monumental architecture                   Household furniture

Recently, more and more scholars are agreeing that these dividing lines show a classist hierarchy that should be strongly questioned, and more and more artists have been blurring the dividing lines in their work (ballet choreographers using breakdancing moves, museum curators displaying quilts etc.)

For those for whom Art History is too stuffy and elitist, a new discipline was founded in the 1960s, called Cultural Studies.  Cultural Studies concerns itself with both sides of the list.

The debate about high culture and low culture in Art History continues, but I think we are moving more and more in the direction of being much more inclusive in what we discuss and analyze.  At least, I hope so.


  1. Here is another blurring of the lines. A well respected modern impressionist who paints superbowl scenes.

    1. Thanks for this link. I like the juxtaposition between the impressionist style and the subject matter of football. The two seem rather jarring together, and for me, that's a really interesting aspect of the work.