Art and Brand Contamination: How Brands Have Blurred the Distinction Between Low Culture and High Culture

Art and Brand Contamination: How Brands Have Blurred the Distinction Between Low Culture and High Culture

Marta Massi (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy), Chiara Piancatelli (SDA Bocconi School of Management, Italy) and Sonia Pancheri (IULM University, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8491-9.ch020
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Albeit often perceived as two worlds apart, low culture and high culture are increasingly converging to collaborate in mutually advantageous ways. Brands—including the name, term, sign, symbol, or combination of them that identify the goods and services of a seller or group of sellers, and differentiate them from those of the competitors—are the new territory where high culture and low culture co-exist and collaborate, creating new possibilities of cross-fertilization and hybridization between the two. Through the analysis of successful examples coming from different industries, this chapter aims to highlight how brands have blurred the distinction between low culture and high culture. On the one hand, brands can use the heritage of the arts world to gain authenticity and legitimate themselves in the eyes of consumers and the society. On the other hand, artists and arts organizations, such as museums and other art institutions, can indulge in popular culture in order to become appealing to younger target markets and enhance their brand awareness and image.
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High Vs. Low Culture

In the past, arts and culture were associated with upper classes, aristocracy or royalty that wished to separate themselves from lower and uneducated classes. Upper classes could count on financial resources and free time and could easily access cultural activities such as opera or ballet, which soon became designated as high culture (Bourdieu, 1979). The latter term is in contrast with low culture, a deprecating expression indicating different forms of cultural expressions produced by the mass. However, this does not mean that less privileged classes did not have resources to create or esteem high culture. For example, back in times, theatre was considered as popular culture. However, Shakespeare, one of the main representative artists of the low culture of his times, is now considered for his great value (Fisher, 2013).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Artification: The process of treating non-art objects as art.

High Culture: Form of art such as classical music, operas, marble statues, frescos; art associated with finery and class. In the past, high culture may have existed for the pleasure of the elite or the aristocratic.

Pop Art: Art movement that reached its peak of activity in U.S. in the 1960s, based on modern popular culture and the mass media, especially as a critical or ironic commentary on traditional fine art values. With Pop art commonplace objects, such as commercial products, comic strips, and celebrity images, became the subject of artworks.

Low Culture: Also known as popular culture, because it refers to works of art that are associated with the masses (non-elites). It is supposedly the anti-thesis of high culture. Forms of art such as pop or rap music, TV show, movie, street art.

Aura: Essential quality of artworks that cannot be communicated through mechanical reproduction techniques, such as photography.

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