FRINGE AND FORTUNE: THE ROLE OF CRITICS IN HIGH AND POPULAR ART
1996. Princeton University Press.
The Fringe Performance Archive was inspired by an academic work published on the 50th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Fringe and Fortune asked the question: Why does the distinction between high and popular art persist in spite of postmodernist predictions that it should vanish? Does it exist at all in a festival like the Edinburgh Fringe, where 2400 shows are performed in three weeks? Departing from the conventional view that such distinctions are class-related, Dr. Shrum concentrates instead on the way individuals form opinions about culture through the mediation of critics. He shows that it is the extent to which critics shape the reception of an art form that determines its place in the cultural hierarchy. Those who patronize “lowbrow” art–stand-up comedy, cabaret, movies, and popular music–do not heed critical opinions nearly as much as do those who patronize “highbrow” art–theater, opera, and classical music. Thus the role of critics is crucial to understanding the nature of cultural hierarchy and its persistence. Shrum supports his argument through an inquiry into the performing arts, focusing on the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest and most diverse art festival.
Beginning with eighteenth-century London playhouses and print media, where performance art criticism flourished, Shrum examines the triangle of mediation involving critics, spectators, and performers. The Fringe is shown to parallel modern art worlds, where choices proliferate along with the demand for guidance. Using interviews with critics and performers, analysis of audiences, and published reviews as well as dramatic vignettes, Shrum reveals the impact of critics on high art forms and explores the “status bargain” in which consumers are influenced by experts in return for prestige.
From Library Journal
Shrum (Sociology, Louisiana State University) debunks here the common conception that what distinguishes “high” from “popular” art is the social class of their respective adherents. Instead, he posits the importance of the critic or, more precisely, the credence given to critics as the determinant of “high” art. This credence results from what Shrum describes as the “status bargain,” in which devotees of “high” (but not “low”) art give up partial rights of control to their opinions in exchange for the higher status that competent discourse about art provides. Standards are not inherent in a work of art; they are socially constructed within contexts of evaluative discourse, largely through the mediation of the critic. Shrum uses the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, perhaps the world’s largest and most diverse art festival, as his principal case study. Thoroughly researched and convincingly argued, with a minimum of jargon, the book will nevertheless appeal primarily to sociologists of culture, “high” art critics themselves, and scholars of contemporary theater.?Rob Melton, Univ. of Kansas Libs., Lawrence
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A solid sociological investigation, one that employs anecdote, interview, statistical analysis, and even some between-the-lines common sense. — Review
Paperback: 315 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 8, 1996)
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches