Fringe and Fortune: The Role of Critics in High and Popular Art

Fringe and Fortune: The Role of Critics in High and Popular Art

by Wesley Monroe Shrum Jr.


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Why does the distinction between high and popular art persist in spite of postmodernist predictions that it should vanish? Departing from the conventional view that such distinctions are class-related, Wesley 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691026572
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/28/1996
Pages: 315
Product dimensions: 7.75(w) x 10.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Wesley Monroe Shrum, Jr., is Professor of Sociology at Louisiana State University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Introduction: A Critic's New Clothes3
Ch. 1Cultural Mediation and the Status Bargain25
Ch. 2Critics in the Performing Arts42
Ch. 3Development of the Festival Fringe63
Ch. 4Festivals and the Modern Fringe83
Ch. 5Myth of the Fringe109
Ch. 6Do Critics Matter?125
Ch. 7Critical Evaluation144
Ch. 8Do Performers Listen?165
Ch. 9Beyond Formal Evaluation181
Ch. 10Discourse and Hierarchy193
Appendix A: Review Genres215
Appendix B: Methodological Note218
Appendix C: Note on the Mediation and Reception221
Appendix D: Tables223

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