Collision of the Classes: By Lauren Pickens

topshop image

During London Fashion Week 2013, the powerhouse high street brand, Topshop held a show in the Tate Modern. The styles were showcased featured the modern and edgy style the brand is known for with touches of grunge mixed in. The grungy vibe of the clothing was matched by the venue as it was held in a temporary space of the Tate called The Tanks, which is comprised of industrial oil tanks that hold a certain eeriness (Ruth Crilly). The Tanks act as a temporary space that will hold a variety of events including dance, fashion, and performance art. Placing a high street fashion show within the confines of a space that is typically reserved for forms of art that are considered high culture allows the two categories of art to mold together in order to form a class that is more accessible. This level of accessibility can be seen in current popular art. Fashion photography has the tendency to straddle the line between simply being advertisements and being art. The work of fashion photographer Juergen Teller is a testament to this conflict. The ICA (Institute for Contemporary Art) is currently running an exhibition by Teller titled Woo! It features images of celebrities, models, and fashion mixed in with photographs depicting landscapes, family portraits, and personal experiences of his life. Teller creates an experience that effectively blending popular art that mirror images that we see in the media with higher forms of photography.  Both instances raise inquiry to whether or not art that is produced for the masses can be as worthwhile and valuable as high art.

Dwight MacDonald’s view of high culture are the ideas and practices which are “chronicled in textbooks” while mass culture is “manufactured for the market. Also that it should instead be called masscult “since it really isn’t culture at all” (MacDonald, 3). He insists that masscult is churned out for the public to consume and devoid of creativity, life, and effort. However, MacDonald doesn’t believe that all high art is necessarily good art, but that high art has the possibility to be good art because it has the potential to be unique. According to his theories the production of mass cult views does not regard the individual and therefore is unable to possess human qualities (MacDonald, 8). Masscult also does not have the ability to stimulate thought or feeling in those who consume it; robbing masscult of the chance to be successful art. Topshop advertisements and shows are made for the masses as they are high street fashion, if we are prescribing to MacDonald’s theories it does not have the potential to be meaningful art. The same could be said for the works of Juergen Teller, as fashion photography is for the consumption of the masses it falls within the realm of masscult.

MacDonald’s theory of masscult also relies on the fact that there must be a class who decides what art deserves to be recorded and regarded as high culture, and the forms of art which are produced purely for distraction and consumption. Marxist writer and philosopher, Antonio Gramsci discusses the idea of hegemony. Hegemony causes, “the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as domination and as intellectual and moral leadership” (Gramsci, 215). In regards to arts, the ruling class informs the lower class on both what they should consume and how they will judge the productions of art that they consume. This class can take the form of media, government, tutors, and even institutions of art.

I would argue that although fashion photography and other forms of art can be produced in order to be aimed at the masses, the individual person has the capacity to interpret the work as he/she chooses. All people interpret works of art differently because we all have different experiences, and could therefore impart meaning on a work of art that was not created with meaning. I do not think that the lines between high culture and masscult are as clear as MacDonald assumes and I do believe that the two classes intersect and intertwine constantly. I think that the same thing can be said for hegemony. Outside factors undoubtedly affect the forms of art that we view as worthwhile and those that are outside of the cannon. However, I also think that individuals pick and choose what they absorb and internalize from the ruling class, instead of blindly and literally absorbing all information that is filtered down from higher classes.

Against the American Grain. Dwight MacDonald. 1962. New York.

Prison Notebooks: Selections. Antonio Gramsci. 1970. New York.

The (Creepy) Tate Modern Tanks. Ruth Crilly. February 20, 2013.


‘The Umbrellas’, High Culture, and the Art Museum: By Stephanie Mannheim


Pierre-Aguste Renoir’s ‘The Umbrellas’ (above) depicts Parisian men, women, and children holding grey-blue umbrellas against a similarly grey sky, some of whom appear to be returning from a picnic or outdoor play.  The artist’s prominent place within the impressionist movement helped allow this painting to be placed within London’s National Gallery (The National Gallery, 2013).  Today, ‘The Umbrellas’ is viewed as a great work, worthy of such treatment.  However, it is partially because of the spatial context this painting is in that it gains such artistic importance.

Imagine, for instance, that ‘The Umbrellas’ was not exhibited in the National Gallery, but instead placed in the window of a High Street store such as Topshop or H&M.  This painting would then gain a new purpose—instead of depicting the evolution of impressionism within the sacred museum walls and amongst other pieces of so-called ‘highbrow’ art, Renoir’s work would act as an advertisement for umbrellas.  As a commercial piece rather than a museum artefact, the image would provoke different reactions from its viewers.  Instead of gazing at the piece for a prolonged amount of time, an onlooker might simply glance at the picture, notice its proximity to a store, and simply enter the shop and begin browsing the umbrellas within.


Likewise, the presence of a Topshop advert in a contemporary photography museum exhibit, as opposed to a High Street window or a magazine, would give this piece a new context as well.  In the context of a museum, this piece would shift from a commercial piece meant to sell items to a piece of art to be studied.  Viewers might find different meanings in this Topshop photograph—for instance, it might shift from simply another means to sell clothing to an ironic look at the commercial fashion or modelling world.

Both of these examples relate to the idea of the museum as a sacred space.   Within an art museum such as the National Gallery, visitors assume that they will find masterpieces, and treat the work in a way that regards this distinction—in others words, with great respect.  Museum visitors remain quiet and don’t touch the artwork, among other behaviours that show this respect.  Carol Duncan, in her essay ‘The Art Museum as Ritual’, writes that ‘to control a museum means precisely to control the representation of a community and its highest values and truths’ (Duncan, 1995:8).  A museum, then, is traditionally a space that signifies the presence of so-called ‘high culture’ within it.  Those people that are part of the dominant culture in a specific time and place help allow for certain elements of culture to be seen as ‘highbrow’ or ‘lowbrow’, and the museum helps cement these ideas into place, setting aside a space in which visitors hope to become more enlightened, therefore treating the works within the museum accordingly.

Without its presence in a museum, Renoir’s ‘The Umbrellas’ could—despite highlighting a specific moment in the development of impressionism—shift from an integral part of the art history canon to an image used to help make a profit.


Duncan, Carol (1995) ‘The Art Museum as Ritual’, in Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums, London: Routledge pp. 7-20.

The National Gallery. (2013). The Umbrellas. Available: Last accessed 18th Mar 2013.

How Arts influence High Street Fashion

Art High street fashion

“Trendy” and “affordable” are the keys for the success of high street fashion. High street brands like Zara, H&M and Topshop. They sell whatever could be popular and embraced by the public. Unlike the luxury brands which only wealthy people can afford, high street brands target a much larger population. While art today being much more open to public than in the past when art was only appreciated by wealthy people and upper class, the audiences of art and the consumers of high street fashion are largely overlapped.

Art museums today are very welcoming the public. Especially in big cities like London and New York, museum visiting has become a regular leisure event for the citizens and an important part for tourism. High street brands watch closely of any popular trend and catch the trend speedily. As you walk out from Moma (Musuem of Modern Art) on Fifth Avenue in New York after seeing images of Andy Warhol’s tomato soup can, you will turn into Uniqlo at the same block see a tee shirt with the tomato soup can print. (see picture below) And you will probably buy the tee shirt because it is popular, artistic and affordable as it labelled $20.00.


Andy Warhol inspired Tomato Soup can print T-shirt from Uniqlo.

Art → High end fashion → High street fashion

Although we are not sure Damien Hirst’s diamond skull has how much influence on the popularity of the skull images using on high street fashion design, we know that Alexander McQueen’s signature skull design is a big hit that everybody fellows. We all know that high street Fashion is highly influenced by high-end luxury brands, because high-end brands like Channel, Dior and Armani are considered trend setter in the fashion industry. These luxury brands and famous designers put on catwalk shows every season, and then the whole industry including high street brands all start to fellow and make them more affordable.

It is not a secret that high street fashion is inspired by high end fashion; it is also not a secret that high end fashion designs are deeply inspired by artists they admire, so eventually high street is still influenced by art.

“As a fictions example, let’s say we know that a major exhibition about Art Nouveau will be staged at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York next summer. In all probability, as designers often attend such shows, we will see fashions inspired by the style of the early 1900s emerging on the catwalk a season or so later.” (Tungate, 85)

Here are some examples of how high end designers are influenced by art.


Click the image to see how Paul Smith’s design is inspired by modern art master, Henri Matisse.


Christina Dior 2014 winter collection inspired by ancient Egypt scene.


Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Japanese contemporary artist, Yayoi Kusama.

Art The Trend Book → the whole fashion industry (including High Street Fashion)

Lots of people have found that there are lots of similarities in the high-end brands new collection every season. The runway is full of baby blue this season and hot pink next season; the beautiful models are in deconstructive oversize coats in season and slim-cut lace top next season. Are these just coincidences from all the genius designers, or is it some kind of conspiracy and top-secret from the luxury brands?

The author of Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara, Mark Tungate, revealed the secret for us in his book.

The Trend Book created by the agency called, Nelly Rodi, is the secret.

“Each October, the agency rounds up 18 personalities from the fields of fashion, design, sociology and the arts for a brainstorming session.” (Tungate, 85)  “the agency produces a dozen separate trend books covering categories such as read-to-wear, knitwear, lingerie, colours, prints, fabrics, lifestyle and beauty. “ (Tungate, 85)

Clients come from the different fields of fashion, textiles, beauty, retail and interiors buy the trend book every season cost around 1,400 Euro each. Their clients include L’Oreal, LVMH, Mango, H&M, Givenchy, etc. Pierre-Francois Le Louet, chief executive officer of Nelly Rodi, told Mark Tungate that although some designers are perfect at creating the trends and lots of the high-end brands are not in their client list, photocopies of the trend books are often found in their design studio.

So the top-secret is the fashion industry is influenced by the trend books which are inspired from all related fields of fashion; and art is undeniably one of the most important.

Here is an example of how the magical trend books look like.



Tungate, Mark. Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara. London: Kogan Page, 2008. Print.