The Life Magazine, April 1949, categorized the new U.S. social structure in the growing and modernizing post-war years. The high-brow, low-brow and middle-brow types were categorized in the chart above, according to ideas of Harper’s Magazine editor Russell Lynes.
If you look at the rather cruel chart, the new modernist achievements (Eames chairs, laboratory glass decanter, industrial-use ashtray, modern dance, French salad dressing, literature magazines, Calder sculpture etc.) were topping the taste hierarchy. Beer, musical theatre and mail-order furniture were located at the lower end.
Did Lynes’ work somehow create the future division of what is considered a civilized taste and of high-culture. In 1949, the Eames Lounge Chair Wood (LCW) had only been in production for couple of years, and already it was considered an it item?
While the modernist elitism is not a new observation, it’s somehow surprising to me that the class differentiation was actually made this obvious. I mean, sure, class divisions have been connected to different “aesthetic cultural spheres” since forever, but because of modernist designers’ ethos of creating a new world, this has always seemed to me a more later development of things, coming from art historic appreciation for vintage design, and its resale and niche value. And, remembering an earlier post about Karl Lagerfeld’s note on Alvar Aalto’s Maison Louis Carré, I’ve always more thought about the irony of the original modernism-consuming wealthy elite being somehow oblivious to their actual elitism, still a product of the same principle of bringing new development to all as mass-housing, for instance.
Is it only when we “hipsterize” the whole setting into something ironical, we can become the beer-loving-ballet-hugging-miniature golf enthusiast?
I’d like to see this chart updated. I feel like I identify with more than one of these lifestyles and that makes me wonder what has changed culturally - are we more likely to cross cultural boundaries of high/low brow, or are there still stringent rules concerning cultural class and we’ve just changed what high versus low brow means?