Mark Ryden and Lowbrow Art Movement Essay

Pages: 4 (1284 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Art  (general)


Mark Ryden is a Pasadena, California-based artist who, according to the biographical material on his Website, "first garnered attention in the 1990s when he ushered in a new genre of painting, 'Pop Surrealism.'" Likewise, critics have called Ryden "a pop star of painting," ("Mark Ryden at the Frye Art Museum" 24). Ryden has achieved fame and notoriety, as his paintings have been sold to celebrities and garner a pretty penny. However, to use the word "pop" too much in the context of Mark Ryden is to neglect another dimension of the artist's work. Ryden might have achieved fame within the popular culture. Yet being popular no longer entails being "lowbrow." As Ryden's biography states, it is possible to blend popular culture icons, elements, and ideas with "techniques reminiscent of the old masters," in order to create "a singular style that blurs the traditional boundaries between high and low art," ("Mark Ryden"). Comparing Ryden to the old masters might seem presumptuous. However, a close examination of the artist's work reveals that when placed in its historical and cultural context, Mark Ryden indeed occupies the intersection between highbrow and lowbrow art.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Essay on Mark Ryden and Lowbrow Art Movement Assignment

Lowbrow art is a term used by critics like Gilbert Shelton, founder of Juxtapoz, and editor of books like The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams. Elevating what might once have been called lowbrow art to the position of highbrow does not require the work of art critics. Rather, the transformation of lowbrow into highbrow requires new viewers and changes in society itself. Related to the Mark Ryden exhibition at the Frye Art Museum, one critic notes that when Susan Sontag first wrote about "camp" in art, it was in the 1960s. Art like Ryden's transcends Sontag's definition of camp in many ways. For one, there is some "seriousness and dignity in what it achieves," to use Sontag's words (cited in "Mark Ryden at the Frye Art Museum"). Moreover, Ryden's art includes disturbing, macabre, and evocative imagery that begs the viewer to penetrate deeper. Camp rarely achieves such a lofty goal. As Shelton puts it, "there are no sociological prerequisites for being a lowbrow," (34).

Ryden's art contains "subject matter loaded with cultural connotation," ("Mark Ryden"). As such, the art seems to be lowbrow because it refers frequently to popular culture and its icons. Yet Ryden's "infinitely detailed and meticulously glazed surfaces" elevate the popular culture elements to the realm of high art ("Mark Ryden"). Much high art contains elements from popular culture; the subject matter itself does not define whether an art is considered highbrow or lowbrow.

One reason why Ryden has achieved recognition in art circles is because the symbols the artist uses "only pose questions," ("Mark Ryden at the Frye Art Museum" 24). For instance, a common theme in Ryden's work is children. Children are depicted in unnatural states, though. They are cartoon-like in their rendition but they appear sad, old, or emotionally disturbed. The viewer is not looking at something that would be considered camp or "pop," because the imagery is dark and probing. As one critic puts it, a Ryden painting is like "looking down the barrel of a cartoon gun but seeing real bullets," (36).

Herein lies the reason for Ryden's occupying the middle path between highbrow and lowbrow art: Ryden is too familiar, fun, populist, and playful to occupy the dusty shelves of university bookshelves or the empty rooms of museums. On the other hand, Ryden's work is too deep, transformative, meaningful, and well executed to be considered fully lowbrow or pop. Ryden's art is cute enough to capture the attention of an average consumer with no art education, and therefore comes across as being lowbrow. However, Ryden's art is also challenging enough from an execution and a content perspective to warrant serious academic inquiry. Art historians will be discussing Ryden ten or twenty years from… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Mark Ryden and Lowbrow Art Movement" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Mark Ryden and Lowbrow Art Movement.  (2011, December 3).  Retrieved March 7, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Mark Ryden and Lowbrow Art Movement."  3 December 2011.  Web.  7 March 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Mark Ryden and Lowbrow Art Movement."  December 3, 2011.  Accessed March 7, 2021.