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By author/artist/non-conformist, Jess C Scott
22 September 2011

Jess on the differences between being 'elite' and 'elitist', and why quality still matters.

* Part of the Real Love Vs. Romance eBook.


"Unapologetically Elitist: Mr. Peanut tipping his glossy top hat"
sketch by Grimaud

* * *

I've observed people's public comments and sentiments on the subject of "art" versus "commercialism."

Many (financially) successful writers can be outspoken that part of their success is due to the fact that they write "commercial genre fiction" --they're not elitists who write in order to "satisfy an inner muse."

While it's up to the individual to decide if they want to go an artistic or commercial route (or something in between), I thought it was interesting how the attitude of "elitism" has become synonymous with being "committed to artistic quality."

Art doesn't have to be "high-brow" or "difficult to comprehend" in order for it to be considered art. Art contains a spiritual aspect, where it has the power to speak to a person on a deeper level, and is therefore remembered (as opposed to a commercial commodity, which many people try to emulate in the hopes of "making money"). Artistic quality and accessibility are part of the same equation.

Elitism = snobbishness. Since when did being an artist mean to be "arrogant and annoying"? Besides, the ego involved with the attitude of elitism usually gets in the way of producing a truly great piece of creative work.

And while things with commercial appeal are likely to bring in a lot more money than works that are fiercely 100%-artistic (Katy Perry versus classical music, for instance), there's "no substitute for quality" (as is, incidentally, the official slogan for Arnott's Biscuits).

Some people judge quality on the basis of commercial value alone. That's fine if one's goals are of a somewhat mercenary nature (where one is motivated solely by a desire for monetary or material gain).

But it doesn't justify lumping anything of an artistic nature into the category of "elitism."

According to The Free Dictionary, the words 'elite' and 'elitism' are defined as follows:


1) Elite -- Selected as the best;
"an elite circle of artists"; "elite colleges"

2) Elitist or Elitism
The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.


According to Logic + Emotion (an essay which I got to via Andy Rutledge's website):

"...equating elite with elitist is a common mistake. However, the two words and the two ideas are miles apart. We do ourselves, our world, and our grasp of reality a disservice by failing to note the differences between these two words and their respective ideals.

There is such a thing as high quality. There is such a thing as low quality. If we fail, for whatever reason, to distinguish between the two we pervert and harm our culture and our language."

The meaning of the word "elite" has become so distorted over the years that it now connotes undesirable exclusivity instead of something worthy of achievement and celebration. . .the e-word is bandied about as something to be avoided in favour of the commonplace.

Ultimately it comes back to semantics: the nice distinction between being elite (a necessity in any creative endeavour) and being elitist (an attitude with sometimes pejorative overtones).

The true group of elites (in whichever field/industry) often aren't "rah-rah types." This is likely due to the simple fact that they're busy constantly improving their craft, instead of constantly craving social support.

Some of us are primarily or solely focused on commercial success. Commercialism involves a whole set of (business-related) talents too.

Others derive satisfaction and fulfillment from focusing on the quality/substance, because of the value in creating something that can be remembered.

To end this article:

elitist person

Image from Funny Stuff / Apathy Machine

* * *

UPDATE (10 December 2010):

Katie Roiphie, author, journalist and critic:

"The secret function of the critic today is to write beautifully, and in so doing protect beautiful writing."

-- Why Criticism Matters / New York Times

UPDATE (19 May 2014):

William Giraldi, author/essayist and lecturer at Boston University, comments on the issue of quality (or lack thereof...):

"You might recall that Fifty Shades originated on a “fan fiction” Web site devoted to those other crimes against language, the Twilight books. . .a nation’s reading habits have something potent to say about that nation’s character."

-- William Giraldi / New Republic



22 Sept 2011: The above essay is part of Real Love Vs. Romance, a collection of (informal) essays on commercialism's de-spiritualizing effects on society.

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