What is Lowbrow Art?
The Lowbrow art movement was a style of art that was heavily inspired by the popular culture of the 1960s and 1970s in America. Commonly referred to as a “retro” style, this movement was most commonly seen in the forms of paintings, digital art, sculpture, collage and even toys. Even today, aspects of Lowbrow or Pop Surrealism as it was also known as can still be seen in the modern and digital art that dominates the art world. The word “lowbrow” is usually used to define something that isn’t considered to be highly intellectual or cultured. In terms of art, the Lowbrow Art movement referred to works that were lambasted by critics as crass and boorish and as insignificant within the broader art world. Despite this harsh definition, “lowbrow” became widely popular for being edgier than traditional art and having a great sense of humour. It emerged as an underground visual arts style in Los Angeles, having its cultural roots in comix, punk music, graffiti, tiki, and the hot-rod cultures seen on the streets of California. As a whole, the movement was thought to be very cheerful and even mischievous, with many artists adding a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek approach to it. The Lowbrow Art movement was said to have been influenced by a variety of other 20th-century art movements including Dadaism, Surrealism, and Fauvism which lead to it also being known as Pop Surrealism due to the characteristics and features it utilized. Much like the responses given to the aforementioned movements, Lowbrow Art was met with much criticism, as it was thought to be a mockery of all aspects of traditional art. However, at the time that the Lowbrow Art movement emerged, it had no inhibitions whatsoever as there was not even a proper name for it yet.
The first Pop Surrealism artist was Robert William, who also came up with the name “lowbrow”. His early works were exhibited at several alternative galleries in New York and Los Angeles and as he was unknown, his particular artistic approach was thought to be not “highbrow” enough for the art world. Despite the movement being in existence since the late 1960s, Williams only took credit for coming up with the term “Lowbrow Art” in 2006. As Lowbrow Art was not considered to be a serious art movement at the time, Williams came up with the self-deprecating name in an attempt to poke some fun at the style. By emphasizing the term “lowbrow”, Williams further highlighted how different his artworks were to traditional art, as there was nothing cultured and academic about them at all. The types of works that were created were simple and appealed to many individuals who weren’t necessarily interested in high art. The movement rapidly grew in size and popularity, which led to a variety of offshoots developing. Thus, after all the different avenues that Lowbrow Art helped build, it is viewed as a movement that truly defined an entire generation of artists.
The biggest issue when considering the validity of Lowbrow Art as a movement was the fact that it struggled to gain any sort of approval from the traditional high art world. While the art world wasn’t exactly open minded or accepting of many movements when they first emerged, the Lowbrow Pop Surrealism movement proved to be an issue as the very nature of the artworks stood opposed to everything that conventional art sought to uphold. However, as the line began to blur between low and high art, the movement gained more acceptance in society. Lowbrow Art appealed to a wide audience made up of those who admired art and those who knew nothing about art. It responded to the needs of ordinary individuals who sought a common cultural relatable language in art, which defined an entire generation of artists. If a factor that speaks to an art movement’s ability to last is its legitimacy, then the Lowbrow Art movement could most certainly be seen as legit. Today, Lowbrow Pop Surrealism is still practiced by several prominent artists and many artists even began to make use of computer-based tools, techniques, and software to create their Lowbrow artworks. Some very incredible artworks have been derived from programs like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and the 3D modeling application called Maya. Being digital, these artworks have abandoned most traditional art making principles, which makes them true examples of Lowbrow Art. The mastery of the technology that suddenly became available led to an entirely new branch of Lowbrow Art emerging. Thus, Lowbrow Art proved to be an interesting movement as artists created technically perfect works in terms of their artistic features and technique. However, they focused on subject matters that were considered to be uncultured which lead to it being classify as “lowbrow”. In terms of development, Lowbrow Art has gone a long way from not being acknowledged as art at all, to becoming a presentable and extremely popular style of Surrealism Pop art. Over the years, the movement has transformed from a rough and crude style into an incredibly sophisticated and beautiful one. With artists carrying the legacy of Lowbrow Art into the digital world, its journey has allowed the movement to evolve with the times. In essence, Lowbrow Art transformed from an undesirable and highly criticized style into a multi-million-dollar movement, with its unique artworks being auctioned, collected, and exhibited in galleries all over the world.