There’s a reason that stuff like painting and poetry and dance are always referred to as art and stuff like stand-up comedy and television are seldom called art, even though they are. Simply, people actually want to see stand-up comedy and will pay to see it. For instance, the advent of recorded music was sort of the death knell of mass consumption of poetry. Apart from certain circles and academia, modern poetry is not very widely read, so referring to it as art is a way to justify its existence in the face of public apathy.
This is not to say that poetry’s value to society has decreased in any way. Or that because more people enjoy stand-up comedy, it has greater value. Greater relevance, maybe. But that’s another argument. My point is that poetry seems to be put into a higher category than stand-up or television or movies or what-have-you just because of who appreciates it. The old high art versus pop art argument. Well, of course this is silly. It’s just a way for elitists to exclude the masses so they are the ones who get to decide what has real value and what doesn’t. I think all forms of art are equal in value. People don’t refer to stand-up as art mainly because you would sound like a complete douche, but also because you don’t have to. Its relevance is clear. But douchey or not, it’s a form of human expression through a medium or a tool or an aparatus. It’s art.
The perfect fart joke in the world is going to be equal in value as the perfect play. Because each of them are an unobtainable perfection, why is one better than the other just because it’s a play? Just because it’s generally accepted that one is lofty and the other is vulgar? It’s unfair to compare the two in the first place because they have different aims and methods, but I don’t think there is a single logical argument for why one is intrinsically better than the other. Or why evoking one feeling is superior to another feeling.
The perfect fart joke would be so funny that you would die from laughing at it. Your head would explode. The perfect play would cause any number of things, but mostly make you feel at one with the human experience, if I had to reduce the experience to one thing. But sharing in the human experience with others is what I think laughter does anyway. Their aims are different, and maybe what the play aims to accomplish is greater, but why not just try to appreciate perfection in all of its forms instead of arbitrarily deciding what gets to be true art and what doesn’t? I would say the perfect play and the perfect fart joke are equally as difficult to write.
The problem is that the people who get to decide what is high art — the intelligentsia, intellectuals, and elite as somebody has stupidly decided to call them — probably aren’t that much more intelligent than the average person. Just people with access to money and education. The privileged. Those who have the time and the ability and the access. People who have learned about and consumed more art, for sure, but only the art that has been generally decided that is worth knowing about. If the measure of a truly great piece of art is the the way it enriches the culture and each person, it’s hard to think of a sculpture, a painting, a poem, a symphony, or a post modern thing beyond description that has had more impact on the culture in the past fifty years than All in the Family did. It’s a show that legitimately engaged the public at large in a conversation on race in a time of great tension. I’m not saying this gives it higher value. I’m saying this gives it equal value.
A lot of high art wouldn’t survive without public funding, while popular art make up giant industries. I think that’s where a lot of the divide comes from. It must create some sort us versus them mentality. Any form of art that needs public funding deserves it and is worth saving. But the same argument exists even within television comedy. The most popular shows are for stupid people who like their jokes spoon-fed to them while all the smart shows for smart people get low ratings and get cancelled. I think it’s time to stop thinking on these terms all together. Most of the greatest TV comedies of all time were also the highest rated — Seinfeld, Cheers, I Love Lucy, the aforementioned All in the Family — it’s hard to think of many shows today at all that are as good as these were. I think it’s time to stop basing value upon how many or what kind of people something appeals to and just take everything at its own value.