Most people have an opinion on what makes good art – whether it is literature, music, film or theatre. The arts are, by their nature, extremely subjective; what one person believes to be great art, another deems terrible. This is generally a positive attribute, as it allows art the freedom to do what it does best – be diverse, be subversive and be debated. However, on the flip side of this positivity lies a potentially negative element to the arts being so contentious: artistic snobbery.

Favouritism is a human reaction. When choosing between two things, it is rare that somebody likes both exactly the same. It is when this favouritism morphs into something more forceful, and an art form is condemned as being less intellectual or valuable than another, that artistic snobbery occurs. It’s an almost counter-productive cycle. With many snobs being experts in their field, it seems that the more a person knows about a subject, the more nuanced – and perhaps narrowed – their tastes become. Is ‘artistic snobbery’ a unnecessary term that simply means a person knows what they like, or is it a case of someone being so set in their opinions that they become prejudiced to other art forms?

Walking the fine line between being opinionated and oppressive can rely on having realistic expectations about the purpose of art. The reasons behind why we watch a play or read a book – essentially, what we want to get out of it – can affect how we judge it. When reading Harry Potter, I am anticipating a very different experience than when I pick up War and Peace. It’s easy to confuse differing expectations with differing value: I certainly don’t feel particularly intellectual reading about wizards, but if I manage to make it all the way through Tolstoy, I feel a sense of achievement. Being aware of this difference in literary purpose isn’t necessarily being snobbish, until you begin to associate entertaining reads as ‘low art’ in opposed to the more heavy-going ‘high art’ of the literary greats.

The assumptions made about artistic legitimacy (or lack of it) that come with anticipating ‘easy’ entertainment are hard to avoid. I instantly expect talent to be the exception rather than the rule on Britain’s Got Talent-esque reality TV shows. This assumption stems from the fact that you have to endure so many deluded acts – packaged as ‘quirky’ and ‘original’ and backed up by a sob story with an appropriately evocative soundtrack – only to be rewarded with a relatively small pool of talent in return. Is it snobbish to anticipate a shortage of talent in a show attempting to showcase the most talented people in the country, or is it the fault of the media machine determined to use appalling acts to create ‘good’ TV?

I believe there is a difference between expecting not to find talent on a reality TV show and condemning someone for their taste in art. The former may be an unfair generalisation, but the latter is an outright assumption of superiority. Everyone makes artistic generalisations in some form – people assume that musicals don’t hold as serious a message as plays, that Glee butchers all the songs it undertakes, and that autobiographies are for people who don’t otherwise read. Whilst making these assumptions isn’t exactly the most open-minded way to confront art, it is not as harmful as only associating yourself with art forms that bring social prestige and money, or assuming that ‘high-brow’ art is only comprehensible to like-minded experts.

No form of creativity is innately or automatically better than another, but as long as there are elitist-types assuming superiority, the term ‘artistic snobbery’ is relevant. Art doesn’t have to be making a political statement to be valuable, and if it is making some kind of social stance, you don’t have to be an expert to take meaning from it. There is good and bad art – like there is good and bad everything – but this is up to the viewer to judge. Art is all about subjectivity and perception, and by making a conscious effort not to by snobbish about it (even when you’re watching reality shows) it is possible to appreciate talent where you might not expect to find it.