Nobrow Culture

Why it’s become so hard to know what you like.

  • Editors' Pick
  1. Because I live in Tribeca, I end up walking around in SoHo two or three times a week. I usually have a destination in mind—to shop for food at the Gourmet Garage, or to look at the clothes at Helmut Lang or Agnes B., or to see a show at some gallery, though I don’t do much of that anymore. I’m almost always looking to buy something. And there’s a lot to buy in SoHo: it is a village of fancy sunglasses and “authentic” Indonesian furniture, edible flowers, high-design soap dishes and fifty-dollar Kliss Touch scissors, twenty-one-year-old Balsamic vinegar, plastics, fashion, and cell phones cell phones cell phones. One walks in and out of shoe shops, jewelry stores, and art galleries, and the shoes, the jewelry, and the art don’t seem any different from one another as objects. This is Nobrow—the space between the familiar categories of high and low culture. In Nobrow, paintings by van Gogh and Monet are the headliners at the Bellagio Hotel while the Cirque du Soleil borrows freely from performance art in creating the Las Vegas spectacle inside. In Nobrow, artists show at K mart, museums are filled with TV screens, and the soundtrack of “Titanic” is not only a best-selling classical album but one that supports the dying classical enterprises of old-style highbrow musicians.

    Today is Sunday, and the nominal purpose of my SoHo excursion is to get some good tomatoes at Dean & DeLuca, on Broadway at Prince Street. I walk across Franklin Street, which still has lots of old, ungentri...