In her insightful response to the recent Hamilton/Pence/Trump kerfuffle, Margy Waller wrote on Medium, “The current debate about whether artists should speak to policy or politics from the stage is framed to reinforce the default thinking about the arts as entertainment.” Margy and others have researched public perceptions of the arts and how dichotomous thinking (art/entertaintment; public/private; elite/community-based, and so on) can – and often does – shape cultural policy. But, as in most arenas, dichotomous thinking is counterproductive – especially when it comes to effective public policy. There is great art that is entertainment (Hamilton being just one example) and there is great entertainment that is not art, although it may be artful. The shared space between the two is enormous:
But this Venn diagram is insufficient to describe all the many ways that art attracts and affects the human psyche. The best “list” of such effects or incentives that I’ve come across is Ann Bogart’s, from and then, you act. In a chapter titled “Magnetism,” Bogart describes seven dimensions along which art (in this case theatre art, but I believe it applies to all forms) magnetizes: empathy, entertainment, ritual, participation, spectacle, education, and alchemy. Hamilton succeeds because it is magnetic along all seven dimensions.
Near the end of her Medium post, Waller reminds us of the dark possibility of government-controlled art. Artists, we are reminded by Albert Camus, must create — dangerously — on the razor’s edge between frivolity and propaganda. Especially now.