“I am an artist, you know. It’s my right to tell you what to think. I’m chosen. You’re not.” That is the nutshell version of a long-standing effort to wrest art away from bourgeois aesthetic concerns and onto political ones. This tug is at work in every branch of the arts. But for economy’s sake, I will keep to the words art and artist as shorthand for the range of disciplines.
Today’s arts culture—the segment of it that appeals to museum curators, faculty hiring committees, and awards panels—mimics the intellectual fray of the 1960s, itself an imitation of contests begun in the 1910s and ‘20s. From the 1909 Futurist Manifesto, through assorted utopian declarations of the 1960s, on to the hectoring of Mike Pence by the cast of “Hamiliton,” artists have been on a steady, determined march toward ideological preachment.