Are the arts good for us? This work questions our taken-for-granted assumptions about the transformational powers of high culture by critiquing an instrumental American heritage of beliefs about the arts. Jensen argues that faith in high culture's unproven ability to transform people and society allows social critics to keep faith with the idea of a democratic society while deploring popular culture. Employing perspectives from Tocqueville and Dewey, she argues that the arts are good, but they don't do good. Instead of expecting the arts to improve things (and blaming the media for ruining them) we need to recognize that it is up to us, not "the arts" to make the world a better place.
Joli Jensen is professor of communication at the University of Tulsa in the US.