Discriminating Tastes and the Expansion of the Arts
Jennifer C. Lena
An in-depth look at how democratic values have widened the American arts scene, even as it remains elite and cosmopolitan
Two centuries ago, wealthy entrepreneurs founded the American cathedrals of culture—museums, theater companies, and symphony orchestras—to mirror European art. But today’s American arts scene has widened to embrace multitudes: photography, design, comics, graffiti, jazz, and many other forms of folk, vernacular, and popular culture. What led to this dramatic expansion? In Entitled, Jennifer Lena shows how organizational transformations in the American art world—amid a shifting political, economic, technological, and social landscape—made such change possible.
By chronicling the development of American art from its earliest days to the present, Lena demonstrates that while the American arts may be more open, they are still unequal. She examines key historical moments, such as the creation of the Museum of Primitive Art and the funneling of federal and state subsidies during the New Deal to support the production and display of culture. Charting the efforts to define American genres, styles, creators, and audiences, Lena looks at the ways democratic values helped legitimate folk, vernacular, and commercial art, which was viewed as nonelite. Yet, even as art lovers have acquired an appreciation for more diverse culture, they carefully select and curate works that reflect their cosmopolitan, elite, and moral tastes.
Jennifer C. Lena is associate professor of arts administration and sociology at Columbia University. She is the author of Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music (Princeton). She lives in New York City. Twitter @WITWhat