“The idea that all cultural expressions are equal has been fostered, not surprisingly, by women and minorities. Just as Americans in general have felt more confident in their grasp of contemporary culture than of its classical antecedents predating our nationhood, so those Americans who were historically excluded from the mainstream of tastemaking now feel more comfortable with seeing their traditional crafts and pursuits elevated to the status of art than they do with trying to master established art forms. In truth, some of these crafts have much to recommend them. I collect vintage examples of weaving; I find the blues irresistible; I have always liked square dancing. But these are lesser forms of art than, say, oil painting and opera and ballet, because the techniques are less arduous and less demanding of long learning, the underlying symbolic language is less complicated, the range of expression is less profound, and the worship of beauty is muddied by the lower aims of community fellowship. Above all, these arts are less intellectual—less cerebral, less abstract, less of a test. The prevailing popular notion that high culture is hard brain-work is, in fact, true. That is part of its point, not necessarily to exclude the less able but certainly to challenge them to stretch themselves and to heighten their learning.
American popular culture does not embrace this certification of art as work. Indeed, the word art is rarely used at all. The preferred signifier is the word entertainment, which correctly conveys that the aspirations are generally escapist, nostalgic, or anodyne. Entertainment promises to make you feel better, to help you forget your troubles, to liberate you from having to think. Even when entertainment touches deep feelings, it does so as a gesture of reassurance, a combination of sentiment and sloganeering. This is what most people say they want, and the market lets them have it, without anyone in a position of intellectual or social leadership telling them that they should ask more of themselves—and might benefit thereby.”
–William A. Henry III, In Defense of Elitism