The difference between art and society

The fundamental difference between art and society is divisiveness. Great art and great artists separate. As Rick Rubin said, “The best art divides the audience.” Corey Robin, in “How Intellectuals Create a Public”, explains this a little more explicitly:

“That’s also how public intellectuals work. By virtue of the demands they make upon the reader, they force a reckoning. They summon a public into being — if nothing else a public conjured out of opposition to their writing. Democratic publics are always formed in opposition and conflict: “to form itself,” wrote Dewey, “the public has to break existing political forms.” So are reading publics. Sometimes they are formed in opposition to the targets identified by the writer: Think of the readers of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Sometimes they are formed in opposition to the writer: Think of the readers of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. Regardless of the fallout, the public intellectual forces a question, establishes a divide, and demands that her readers orient themselves around that divide.”

​The ability of art and artists to “establish a divide” and force people to “orient themselves around that divide” is the at odds with the aim of society, whose function is to neutralise divides and bring peoples closer together. More specifically:

Art is exclusion. Society is inclusion.
Art is tyranny of the individual. Society is participation of the majority. 
Art is specific taste. Society is all tastes.
Art is potent. Society is watered down.
Art is for the few. Society is for the many.
Art is black and white. Society is grey. 
Art is a unique and unrepeatable act. Society is a perpetuating system.
Art speaks one language. Society seeks to speak them all.
Art is biased and intolerant. Society seeks to remove bias.

Perhaps it is this opposition which propels each to be better than the other? Art, by dividing and pushing further into extremes and unknowns, compels society to be more accepting, more tolerant, and more understanding. The reverse, too. By being all these things and encouraging diversity of culture and expression, society allows art to flourish and ascend to unprecedented heights. Thus, it would be fitting to say that art and society, like true opposites, attract. But I think it would be more accurate to say that art and society, like true opposites, sustain one another.