Last week, in the comments Jenna wrote "So I saw something that made me fighting mad the other day, and thought it might inspire you blogalectically. It was a quote that went, roughly, "The highest calling of an artist is to challenge people's views and test the boundaries of society".
Like Jenna, my reaction is "No!"
No person's higest calling is merely to 'challenge people's views' or to 'test boundaries'. Those can be a part of an artist's calling, especially an artist who has been made very aware of some societal failing, but the artist's highest calling as an artist is the shaping of beauty and the conveying of truth. I would add that the second is submissive to the first, and dependant on it. If he cannot make a thing of beauty in his art, he will be unable to share truth; if he succeeds in beauty, truth will be a part of the art, with or without his consent.
Beauty and truth are challenging, for sure, to everybody's views in some way. I do believe that art must challenge us, in some way to grow. Art that is completely 'accessible' flounders a little in the shallow end of things, trading in it's ability to impact it's audience for the comforts of mass appeal. Society's boundaries should always be tested, but only in the pursuit of beauty.
Artist's have a tendency - I like to imagine it's common to everybody - to get wrapped up in the details. We like to paint ourselves as a sort of artistic ideal: the bohemian poet, the tortured intellectual, the drunk playwright, the distracted novelist..in all of these little ideals lives the desire to "challenge people's views and test [society's] boundaries", but these ideals and desires are only a tiny part of the artistic calling. They can be an aspect of the whole-hearted pursuit of beauty, or they can be an idol, calling the artist away from his vocation, into certain failure.