(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).
The title of this post brings up very difficult questions each time I try to think about these two words : ART and ENTERTAINMENT. The gulf between them is at first glance seemingly vast, but is it?
What is art? What is entertainment? Are they strictly separate things, or can they sometimes intersect and overlap? Is there an existential truth at issue here, or is it all dependent on who is experiencing that which the established parties deem to be “art” and “entertainment”? Do some things perhaps not fit into either of these categories, thus requiring a third category yet unnamed?
As you can see, I have more questions than answers.
Art is ART, and entertainment is ENTERTAINMENT, and never the two shall meet. That seems to be a prevailing idea from many people. Depending on who you ask in either of these opposing camps, art is something “highbrow and elitist”, while entertainment is “fun and accessible.”, while on the other hand, art “transforms the soul and inspires awe”, while entertainment “has its place, but is ultimately of less value to society”.
One author explains it in a different way, saying:
Simply put, when aesthetic purpose precedes exposure and sales, art plays the upper hand. When reversed, it’s about entertainment…The point is not the amount of money or labor that is invested, it’s the nature of the engagement by both artist and audience. (Bill Lasarow – The Huffington Post 2011)
I had an experience this evening that brought many of these questions back to the forefront of my mind, and thus the inspiration for this post.
I attended an early workshop reading of a new play. It is a play about a real place, some characters are real people while others are fake, but the story is almost entirely concocted out of thin air. And, while the story was in no way particularly special or unique, it got at a deeper issue. The message conveyed through the play was that people who are seen as outcasts of society are still people with hopes and dreams, and are worthy of happiness. A seemingly obvious sentiment, but in today’s current cultural and political climate, I would argue that it is a message in need of hearing. (And yes, I am intentionally being vague here in the interest of anonymity for the creators.)
Was what I experienced art, or entertainment?
I think a more precisely directed question would be, “Did what I experience get at something greater and larger than what appeared on the surface?” In that case, the answer for me would be a resounding “Yes”! The story was fake, but the greater truth was very real. One point for ART. And yet, I was still entertained. There was interesting music, strong acting, and text that I found both amusing and deeply unsettling. One point for ENTERTAINMENT. So what was it? Art, or entertainment? Do we have a tie? Is it a new thing? Artainment?
I feel as though what I am trying to express would be better stated by Orson Welles – a man with far more eloquence than myself. Recently in The New Yorker, author Alex Ross quotes Welles at the end of an article:
What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I’m afraid the pompous word for that is art. Picasso himself said it. Art, he said, is a lie, a lie that makes us realize the truth…Reality? It’s the toothbrush waiting at home for you in its glass, a bus ticket, a paycheck, and the grave. – (Orson Welles, as quoted by Alex Ross in The New Yorker)
For more interesting reading on the subject of art and entertainment, check out this post by Jeff Goins.