Art vs. Entertainment

Posted By: ryan On:

Stieler, Joseph Karl: Beethoven mit der Missa solemnis Ölgemälde, 1819

I had a conversation with a friend recently who was complaining about Hollywood’s lack of imagination and the constant rehashing of old ideas, sequels, remakes, and the like. Not too long ago I might have been in a similar state of mind, but maybe I’m becoming old and grizzled because I realize that I don’t feel quite so strongly about that anymore.

Perhaps because the medium is the same, I think we have confused art and entertainment. I don’t mean to say that a piece of entertainment can’t be a work of art, but does every piece of entertainment necessarily have to be “art” to be worthwhile? Isn’t there value in entertainment for its own sake?

As composers, directors, designers, writers, it’s very easy to get caught up in the high-brow side of things. When our favorite band has a hugely successful album, we think they “sold out”. Why? How did this confusion of art and entertainment happen?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge supported of producing at the utmost quality and standards. But perhaps if we are more focused on providing our audience with a few good laughs and a heartfelt moment, as opposed to some “eternally lasting work of art”, we’re actually going to end up with a better result in the end.


  1. jsg
    March 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    I think the confusion between art and entertainment occurs because the two have differing aims, and sometimes there is overlap. In a modern post-industrial ultra-capitalist society like the one we live in, money, wealth, profit and sales have taken on values far more meaningful than the intrinsic value of people and art for their own sake. We all suffer from such a mindset, and yet many benefit professionally from it. Artists tend to see themselves as individualists, yet a market-driven society really only rewards that which is most popular, that which the largest number of people can appreciate and understand. I’ll always choose the “eternally lasting work of art” because when I listen to and study the great symphonic and orchestral music that has lasted centuries, I feel I am listening to music that has more depth, beauty, vulnerability and creative imagination than 99% of the music written today for media. As people who have to earn a living, we can rationalize all we want about the value of entertainment over fine art, but in those very quiet, honest, vulnerable moments perhaps we are not so eager to fool ourselves. In 150 years we’ll all be dead and no one knows which artistic works, commercially successful or not, will survive. The tension between what commerce wants and what self-expression demands is one we all have to deal with and so we do what we have to do. As the Russian saying goes, “It’s nice to sing songs once we have eaten”. But in our ultra-materialistic society, where such a large percentage of media contains economic and/or political propaganda, those eating quite well still put out junk-food for the soul and mind. Perhaps some artists have higher ideals about what art is than others, maybe others just want to avoid poverty and take care of their families. We can hardly judge the motives of others since all of us have multiple motives, some conscious, some unconscious. Many composers thrive doing music for media, others want to avoid it and prefer composing music for its own sake.

    Jerry Gerber

    • Ryan Leach
      March 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      First of all, thank you so much for your insightful comment Jerry! I think for me part of the problem is that people often consider entertainment to be “bad art”, whereas I see them as two distinct and equally valid things.

      For example, my wife and I went to see 21 Jump Street last night. We had a great time, laughed throughout the movie and left in a great mood. Today we were still chuckling about it. I think it’s impossible to say that there isn’t value there. Do I think 21 Jump Street a work of art? No, of course not, it was crude and dumb comedy. But it was entertaining and to me that seems like enough to make it worthwhile.

      Your comment “Perhaps some artists have higher ideals about what art is than others” almost perfectly exemplifies the point. Why does someone’s opinion of what art is have anything to do with entertainment? Why are they considered two different quality versions of the exact same thing?

      • s.t.
        December 31, 2012 at 9:57 pm

        I guess another way to put what I posted above is an inversion of your comment here: While it could be said that Entertainment is “bad art,” I actually get the impression that most people today look at artists as “petulant entertainers.” There’s probably some truth to both sides of the coin, but I feel that the latter implies more of a threat to how we live our lives.

  2. s.t.
    December 31, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be entertained per se, but I do think that popular appreciation of and demand for Art has been on the decline, which is most unfortunate.

    I think food is a useful metaphor here. Entertainment is all about feeling good, indulging in something satisfying in a very immediate and shallow sense, and so it’s kind of like junk food or snack food. There’s nothing wrong with eating something junky once in a while, but too much of it is bad, especially if more nutritious foods are in turn neglected. And Art is the nutritious food. Sometimes it’s a bit harder to get down (what kid likes brussel sprouts?) but the overall effect is ultimately transformative, challenging, inspiring, enlightening, edifying. It makes you feel like a better person in the long term, rather than in the immediate period of consumption.

    If Art is controlled by popular demand, rather than by a trust in the vision of the artists, then a shift toward easy-to-swallow entertaining works is pretty much inevitable. And not only is the demand for easy entertainment dominant in our current society, entertainers often inspire worship as if they were Artists. See: Kanye West and Taylor Swift. We the patrons of this Mass Entertainment culture have not only become complacent and uncritical consumers, we have actually become rabid devotees of empty, feel-good fluff as if it were some sort of sacred work!

    We would all benefit from regaining a sense of respect toward the role of artists in our lives. Entertainment is fine, but we have been lumping Art into a catch-all “Arts & Entertainment” category that rots our culture like Sour Apple Now-And-Laters pressed into a dental cavity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Play Cover Track Title
Track Authors