Thursday, May 24, 2012

Art vs Entertainment: What's the difference? Opposing Viewpoints

I usually enjoy Jeff Goins' blog, and link to it fairly often in this space, but nobody's perfect. He made a post on Monday, May 21, on a debate that I've always found unbearably pretensious: The Difference Between Art and Entertainment. So, what's the difference?

There isn't one.

There is no difference between art and entertainment - all art is entertainment. All of it.

Now, there is a difference between entertainment and art, and it's the same difference between a rectangle and a square, respectively. Not all rectangles are squares; all squares are rectangles. Not all entertainment is art: kicking a dog on the side of the road might produce a visceral tinge of excitement to some, but it's hardly an artistic endeavor. The most serious, life-changing works of art in the world, on the other hand, elicit an emotional response that we deliberately seek. In other words, consuming that art is an action designed to bring us some form of pleasure, even if it's through a veneer of pain and sadness.

Goins' take on the difference: "Entertainment makes us feel good. [...] Art, on the other hand, transforms us." As though art does not make us feel good. And entertainment (defined as thing that "makes us feel good) doesn't transform us? Try reading Great Expectations sometime. Or Chicken Soup for the Soul. Or hell, read Goins' You Are a Writer. Do any of these books not "make us feel good?" Which of them has never transformed anything?

Let's look at two recent TV shows: Breaking Bad, a drama about a dying, drug dealing chemist, and The Office, a satire of a typical modern workplace. Critically acclaimed, both (at least, in the first four seasons). Different. Innovative. Unpredictable. These adjectives can be applied to either. It's no hard guess as to which fits Goins' definitions of art and entertainment.

But why would The Office be less "art"? Because it has the temerity to be fun - or heaven forbid, entertaining? It's an innovative show that challenged the nature of its genre on TV, paving the way for some great successors - Modern Family, Chuck, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and others. Or is it in fact art, because enough critics have deemed it "good" that it can be classified as such by such moral authorities as Jeff Goins?

The debate between art and entertainment is, and has always been, a thinly-veiled excuse for the pretentious critics and scholars to establish their own credibility. Make us fell good? Petty entertainment. But make us feel utterly miserable, and we have discovered the saving grace of modern society. It's the method with which the over-educated, self-appointed elites make themselves feel superior going against mainstream tendencies. You want to make bad art? It's really easy. Just make sure it isn't entertaining.


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