The Difference Between Art and Entertainment

Art, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Which is a nice way of saying it’s whatever you want it to be. But I don’t believe that.

Art Institute in Chicago
Photo credit: Mark Heard (Creative Commons)

Although I don’t have an objective perspective (nobody does), and mine is but one opinion, I believe there is such a thing as good and bad art.

Maybe that’s asking too much, for us to label art “good” or “bad,” or maybe that feels too restrictive. That’s fine, I suppose; I don’t want to impose my artistic standards on someone else, nor would I appreciate having it the other way around.

But what is not okay is calling something “art” when it’s not — when it is, in fact, something else.

Art versus entertainment

My friend Stephen pointed out recently, quoting Makoto Fujimura I think, that the difference between art and entertainment is subtle, but important:

Entertainment gives you a predictable pleasure… Art leads to transformation.

If that’s true, then we may have a problem, because what a lot of people call “art” isn’t changing us. At best, it’s entertaining us, dulling our senses and inebriating us to the realities of the world. Which is not the point.

Art is supposed to transform:

  • It surprises.
  • It wounds.
  • It changes.

Entertainment makes us feel good. It doesn’t surprise us; it meets our expectations. And that’s why we like entertainment: it coddles us.

But the problem with entertainment is it leaves us unchanged. And we so desperately need to be changed, whether we realize it or not.

Art, on the other hand, transforms us. How? It wounds us — breaks our hearts, causes us to cry, and reveals our own inadequacies.

Art forces us to make a choice. It does exactly what we don’t expect, and that’s how it changes us. So the question, dear artist, is:

Are you creating predictable work that doesn’t surprise, that doesn’t wound, that doesn’t change anything?

What, then, are you creating? It may be propaganda. It may be advertising. It may even be entertainment. But it’s probably not art.

What do you think? Share in the comments.

141 thoughts on “The Difference Between Art and Entertainment

  1. I love your thoughts on this. It definitely takes what I’ve learned so far to a deeper level. 

    Another quote I heard recently via Glenn Packiam (i forget who he was quoting) said this:
    “Art that is all pain is brutality.
    Art that is all joy is sentimentality.
    But art that is both pain & joy is BEAUTY.”


    I’ve been in Hong Kong this past week with Michael Gungor, and he’s been working on his new book which address a lot of this. The conversations have been priceless. And it will definitely add to this conversation…b/c as many of us (especially in the Church) start to re-approach the arts, we need to a good understanding of what it is we’re dealing with. Because I agree, we throw the word “art” around way to flippantly, just like we do other words (like “worship.”) We are so careless with our words these days. And it’s muddying up our culture’s language and creating unnecessary baggage.

    Good stuff, Jeff. Let’s go have coffee when I get back from HK and dive in more.

  2. Nice thoughts, Jeff.  My objective when I write (create art) is to hopefully inspire others to apply what I’ve created to their own lives and situations.   The stories might be my own, but I think good art teaches and inspires.  I still don’t have it all figured out but I’m going to keep practicing. 

  3. Wounding the viewer/listener/reader. It’s something I don’t always do well. In performance, I lean toward comedy. I just want to make people feel good. 

    But as an artist, I want to go deeper than that. Transformation. Yes. 

  4. This is a predicament that I encountered when I decided to start writing genre fiction (mystery).  So much of what I read was two dimensional, cookie cutter stuff.  The body hits the floor, the detective gets to work, case solved, everyone happy.

    What I have tried to do with my series is to dig DEEPER.
    Better characters.
    A mystery in the truest sense of the word, as opposed to a body count.
    And that’s made all the difference.  My sales aren’t where I would want them to be, but I’m putting out quality work I can be proud of, and those fans who get it, GET IT.
    And that’s priceless.

  5. One of my goals for my current project is to provide the kind of story that I hadn’t seen for years. I want to provide something familiar yet different. A story with a radical streak, yet it’s the story people will cling to for years to come.

    Those are vague terms, but that’s the gist of my goal.

  6. Having studied both fine art and history of modern art I feel that good art is something that should create a strong reaction – I am not sure about transformation but your description makes sense. But art can be entertaining and vice versa. 

    Images speak a thousand words and can widely understood across borders which is where it’s power lies … going to think more about the idea of transformation … food for thought! 

  7. I have to say, the wounding is hard for me.  But I do believe that wounding compels more dramatic change, and creates a powerful memory.  

    I’ve seen many instances where wounding can inspire greatness, which would be my intention.  But once art is shipped, control over it (and thus the response to it) is gone.  

    It may not inspire.  It may create despondency.  Am I okay with that?

      1. I agree that you can, but individual perception of that art impacts the depth of wound.  Maybe creating hope in some, and despair in others?

        I’m thinking through this out loud, thanks for the dialogue.

  8. “Art on the other hand transforms us…” I like this notion.

    This post challenges me to create with conviction–produce something unique that moves people and moves people forward.

    Good thoughts.


  9. Yes!!  I totally agree.  Franz Kafka said similar: “I think we
    ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. We need
    the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply… A
    book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

  10. Jeff, thanks for sharing your thoughts on what art is. Love the idea that it leads to transformation, that it either surprises,  wounds, or changes us. I like the word inspires, too — but I guess that could easily fit under the category of change, couldn’t it? Great thoughts on this Monday morning.

  11. We create to symbolize our life.  Creating is a way to give meaning to our experiences; it is a way to cope in an unpredictable world.  Creating in and of itself is not good or bad. It just is. What we value in terms of entertainment and/or art is a social construct, which means the perception will depend on the individual, or group, and the times in which the piece is being looked at.

  12. Great question.  I hope that what I am doing is transforming.  I think it does with with some and others not so much.  Just like anything else.  Some art moves me.  Some art leaves me flat.

  13. This could be a 10,000 word post. Art vs. Craft vs. Entertainment. It’s hard to quantify exactly. I would, however, add a fourth point to surprising, wounding and changing us. Art, I believe, often delights us. That could fit into surprise or change, but delight is such a subtle thing. Delight is uplifting. Delight can be seeing someone shine their true self through expression—and that can happen through entertainment. Then again, I like to see shit blow up, too. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Excellent post. In college I had a film teacher bring up the ideas of “high art” vs “low art.” Essentially the very thing discussed here. His point is, even the crappy entertainment only movies have some message that it is expressing whether intentionally or not. We just have to look. For God created the world through the artistic vein and in so brought art to the world. As Matt points out, art is also beauty. The Venus or The David are not “transformative” but they are beauty. Movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy are beautiful pieces or art because of, in a movie making copacity, they were pains takingly created and the standard inwhich they were created is quite high. They are just beautiful and most would just consider them entertainment. Entertainment is important. Beauty is important. I think maybe the “entertainment” that you are refering to is the base vile and ammoral creations meant to be vile, An American Pie, or be offensive on purpose, i.e. a cross in a jar of urine.

  14. I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot lately, Jeff.  And I agree that the best kinds of art leave us changed.  But it seems like for a lot of us, we have to create a lot of really bad stuff to get to the really good stuff.  I’d say there’s value in it all–it’s just learning what that value is.  Sometimes it’s to change ourselves and get our own personal breakthrough.  And other times it’s to leave the world changed by its presence.

    1. Right, Kelly. I’m less concerned about the quality of work and much more concerned about the intended outcome. Is it to pander or provoke? I’m more interested in the latter. That’s where change happens, usually.

  15. I prefer not to label anything as “good” or “bad” because I’m doing so from the only perspective I can have – my own.  Instead, when I sit down to write or draw or cook, it is my earnest desire to create from my heart.  All that matters to me is that I am changed by the experience. 

  16. I think this is very true, though, your list of what art “does” is rather limited. In the end, though, you are totally on par with art verse entertainment. Entertainment is like eating sweets. You could have done without it after eating it. Art, on the other hand, is like the main course of a healthy meal. It builds us up. Sure, sometimes it’s like eating those green beans you hate, but its good for you. Art is something that sets us apart from animals. Its an expression of the “more” to life that we experience or attempt to find daily. I think it’s a necessary expression of our humanity. Without, we lose contact with a part of ourselves that desperately needs to be understood. Entertainment, so often tries to take it’s place, and I think often times we suffer for it. 

    Thought provoking post. 🙂

  17. I’ll be thinking about this all day, which I like 🙂

    I think there is still some level of subjectivity involved, but I agree that there’s a lot of entertainment out there dressed up as art.  I don’t have a problem with that, as a whole, because I don’t mind some of my work to be entertainment.  Yet, the more I write, the more I wish to reach people in a more meaningful way.

    What if the process changing the artist, but not those the art reaches?  Where the artist feels genuinely transformed in some way, but there is a disconnect and others see it only as entertainment?

    1. Awesome. I like that, too.

      History is full of misunderstood artists. Sometimes, it’s not the audience (at least not the contemporary one) for whom you are creating.

  18. I haven’t really thought about art and entertainment this way before.  I generally think about concepts and ideas as they relate to a need, how to solve a need, and how to motivate people to see the need and take action.

      1. This is true.  All that is mentioned is me thinking – not acting. What might make it more complete?

  19. LOVED this. Makes me think about the pieces I studied in art history courses in college. They wounded, changed me. Impacted me forever. Thanks for the thought provoking article.

  20. So, if entertainment uplifts, invigorates and inspires, is it then art? Must art only break open our hearts, of can it simply make us smile, remember and feel a little more of who we really are than we did before? Perhaps it doesn’t change anything beyond that moment. Does that make it “less-than” art?

    And do these kinds of arguments ever really serve anyone? Or do they only serve to keep us from our creative work?

    1. Hmmm, good point, Nancy. I agree that art can be uplifting, but it needs to do more than simply please. I think at the core of creative work there needs to be surprise. Call it wonder, awe, whatever — it must somehow astonish us, even if in a seemingly mundane way.

  21. Great post and excellent questions Jeff! I find myself constantly struggling between two identites: the artist who wants to transform and inspire, and the marketer who pays the bills. 

    I’m hoping to someday find the balance, and perhaps succeed with marketing messages that also transform and inspire. The truth is, marketing and general entertainment reach a much wider audience, so if we want our art to transform the masses, we need to find a way to strike a balance. Or mask art with entertainment? Is it possible?

  22. Wonderful article! I have a quote which I keep above my computer to remind why I write:
    “If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it?
    Good God, we also would be happy if we had no books and such books that
    make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. What we must have
    are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one
    we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe
    to break the sea frozen inside us.” Franz Kafka

    1. Great point, Tyler. In my opinion, all healing is painful. Like surgery. Like childbirth. Like cauterizing a wound. In order to be healed, we must be hurt, but it’s a good kind of hurt — not one that mutilates or debilitates. We are broken, and the uncomfortable work of putting us back together is the function of all good art.

  23. Here’s something else that was said at Mako Fujimura’s Int’l Arts Movement event (where I heard this explanation of art & entertainment)…

    “We need the arts to awaken us to the Realities of the Kingdom of God.
    To awaken the fullness of our human potential and to help us realize that.”

    I think it was Erwin McManus who said this.

  24. When I put forth my art, I am seeking to help my audience feel. That’s it, feel. Whether they feel joy, or pain, or like they can’t imagine what the heck I was thinking when I wrote that 😉 …In a world full of mind-numbing entertainment, if I can make you feel something, then I have created something worth reading. Unless, of course, all I made you feel was nausea. 🙂 But hopefully that doesn’t happen.

  25. An interesting theory, Jeff, and not one I have ever considered before. You have surprised me…and made me think, so does this mean that this article is art? 🙂

  26. Thanks, Jeff. I think you (and Mako) have given words to something I couldn’t put my finger on. 

    I always thought art’s purpose was to carry a message of some sort, that it should speak to us in some way (as opposed to being purely aesthetic), but “transformational” is an even better way of describing it.

    So, yes, I’m aiming for something transformational.

  27. But what if you are non-emotional personality type? Art may NEVER impact you in the same way it might someone else. I’ve seen famous paintings in person and found them beautiful… but in no way did they surprise, wound, or change me. In fact, I can list the things that have done any of that on one hand — but that doesn’t mean that “art” isn’t good, even if it is not just “entertainment.” Few books I have ever read changed me, and the only book series that has ever surprised me was “Harry Potter.” But that doesn’t mean that many of the other books I’ve read haven’t been “good” in their own way. I think it’s important to strive to challenge and surprise your reader, but know that few things in this world are ever going to be as transforming as all that.

  28. I think the difference between art and entertainment lies in the intention of the creator.

    It’s really for simple: you create art for yourself and entertainment for other people.

    And, of course, these aren’t always mutually exclusive. But, if there is a difference, I think this is it. Think about it, why is the “starving artist” starving? It’s because he/she cares more about creating something that reflects his or her authentic self than about getting a customer. Conversely, you can really produce entertainment without someone else being entertained. The very word implies an object to which your work is directed.

    I think we tend to esteem the artist as something morally superior to the entertainer. The artist is pure and the entertainer is a sell-out. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true. The entertainer, it can be argued, is more selfless because they want to produce something that they can be relatively certain will appeal to others. The artist doesn’t care whether you like the work or not. It isn’t for you.

    Does this distinction make sense to anyone else…or am I way off base?

  29. I think I see what you are getting at here. Perhaps you are looking at the motives behind the work. If someone is just trying to make money with something has the person actually created art? But I don’t know if you can always separate art and entertainment. I would call many artistic plays highly entertaining. There would be no chance for entertainment if you tried to take away the art. Nothing would be left. And there are comedic performances that cause me to laugh and enjoy myself but also walk away with a deeper understanding about something. 

    Another thought: I can walk into an “art museum” and see paintings on the walls that I wouldn’t at all consider art or entertainment, but then everyone has an opinion about what art is. I guess that’s good in a way because it creates variety. 

    Thanks for sparking the debate on the subject!

  30. Good Article Jeff! I totally agree.

    Deconstruction art does exactly that, it deconstructs us. It tears us apart. It dissects us. Whether it’s our music, our writing or out art, it appeals to our lower self. It’s like watching something implode. Fascinating, but not too helpful.

    You however, take the higher road, art that calls us up, to be bigger, and better people. Art that is transformational.

  31. I still think this definition still makes art highly subjective.  One of the books that changed my life is “Alcatraz vs. the Knights of Crystallia.”  It’s a hilarious MG book I doubt anyone would label “Art.”  But it made me laugh at a low point in my life when I hadn’t laughed for months.  I was able to gather myself up and continue forward with optimism and an appreciation for everything I had in life.  It changed me and my worldview for the better.  Under the above definition, this book is art to me, and “The Great Gatsby” is neither entertainment or art, but merely a torture device of a high school English teacher.

  32. A terriffic post that all parents should teach their children.  Entertainment is a “feel good”; art is a “be good” because of its tranforming power to make us “good” from the inside out.  Thank you so much for this important post.

  33. Really interesting post, and definitely something I occupy a huge amount of my time thinking about.  I wonder whether entertainment often can start out as art. Like, great films/TV etc might have this huge transforming power in their initial phase for example, when they first come out.  But then we get used to who we become after the transformation and continue to ‘consume’ the art, thus turning into entertainment because it has lost its power to transform (the paradigm shift has already occurred).  What do you reckon?  Therefore this puts the defining power back into the hands of the audience.  It was originally art, but the impact that it has had has turned it into entertainment.  Does that happen?

  34. Very thought-provoking…thanks Jeff for making me really think about what I’m creating when I write 🙂

  35. I think the line between art and entertainment isn’t as clear as you’ve made it. “All in the Family” was a family sitcom that entertained and, to some extent, transformed the way people viewed other ethnic cultures.

    Art doesn’t always surprise and does at times offer “predictable pleasures.” When I read a familiar passage of literature or view a familiar painting, I may expect a pleasurable return to that which is known.

    I think a better distinction is to note well-crafted, average, and shoddy. This can describe meal preparation (a world-class chef vs. fast food), furniture, fashion, automobiles, movies, sitcoms, literature, painting, sculpting, etc.

    I’ve learned through my particular craft, writing, to respect those who are good at what they do in other areas. I certainly respect those who do their work well and their well-crafted work sometimes surprises, sometimes pleases, and sometimes causes me to be stretched with new thoughts and ideas (kind of like this blog today).

  36. “Entertainment makes us feel good. It doesn’t surprise us. It meets our expectations.” Perfect description of the mediocre garbage that constitutes a majority of the stuff the entertainment industry cranks out. “Boring and predictable” were the words the Wachowski brothers used to describe most movies. I’m assuming that description would also apply to most of the over-hyped, trendy novels that are no more than carefully crafted marketing machines designed to turn a profit. I don’t know because I never read them. 
    But once you’ve been turned on to real art, there’s no turning back. You can never look at that mediocre stuff the same way. Stuff that is made sheerly for “entertainment value” doesn’t entertain me anymore. Because I’ve learned that it’s true what Aristotle said “To learn gives the liveliest pleasure.” If I don’t learn something from it—if I’m not moved or changed in some way, as you said, it doesn’t entertain me. It actually annoys the hell out of me and I turn it off, I stop reading. 

    An important caveat is not to be mistaken into believing that genre is any factor in this. One can still create great art, while creating within a genre. As I wrote about on my blog ( ), genre art, even incredibly popular genre art, can still be high art. It’s whether it moves us, changes us, edifies us that distinguishes it as art. 

    Thanks for the article. It serves as a great reminder to us all who live in a society that is overwhelmed by inane and pointless media that serves as an opium of the masses. 

  37. I guess I’ve never really thought of myself as an ‘artist’ before. But I know one thing – I don’t like the thought of being an ‘entertainer’!  This post might haunt me the next time I sit down to write. 

  38. I am a hospital chaplain. And when you say art wounds and transforms us, I thought about the art of pastoral care. Working with the wounded and suffering. Those who need healing. A big part of my calling is my response to the suffering I see in my little part of the world. Of course pastoral care is not entertainment. Neither is it me trying to “craft” someone. The essence of an encounter is the intersection to two stories, both from a wounded perspective and both offering transformation if allowed to happen. Right there is how I blend my calling to be a chaplain amid suffering to in the real sense an art. I let my woundedness minister because in my own healing there is a story to tell.

    I will write more on that because you stimulated my thought process to give a different perspective on the difference between art (allowing two stories to blend) and merely trying to fix someone (when most of us just want to be listened to).


  39. Good thoughts, Jeff! I’ve been studying the nature of art and artists for the past few years. Particularly in the literary realm. Here’s where I’m at today on this…

    Art acknowledges the grave. Entertainment evades it.

  40. I think you hit the nail on the head Jeff. Our lives are inundated with entertainment. It pacifies us instead of changing us. Obviously, some entertainment is beneficial but too much hinders us from really engaging. 

    Art forces us to share something. It takes a little bit of who we are and it exposes it to everyone else. Entertainment allows us to hide. It asks nothing from us.

  41. This idea of transformation also shows up in Goodall’s “Writing the New Ethnography”—which I was just reading this afternoon (in France). I love how God sends these kinds of things my way multiple times. His voice, to me, seems to be about connection and repetition. Anyways, thanks for being part of the communication chain between me and the Master of the Universe!!!!! 😀

  42. Isn’t it all transforming, it’s just a matter of which direction it’s transforming you? Might you be able to say, that poor art transforms you in a negative way and good art transforms you in a positive way?

    1. As used here, the term “art,” is an accolade; an award given to a creative work that surpasses the mundane.  Anything in that category is exceptional; it touches hearts; it excceds the human lifespan; it impacts culture; it ripples out to the artists of future generations, urging them to respond with a new work of their own.  Art is alive.  

      I tend to agree that there is no poor art: only advertisement, entertainment, or promotion, well or poorly done.    And each might be good or bad at what they’re doing–making money.  Art, on the other hand, is in the business of making us more than money-making machines.  It makes us human beings. 

      We have no need to judge art “poor” or “good.” We know it’s art if it faces us with a mirror and requires us to judge ourselves.

  43. “. . .Yet sometimes, when we feel a song’s truth, our spirits begin to settle the new world where the song has carried us. Then a song becomes more than entertainment: it is art. Art freely given has life; the creative gift obligates us to pass along what we have been given. Art begets art. . . ”

    Rich Mullins was a friend of mine who taught me a lot about art.  He’d play a new song for me and then whip around on the piano bench to see if I was crying or not.  If I wasn’t, he’d keep re-writing till I did.  He didn’t settle for simply moving people’s emotions:  he intended, actually, to shift their attitudes.  I think that’s the transformation you mentioned.  His songs had a lot in common with those of a shepherd boy who once became a king.   

    He also taught me you can tell if a creative work is “alive” because if it is, it provokes others to create art.  There are people who have built entire careeers on identifying the creative debt one artist owes to another.  I’ve heard they’re called academics.  Something like that.

  44. So, according to your description (transformation), one might say that one’s life and art are really meant to be the same thing.  We are all living works of art.  I like that. 🙂

    1. That is indeed very perceptive, we are all living works of art, as is all life. This is in essence what every artist strives to emulate in their work. People are the Art objects, and the transformation happens as a result of the discourse our lives evoke in ourselves and others.

    2. I think of oil and fire when I think of trying to define art: You know when you’ve felt it, you may be comforted or injured by it, but it’s impossible to get a hold of and define with complete and concrete terms. It seems that a movie can be done artistically, and still be entertaining. A piece of art can be entertaining, but still be art.
      The neat thing about anything created is that it reflects to some extent the heart and mind of the one who creates it, and as we are all unique, we get a window into something that cannot be fully expressed any other way.
      Cities reflect their culture; nature reflects its Creator. Art is inspired by whatever influences the mind of the creator, and while sometimes it is very much of the time in which it’s made, sometimes is so awe-inspiring that there’s something of infinity and eternality in it, a lasting and classical quality. I love how everyone here has tried to define it, and it has been said so many ways…even that effort reflects that unique perception that each of us has.

  45. Great article.  It was very though provoking and inspiring.  Actually your post would be considered art ^_^.  Although I mostly agree, I do still believe that you can’t neglect that art is really in the eye of the beholder.  There are many types of art that appeal to people differently since we are all different.  One art piece could be viewed as earth-shattering by one and dull to another.  It is kinda like beauty isn’t it? 

    Still, I do agree that artists should push themselves when creating art.  However, not trying to be revolutionary to everyone (you can’t transform/please everybody), but by making it meaningful and extent of ourselves in hopes that it could transform/help someone.

  46. Hey Jeff, does the fact that I’m trying to change myself in the process of understanding what makes a difference make it art? What if what is surprising to me seems entertaining to others—is it “low-level” art or not art at all? Cheers 🙂

  47. This definition creates a problem for me and other people working in hypemperia, ie., the art of creating a sensory experience from hypnotic suggestion. You’re probably unaware of this art. Most people have no idea it exists. But I and a few dozen others develop hypnotic recordings that enable the listener to ‘experience’ their sexual fantasies.

    A few of us are true artists, exploring and expanding potential for the art. While most are hacks, mass producing recordings with no artistic value at all. The problem is that because many of the listeners want to be changed by hypnotic suggestions, they may in fact be changed by even the most mediocre recordings. So by your definition, even the most unoriginal script could be considered art. But if someone accepts your criteria and rejects that conclusion, then they might reject the possibility that any hypnotic recording could be considered art.

    But I assure you, it is possible to create true art from hypnotic suggestion. I’ve done it. So I would appreciate a definition of ‘art’ that accepts this, and at the same time distinguishes what I do from the hacks and opportunists who mass produce mediocre quality.


  48. Here’s something to think about:

    Entertainment INCITES emotions. Art EXPRESSES emotion.

    The two acts are radically different and very misunderstood, especially by units in our subjective contemporary culture.

    Art must also be conceived of as a work of art, either purposefully or ignorantly, by the artist for a work of art to be created. Art does not often happen accidentally. It is a very different act for someone to say I want to write a really nasty story about a serial killer that will make the audience want to puke versus a writer who conceives a story that allows the reader to understand what it’s like to be an outsider in a world of conformity.

    In my long study of art, I’ve come to understand that while a lot of people do not want art and entertainment to be separate categories, they generally are. While art can also be entertaining, art’s primary purpose isn’t to entertain, it’s to express a certain idea/emotion or set of ideas/emotions. Entertainment is there to entertain, and while you’ll once in a while get pseudo-profound ideas in entertainment, none of the work of entertainment is designed to express those ideas. The work of entertainment is here to entertain.

    Entertainment is a diversion from reality. Art is an interaction with reality.

    So, when a writer, musician, painter, poet, choreographer, etc conceives of a work of art to express a certain emotion/idea and creates the characters/plot/colors/structure/composition/etc that transfers the point (the certain emotion/idea) to the audience, you get a work of art. How well the artist’s selection of character/plot/color/structure/composition convey the point determines how good the work of art ends up being.

    As for the audience, not much can be said about them. They might understand the language of the art (ie figurative painting) or they might be confronted with a language they do not know, understand, or care to learn (ie cubism).

  49. You make entertainment sound like a bad thing. The thing is… it’s NOT. At all.
    Sometimes we NEED to take a break. Sometimes we NEED to laugh. Sometimes we NEED to be entertained. And sometimes we want to do it without having to be “transformed”. Entertainment is necessary. Sure, we may forget about it the minute after we’re done reading/watching it, but at least it was an enjoyable experience. It just irks me when I see articles like this that basically say it’s bad to have fun.

    “But what is not okay is calling something “art” when it’s not. When it’s something else.” What else? Entertainment IS art, in a way. Case in point:

    1. Some very simplistic and reductive “reasoning” going on here.

      You really can’t speak for everyone. Maybe there are some folks out there, on a Friday night, after going through the same predictable and mundane motions of the workplace might find something out of the ordinary, and challenging, and thought provoking to be a “break” from the usual same-old we experience every day. Ever think of it that way?

      If you engage a genuine work of art a second or third or 500th time, your experience, whether you realize it or not, is different from the time before. In this, you’re in a different moment, in a different frame of mind, and have had countless experiences since the last engagement that should have changed your perspective somewhat. To suggest that every time you engage an art object your experience is exactly the same is absurd, and, if it is, you’re totally passive and not trying very hard.

      Like it or not, we change all the time. And, to resist change in yourself is pretty foolish. What are you after? Static values, imagination, perspective?

      One does not create art exclusively for themselves. Who ever said that? If anything, art is a public project and has been for over 4,000 times. And, if someone expresses themselves in solely entertainment terms, well, they’re being an entertainer. Not an artist.

      Entertainment can be artful, but usually it’s not. It certainly is not “art in a way.” It is something distinctly different, for many reasons.

  50. Entertainment can certainly surprise, wound and change us. That’s all part of being entertained. This need to separate art from entertainment is pointless, let alone impossible. And to say that “we need to change” is pure opinion–not one I disagree with, but an opinion nonetheless and, therefore, irrelevant to this issue, seeing as we can only use objectivity to settle this matter.

    The only difference between art and entertainment is the observer’s perspective. The piece in and of itself is neither art nor entertainment. It simply IS. The art/entertainment happens within the beholder. That’s the beauty of it. Even the artist’s intentions are irrelevant in the attempt to distinguish between art and entertainment as they are known only to the artist him/herself. Therefore, an objective distinction cannot be made.

    I don’t know about you, but when Rachel got off the plane to stay with Ross I cried like a baby. I also cry like a baby every time I see Juliet cradle Romeo’s body and take her own life. People have to learn to appreciate things for WHAT THEY ARE. Friends is not trying to be Shakespeare. It’s trying to be Friends. Both Romeo and Juliet and Friends can be engaging. Both can make us laugh, cry, and even take a harder look at ourselves.

    Anything can contain societal relevance, even if none was intended. It’s all a matter of the viewer’s perspective. Go to see any show on Broadway, be it Mamma Mia or A Streetcar Named Desire. You will not find a leaflet in either playbill classifying either piece as art or entertainment. No announcement will be made prior to the show. Why? Because there is no standard by which to measure what qualifies as art and what qualifies as entertainment. If there was a standard, then there wouldn’t be much relevant art post-Shakespeare because the man said just about everything there is for a human being to say more eloquently and thoroughly than anyone else could possibly say it.

    Dramatic artists are particularly guilty of attempting to divide art from entertainment. It has been said that good drama pits two truths against each other in an effort to raise questions, and therefore social awareness in regards to a particular issue. It is said to “illuminate the human condition”. First of all, while that may create great drama, there is no such thing as “truth” as it relates to a societal point of view. That’s why they are viewpoints and not facts. Writers are just people. It is pretentious to claim that these people are the holders of great societal truths which we, the public, need to be taught. It implies a (nonexistent) separation between writer and the public. It also implies a general ignorance among the public, which I resent. The fact that someone has had their words published in a book doesn’t make those words true.

    Secondly, this phrase: “to illuminate the human condition” is a senseless, meaningless cliche’ perpetuated by so called “artists” with inflated senses of self importance to convince themselves and others that they are providing a noble service to society. We are all human and therefore do not need to be made aware of something which we are all, by nature, already privy to. I don’t need to see a play to know that people lie, cheat, steal, rape, murder, love, hate, etc. I don’t need a movie to reiterate that people have both good and evil within them. I don’t need to be made aware of the consequences of our actions through a piece of crafted by an author with an agenda. I don’t even need “art” to imagine another person’s point of view. We know these things through our own observations. In fact, the human condition is all we know. It would be one thing if art could illuminate, say, the squirrel condition seeing as we have no subjective understanding of what it is to be a squirrel. But alas, even if another creature HAD the means to adequately express and communicate their experience, it would not bring us any closer to a subjective understanding as we are human and can only experience the human condition. Whether the artist intended us to see something human in their work or not, we WILL and we MUST because we only have our perspectives and experiences to compare it to. Therefore, it is senseless and irrelevant to state that art illuminates the human condition because the illumination of the human condition, intentional or otherwise, is present to some degree in anything and everything humans participate in. Even if you take a less literal approach and say that it illuminates different parts of the human condition to people who may not be aware, I will say to you that it is useless because, firstly if you can experience something I cannot, then you’re not illuminating anything by attempting to make me aware of it. Secondly, an audience’s preexisting knowledge of the human condition is REQUIRED in order to be engage that audience. Yes, I may not know what it is like to, say go to prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, but the particular circumstances of the piece (Les Miserables, in this particular case) are irrelevant. It is the emotional experience of the character that I am meant to relate to. If the circumstances were the primary means of engaging an audience, Les Miserables would not be the wildly acclaimed piece of literature it is, because even at the time of it’s publication, hardly anyone would be able to directly relate it. Clearly, this is not the case. I do not relate to Jean Valjean because I know what it’s like to be sent to prison by a harsh legal system or even what it is like to struggle financially. I relate to him because I can appreciate and subjectively understand the FEELINGS of desperation, rage, and heartache he experiences as a RESULT of the circumstances.

    Art engages an audience. Entertainment engaged an audience. That is their primary function. Euclid stated that two things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. Therefore, I submit to you that art and entertainment are the same thing. We simply use two different words to describe it.

    To try to make a distinction between art and entertainment is to deprive the individual of their subjective experience. We all have different preferences. Personally, I find Hamlet and Spider-Man equally engaging–that does not make me unenlightened, unintelligent, or uncultured. It means that I am willing to accept and enjoy things for what they are and for what I see in them.

    1. such an inspirational comment. i m about to write my artist statement, i made sculpture that function as a stereo and i have no other intention than entertain people and make people engage with my art, you have all the answers and points for me. thank you so much

    2. Your argument is fundamentally flawed due to a lack of objective methodology. Hence, you’re missing the point.

      To begin, the artist’s intention cannot be read in the object. Only effect and impact is readable, dependent on the idea/ideas within the work, the signs selected and used by the artist and how the message is delivered. Seeking intention in the art object is committing an interpretative fallacy.

      Secondly, entertainment merely meets certain expectations and results in a fairly predictable response on the part of the observer. A comfort zone is validated and fortified. Art forces the observer to consider his/her perspectives, values and preconceived notions. This challenge, which should be transformative, serves as the “wound.” To react on the base level of emotional affect in considering an art object is committing a sympathetic fallacy.

      Art has to meet certain criteria not necessarily required of entertainment. These include sensual presence, social context, reflection on the human condition and taking a position regarding the traditions, genres, forms, vocabulary and demands of art. How well the object embraces these issues predicates how genuine, impactful and valuable the work is in an artistic sense.

      Entertainment can be artful, but usually isn’t as it does not need to embrace all the design features of art. Entertainment can be found in a baseball game, a quiz show, at the circus or amusement park, or at the disco. Very little art is involved in any of these.

      Art need not be entertaining, and, often, it really isn’t. Yet, the ideas, approach and process evident in the object constitute art whether the work is being experienced by anyone or not. This is an intrinsic valence that need not be validated through engagement. However, entertainment has to be engaged in order to be what it is. Something is not entertaining if it’s not being witnessed, yet, art is art whether anyone is paying attention or not.

      Truth, indeed, is a relative entity, and, as such, has strong basis in societal values. Since it is not absolute, it is subjective, and as subjectivity is a human construct unique to the individual, countless “truths” exist as society is an amalgamation of individuals. Hence, truth is dependent on a social context. In this regard, writers aren’t after “truth.” They’re after perspective.

      Thus, it follows that addressing the human condition in art is not to be discounted, as experience, like perspective or individual “truth,” is not the same thing to all people. The human condition is not a set situation that’s knowable by everyone, or recognized in the same terms. That’s why the artist’s mission to make a statement about such is the challenge, the “wound,” the transformative project that makes art. Entertainers don’t have to operate under the same guidelines or requirements.

      Although art and entertainment have essential affiliations, there are more important and crucial differences between the two. These reside in dissimilar purposes, aims, means of execution, requirements, missions and resulting impacts.

      I commend you for thinking in depth about this issue, but, it’s obvious that you need a basic background in aesthetic philosophy. If you can equate Hamlet with Spiderman, and consider them to be essentially the same thing based on how they both “engage” you, apparently you don’t really get it.

    3. I disagree with your comment and definition because you are presuming that art and entertainment are *either* mutually exclusive, *or* one and the same thing. This misses the point.

      You’re saying that art and entertainment are the exact same thing, but rather I believe they are opposite poles on a spectrum by which people evaluate the quality of whatever it is they are faced with.

      Here’s what I have it down to: On one side of the spectrum, Entertainment merely distracts you, whereas on the other side of the spectrum, Art expands your sense of humanity.
      Good entertainment has a healthy dose of art to it, and popular art has a healthy dose of entertainment to it. Think of it like a dot on a line.

      To say the two are one and the same ignores the fact that a book like Walden is considered a treasure and revered as such, whereas the book Fifty Shades of Gray is not. That doesn’t mean that Fifty Shades of Gray doesn’t have it’s place, but to say both entertainment and art are interchangeable results in both works having the same position of importance within our culture.

      They do not, nor should they.

      1. I blogged on this today. I’m afraid I don’t have much to add to the discussion except that a balanced “diet” consists of both art and entertainment. Family Guy is fine in small doses, and so is Proust.

    1. Very nicely put, Art as the object contains all the memories of its creation and creator, but entertainment as an act can not.

  51. Art is about the artist. Entertainment is about the audience. An artist need not surprise, wound, or change anyone to be validated as an artist. He or she must only pour their passion for an idea or feeling into their work, creating something because they believe it should exist and be shared, and if it is entertaining or profitable, that is perfectly acceptable. That said, if your primary focus is to appeal to a certain crowd, make sales, or even send a message, whatever the reason, then you are not so much producing art–even if you surprise, wound, or change. Your contrived and technical work will lie to your audience by giving them what you think they should see, toward whatever end, rather than giving them an honest glimpse into your own soul.

    A thing can be art whether or not it is artistic or entertaining, just as a thing can be entertainment whether or not it is entertaining or artistic. If your first priority is the work itself, then you are producing art. If your first priority is its effect on others, then you are producing something else.

    1. Art is not about the artist, per se. The artist is the progenitor and, in a way, the messenger. What’s important is the object and its message, whatever that message may be to those who encounter the object.

      An art object is validated when it meets certain criteria, and, if so, it establishes its intrinsic identity as such. However, an art object is or more value, and approaches a state of completion when viewed by an observer exclusive of the artist.

      These criteria are: reflection of the human condition, indication of a social context, sensual impact, thought-provoking valence and statement about the traditions, genres, vocabulary, forms and challenges of art. Art, more than anything else, is about art. A self-referential project.

      The art object, if not subject to an audience, is merely evidence of a seminal idea and process that gave it form. In the process, the artist makes certain decisions in what to use and what to leave out, and determines a way to convey meaning. The art resides in this evidence, and it is the viewer, in engaging the object, who derives or imposes significance, taking part in the overall process through appreciation and interpretation.

      Priority must be given to effect, because that is what is readable in an art object. Not the “soul” of the artist, which is not readable at all. This relates to the “intentional,” “biographical” and “sympathetic” fallacies.

      The artist makes a statement with essentially no care about what the observer will experience. That experience is unique to each person, and cannot be expected or willed.

      Just because an artist produces an object, that does not make the object art. Meeting the demands and nature of art, and delivering message to the observer in a comprehensible manner is the mission.

  52. The distinction is intuitive but I think drawing the line is a lot harder than it might appear. If entertainment is about “predictable pleasure” its not so clear art doesn’t do the same. Even watching tragedies is a kid of pleasure – we derive pleasure from the painful emotions. Its paradoxical but people enjoy experiencing horror, sadness, despair. Many pieces of art do this. But so do lots of forms of entertainment. Take horror films. Are they entertainment that is meant to simply fulfill our desire to be scared without changing us? Or are they forms of art that help us reconnect with our own vulnerability and mortality and maybe even reconnect with our most primitive blood lust. Is that understanding ourselves better? Or is it an appeal to base desires? It’s hard to come up with a way of distinguishing them in a way that doesn’t reduce to simply saying “the better kind is art”

  53. I have also contemplated the distinction between art and entertainment. ART(to me) is an Abstract Representation of Truth and ENTERTAINMENT encourages my attention to ENTER a conTAINMENT. Expressions of art and entertainment tend to travel through the same types of medium (music, literature, visual media, etc) however their impacts are very different. Even though they are different, they are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, entertaining art does exists and is great. However, that which is entertaining is not necessarily art and vise-versa.
    The truth that lies in art is more absolute than relative, which gives pieces of art a universal or transcending characteristic. I believe the embracement/acknowledgment of this truth causes the transformation that you are speaking of. Since all of the audience may not encounter the same truths or any truth at all from various works, what may be art to one may not be art to another. Hence, Art is in the eye of the beholder. Art work may also exude truths that may not have been an intentional expression of the artist, which is a cool reality as well. In my opinion, this is where the subjectivity of art lies. This subjectivity does not deny the distinction between art and entertainment.

  54. Very interesting post and thought provoking, and some very interesting and poignant comments as well. @soulagenda:disqus: I think you have made some very accurate observations, your statement that entertainment encourages your attention to ENTER a conTAINMENT is well put. @Mr. Ponderer: You too have a great insight into the nature of Art.
    Entertainment is the act of holding between or otherwise the act of discourse, and requires by its nature a recipient, whether that recipient be another or self. Art can entertain in that it can start a discourse. Art however, is a direct object of an act and does not by it’s nature require a recipient or response, it simply exists as a result of creation. Entertainment can eventuate in Art as entertainment can be a form of collective creation through its discourse.
    Art and entertainment remain within their parameters if their message is explicit, it is when their messages are implicit that they migrate towards each other and merge into the highest form of both Art and Entertainment. Think of some of the greatest Artists across various mediums (music, writing, painting, sculpture, gastronomy, design, cinematography, etc) they are those that achieve an exquisite and almost unfathomable fusion of the two concepts whether they have traversed from Art or from the Entertainment end of the spectrum. This then is where the line becomes blurred almost to inconsequential as they become synonymous through mutual coexistence. Art without discourse is just that an object. Entertainment without object is just amusement. Aspire to combine the two and you stand to create something truly extraordinary.

  55. Art is made by an artist because they want to make it. Their true intent is always to please themselves. If something is made with primary intent towards an audience in mind, it is not art.

    The notion that the consumer has anything to do with what is and isn’t art, exists because the critics and consumers are the ones who write pretty much everything on the topic. So of course they want the power to be able to say what is and isn’t art. it takes all the power away from the people who actually create, who are usually too busy creating to notice or care, and puts it into the hands of the people who just consume.

    I saw in a reply you made that you consider The David to be great art. Why? Can you even say?
    I can. Because Michelangelo spent around 2 years working on a statue till he was happy with it. Same for the Mono Lisa. Da Vinci spent at least 3 years working on it, and possibly many more.
    No true artist makes anything for other people. They make it for themselves.

    Which is why movies, tv shows, and games can never be art. They are always made with the audience first in mind.
    At which point it just comes down to what you find entertaining.

    1. You make a fascinating and valid point. But.. The Disney Concert Hall can’t be art because it’s made with an audience in mind? Wasn’t the Sistine Chapel commissioned, and with an audience in mind? Mozart’s last three symphonies were written just for himself, but what about a The Marriage of Figaro, etc, written for audiences, and what about all Haydn’s London Symphonies? And North by Northwest isn’t art? It’s all very….tricky…volumes have been written on this. One single or simple definition won’t do. And within art, why is Longfellow several rungs down from Keats? Why is Poe less than Whitman here, but not in Europe? To an extent, the lines will always be blurred….

      1. Does it’s design serve a purely technical function, or was it designed in an interesting way for the sake of making it interesting?
        The Sistine Chapel was originally supposed to have a much, much simpler painting. Michelangelo talked the Pope into letting him do it how he wanted it done. Da Vinci spent at least 3 years working on the Mona Lisa, and may have still been tinkering with it for over a decade.
        Did Mozart make compromises in his vision for the sake of the audience? I doubt it.
        No movie is art. Hitchcock and Kubrick may have gotten close, but then… according to Hitchcock’s wiki page, he was doing artistic stuff before going into movies, and Kubrick was a photographer. I haven’t researched the topic enough to know for certain, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if every film film director that comes close to making art, were already artists before going into movies.

        How art is ranked it irrelevant to what is and isn’t art.

        It isn’t tricky at all. Real artists don’t make compromises. Things like movies, tv shows and video games are made with an audience in mind. So it’s impossible to make them without compromising one way or another.

        And honestly, I don’t hold art as being above entertainment. What I hate is pretentiousness. People who try to use the “it’s art” argument to try and dismiss criticism of things they like, for example.
        And people who think that just because something got a reaction out of them, that makes it artistic.

        Essentially I have a vendetta against fanboys and the way they are ruining modern entertainment.

        1. I’d have to oppose that notion that movies are not art. By this I assume you mean no film in the history of cinema both in America and worldwide has approached the artistic works of other mediums. There are so many films that have gone beyond normal conventions set in place for cinema in the early silent era that I find it unreasonable to claim that cinema isn’t art.

          One simply need to see films like Citizen Kane were already art that the studio (RKO) subsequently betrayed the maker of the film, Orson Welles, on his next feature. Films like Citizen Kane were done with the complete passion of its creator and no compromises were made.

          Now you say you wouldn’t find it surprising that every filmmaker that has come close to making art were already artists before making films. The two examples you gave do not apply to the sense that someone was an artist before making films. You could have named Man Ray or Andy Warhol as examples, but Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick do not belong into this category of being artists before becoming filmmakers. Hitchcock tried out creative writing before making films and Kubrick was a still photographer before making films. This does not imply that they were doing anything artistic; in any sense, these positions might be considered as “apprentice” stages for both artists.

          There are many artists in cinema who did not start in some other artistic field – one good example that you should know is Andrei (or Andrey) Tarkovsky. I sincerely hope you take the time to research more about cinema to amend your initial judgement.

  56. I teach various music courses and always start my Music Appreciation classes with the discussion of art vs. entertainment. I feel like the author here made a valid point (particularly with the Fujimura quote), but left stones unturned. True art to me is an end unto itself, whereas entertainment is a means to a non-artistic end (a fun party, a cool vibe, a social/political cause, etc.). Hence the 19th Century French phrase, “L’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake) – a banner statement of the Romantic era.

    The notion that “art leads to transformation”, while a good point and perhaps one side of the coin, is vague and ultimately, I feel, inadequate. It leaves everything to the beholder and belittles the intention of the artist. For example, two different people will come to the same work of art with different backgrounds, different educations (or perhaps lack thereof), and various other forms of differing baggage. What Person A may dismiss as a kind of vapid entertainment may function as a truly transformative work of “art” to Person B. Which was it, then? Art or entertainment? In such a case, art is more of a function than anything else, and that function is subject to any number of variables that construct the mind/eye of the beholder. Art is indeed a function, but like I said, that is only one side of the coin.

    When I engage a potential artistic experience, I analyze the art object at hand and try to decipher/determine the intention of the creator. If the piece leads me elsewhere (somewhere other than the aesthetic of the piece itself), it becomes to me a kind of entertainment or diversion rather than art. If I enter into the piece itself and experience what the artist intended to provide for me – likely and abstract of their own soul/mind – I consider it art.

    Of course, this is by no means a universal maxim. There are many gray areas, exceptions to the rule, crossover works, blends of art/entertainment (being a musician, I would cite program music such as Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, Pink Floyd’s The Wall). That’s where function/transformative experience comes back in, I guess.

  57. I think you are right Jeff. Art does transform us. It makes us grow, makes us cry. and makes us laugh. We can forget what we saw as entertainment, but we cannot forget what we saw or read in art.

  58. Art is a path to enlightenment. Its an internal process for the artist. It means nothing for others. The artist chooses the path to art or entertainment. It is up to him.

    We are humans and always look to tag value to anything we see. We cannot simply appreciate something for just being. We want to categorize it, understand it, find meaning, purpose and all. Because we are mere mortals. For example, A rock and Gold both are equal. We added value and we humans made Gold precious based on it demand for our living..

    To me, there is only expressions everywhere. Artistic or entertainment only the person who expressed can know. Art happens and is very very personal to the artist. Only he can judge whether it is art of not, whether he has been truthful to express himself or not. Once he chooses the path, he never stops for appreciation nor is interested in comments/arguments/criticism. Just like spiritual enlightenment. We can merely watch them go through the process and love them for what they do. We can never understand its unique portrayal from the artist’s perspective.

    As an artist once said, “There is something stuck deep in my mind, soul, heart,
    body everywhere in me and an urge to express it to this world arises, beyond
    words, beyond meanings, beyond morals, beyond infinity, beyond time, beyond
    space and the only way I could do it is letting/allow the force take me. I
    never think that I am trying to make art, the art has taken over me mostly. It
    is not to inspire, not for value or money, not for others or appreciation or anything else. It is the universe
    speaking through me and who am I to stop the connections it is trying to make
    through it”

  59. Art can be entertaining and entertainment can be art.. If this article’s logic stands on the question whether the work change the audiences. Besides, does a transformation (which is defined as a main difference between art and entertainment in the article) REALLY has to be something un-entertaining…? The writer already mentioned it by himself but it is a bit restrictive / unclear definition of art for me…

    Also there’s certainly always a limit for the creators to ‘predict’ how the audiences interpret the work. This article might intend to advise to narrow down and crystalize the opinions represented in art… But saying art isn’t entertainment would make one fall into creating other ‘predictable’ values..

  60. Wow, That is quite the question there EbroKhunt, Definitely gonna have to discuss that with my plus one

  61. “it’s entertaining us, dulling our senses and inebriating us to the realities of the world.” Wow Jeff, that was a mouth full…

  62. Hey Jeff, do you know the difference between sex and conversation? No? Wanna come over to my place and talk

  63. I am sorry but I completely disagree.

    To entertain, by definition, is to hold attention and to hold people together. Art is supported by the fact that it is entertaining. I believe that entertainment is the secret ingredient in all art. A piece of art can have a lot of important things to say, but if it does not hold the attention of the observant, its meaning will not come across. When an artist wants to say the most profound thing in all the world, they are doomed from the beginning to inspire any kind of change or emotion if the art is boring or uninteresting. Entertainment is what makes art enjoyable. It is what makes people listen, and what allows them to open their heart to care.
    Recently, entertainment has been more looked down upon. People call equate entertainment to escapism, which carries a bit of a negative connotation. Some people believe that there are too many important things to be discussed to make and consume are that isn’t meaningful. But “entertainment for the sake of entertainment” is not a bad thing! Sometimes, people like to be entertained because it feels good to “be provided with amusement or enjoyment.” People should not be shamed because they enjoy looking at a painting or watching a performance because it looks pretty.
    Entertainment should not be considered a negative thing. It is an essential part of almost all art, and has a very unique power: to make people happy and to make people care.

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