Art vs. Entertainment

Last night at The Daily Show, I watched a well-informed television host discuss the ramifications of the middling of partisan politicians in our nation. But Jon Stewart and his show are regarded as “entertainment.” This morning, at the New Museum, I slid down a three-story slide into a room filled with plastic alligators and flashing lights. The curator insisted that the giant slide is art.

Carsten Holler Slide

Carston Holler's Slide at the New Museum

On behalf of pragmatists everywhere, I call shenanigans.

While arts and entertainment are routinely lumped together in a single, broad A&E category, the two differ greatly. Works regarded as art are afforded both a higher level of praise and a higher level of scrutiny by serious critics (and serious people). Art supposedly imitates life and forces viewers to reflect on themselves and the society in which they live.

Entertainment, on the other hand, is a more fleeting medium. It can include artistic efforts such as Broadway and the opera, but also encompasses cats playing piano on YouTube. Entertainment is a broad term that typically applies to less cultured forms of expression. It’s the reasons “entertainment” news is considered tabloid dribble for most serious critics, while art criticism is a respectable venture.

Daily Show Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show

As I explored Carston Holler‘s exhibit at the New Museum today, however, I found myself questioning where the line should be drawn between art and entertainment. I find logic and intelligent writing more thought-provoking than absurdist art, whatever its intention. And quite frankly, I find more relevance and merit in a discussion of our nation’s media and political infrastructure than a ride down a 100-foot tube.

Without diminishing the efforts of real artists everywhere, I feel it’s unfair to automatically assume art is more culturally relevant than entertainment. Just as art has been hijacked by over-educated idealists, entertainment has been hijacked by over-produced simpletons (the Royal Wedding was the most-watched TV event of 2011).

I struggle to accept contrived artistic expression. Accessibility of art (or entertainment) does not diminish its merit, despite what critics (snobs) would have you believe. Brilliant art doesn’t have to be something that only a few people “get.” Brilliant art doesn’t appeal only to a privileged minority. Brilliant art demonstrates brilliance, and does so with clarity of thought, vision and purpose.