Arts as Entertainment

armchair philanthropy

Arts as Entertainment

The tendency for art and entertainment to be inextricably linked does a disservice to the arts as a whole.

When did the arts become inextricably linked with entertainment? Art is supposed to be a statement. Perhaps it’s a statement of the artist’s expression, or a political statement – its aim is to move its audience (beyond simply entertaining us), somehow. Art is a mirror that helps us see ourselves, to help us understand and define who we are and why we’re here. Sometimes art fills the gaps, making us feel more complete by providing something emotional we’re missing. There is always an element of making us feel something, but that feeling is something that ultimately changes us. Even if we just ‘feel’ that a picture is pretty, we are given a greater depth of understanding of human capability and expression. Other times, our metaphorical sulphur-crests are ruffled by a raw political statement. All of this stretches beyond mere entertainment, as we strive to place a varnish over life to clarify and enrich it. For some of us, art is the reason we are here. But how has all of that become constantly inextricably linked with entertainment?

Perhaps it’s because many things that are entertaining utilize a great deal of artistic skills to pull together. A blockbuster movie uses thousands of artists’ visions, everything from face make-up and set design to sound track and post-production video editing. But even though it pulled together all those artistic skills to create, is the resulting hit movie Rush Hour Two considered art?

The Australia Council regularly takes surveys of the way Australians engage with art, and manages to produce staggering (and counter-intuitive – to those of us who regularly put on performances and exhibitions, anyway –) statistics on the percentage of us who do. In 2017 it was reported that 98% of Australians engage with the arts. That sounds amazing! Good on us, but why isn’t the concert hall full?! For starters, a whopping 66% of the earlier 2013-14 survey included people going to the movies, and a further 79% (in the latter poll) who read any type of book. [It seems the surveys didn’t repeatedly include both of these subjects, so it’s hard to see how engagement might have changed]. So theoretically, we could evaluate the percentage of Australians’ engagement with “the arts” by asking who went to see Frozen and read 50 Shades of Grey in 2013. Toss in the percentage who streamed live music (perhaps Justin Bieber’s latest album?) and we’re looking pretty artistically healthy on paper. If each of those are ‘art’, should they be competing with (and counted alongside) the type of art that explores, confronts and expands us?

Arguably, it’s probably a good thing to see such healthy figures for the arts in these reports. It helps artists feel validated and positive about what they’re doing. However, looking critically at the statistics, it becomes apparent that the Australia Council has included entertainment in these statistics, which presents a quandary.

The value of art is constantly diminished by the repeated broad-stroke categorisations of anything arts-related as ‘entertainment’. And that matters, because it forces artists to compete with entertainment for audiences and funding. The AP Facebook page category had to be ‘arts and entertainment’. Not ‘arts’. Where’s ‘sports and entertainment’ though? It’s just as much of a crossover (if not more so).

Art needs a more level playing field against entertainment, in order to gain the respect, traction, engagement – and funding – that it deserves as one of the cornerstones of our humanity. AP is embarking on a journey of establishing a little more elbow-room for the arts. Let us not be diluted with entertainment, let us confront, confound, enrich and expand our audiences. Let us not have applications for funding on the same table next to entertainment endeavours. Let’s call it ‘Arts, not Entertainment’. Art needs to re-establish itself as a bona fide subject (with a bazillion sub-genres) to elbow its way back into the forefront of our psyche and elevate itself above entertainment. Just like sport has.


Photo by Una Laurencic from Pexels