When I finished writing my epic, 130-or-so page thesis, I thought my life would slow down quite a bit. But I have found that teaching two 8 unit classes over the summer is a lot of work. I plan on getting on here more and posting more creative writing and nonfiction, but until then I thought I would share a few posts I made to forum concerning the difference between art and entertainment. Someone posed the question, "What is the difference? Where do you draw the line? When is something both?":
Linguists talk about being prescriptive and descriptive with language and grammar. Some linguists tell people what a word should me, how it should be spelled, or how a sentence should be punctuated, and others simply describe how people define words, spell them, and how they use grammar. Typically, prescriptive linguistics is not helpful for languages or linguistics because languages are almost impossible to control, but in the case of the arts and philosophy, I firmly believe that prescriptive linguistics are beneficial.
In the case of differentiating between Art and Entertainment I think we need to ask ourselves what we want these words to mean before we talk about how to apply them. For example, some people want to define art as anything that expresses the art's emotions, but if that is true than "flipping the bird" or honking your horn at a careless driver would have to be labeled a work (or act) of art. Most people that define art in such a way don't fully consider the ramifications of such a definition.
How can we define Art and Entertainment so that the words are most useful in discussions and personal reflection?
I choose to think of entertainment as that particular time of media which encourages and/or produces passiveness. We can see this concept work out in our language. A person can be the objecting of entertainment, "That show is entertaining him." But we cannot do the same with art, "That painting is arting him." The implication is that in with entertainment something is being done to us, and we do something to art (I.E. we attempt to understand it).
Where this issue gets complicated is with the use of "entertaining" as an adjective to describe a work of art. If something causes us to be pleased, if it produces joy or exuberance, and if it is exciting, we might call that work of art "entertaining," but this does not mean it is entertainment (at least in the sense that I would like to use the word).
A great work of art might capture your attention, cause you to laugh, and yet still force or encourage you to be active. For example, Huckleberry Finn is extremely entertaining, but Twain's commentary on the cruel nature of man (or at least man in a government or organization) is profoundly compelling. Thus, we could say that this work of art is also entertaining, but it would be misleading to say that it is entertainment.
What is interesting to me is that much of the difference between a piece of media which encourages us to be passive and one that encourages us to be active is not necessarily inherent in the work itself, in general it is merely our cultural or personal disposition towards a type of media. For example, when I sit in front of the TV I might begin to disengage my mind because I have been culturally predisposed to "receive" TV rather than engage it. Likewise, when I go to a museum I prepare myself to analyze the paintings, to engage them, because I have been culturally conditioned to believe that paintings are things people wrestle with. Therefore, I believe that the heart of this issue lies not so much with the individual works, but with our attitude as consumers.
As believers, I firmly believe that we have no right to be "entertainment" because to be entertained connotes passiveness, and we must always be vigilant to take every thought captive. That does not mean that I think that television or animated films are wrong for Christians to engage; instead I believe that we have an obligation to treat all "entertainment" as art and take an active role in understanding it's message, themes, concepts, and underlying assumptions. If we take the same approach to viewing sitcoms as we do to viewing works of high art in a museum, we will gain a better understanding of the world we live in, we will be more well guarded from ideas and worldviews which are antithetical to our Faith, and we will be able to give honor and praise to those works which are deserving of it.