The Art Of All, 2022 Edition

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-06-16 21:00:00 No comments

"All entertainment is art whether we like it or not" is a line I came up with more or less in the spur of the moment, some years back. I have since then found so much credence to put into it I fear it has become merely a dogma instead of an astute and useful observation. But it holds up better with every passing year, and for many reasons.

Most of us reading this must be aware that the distinctions between "high" art and "mere" entertainment exist mainly as marketing and scholarly tools. The concept of high art is a relatively recent invention, something we whomped together to justify the idea of a canon, or a body of work that emblemizes our culture (or our world's cultures). And that we did in turn to have some shorthand idea of what's worth transmitting to future generations, because art is long and life is fleeting.

One of the corollaries of such a separation is distinct standards, on the creator's part, for what constitutes entertainment vs. high art. Someone who believes they are not doing anything more than trying to give an audience a good time will think differently about the work than someone who has Ambitions with the cap A. At least, that's the easy way to look at it. What matters is not whether you are trying to make low entertainment or high art, but what principles and craft you use regardless of the intentions. A TV show that entertains, and is also created by someone who thought deeply and carefully about how it can do that, has a far better chance of becoming a constructive part of our culture going forward than a Damien Hirst sculpture.

Time vindicates what things mean. Movies that were derided in 1975 as cheap shock are now considered cultural treasures, because they are no longer a spark in the moment but part of a larger current of history. They joined the parade, and are still marching in line with so many other things. And how things come to march in that parade is not always clear. One cannot make a cult film; they just happen — and likewise, one cannot infallibly engineer high art by simply including the "right" themes and using the "right" approach. (It's always amusing to see how badly so many of the Best Picture winners have aged.)

You can't engineer greatness, but you can ensure that any one thing you do, no matter where it is in the cultural cross-section, is put together with as much craft and care as you possibly can. You may not think much of it, but there is a good chance someone, somewhere, may think infinitely more of it than you do. They, and thousands more like them, may elect to lift it up into a stratosphere you never aimed for. But your job isn't to aim for that stratosphere; it's to make the thing as completely itself as it possibly can be. That way, if it does get lifted up on high like that, it will reside there all the more naturally.

All I mean when I say "All entertainment is art whether we like it or not" is: Act as if your work matters, because to at least one other person out there, it does. Don't be more cynical about your work than anyone in your audience may be. You might just find yourself with a true believer.

Tags: art creativity creators popular culture