Art and Entertainment: A Brief Call for Distinction

06/16/2010 12:28 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's easy to get mired in subjectivity when attempting to define art. Yet, to not do so invites fraud and devaluation of the concept. A fraud and devaluation which seem more prevalent than ever in popular American music and cinema.

To even speak of "art" as a single entity borders on the grandiose, but for purposes here I'll assume that liberty and designate art as creation impelled by a desire to express or appraise, the product of which serves as the end in and of itself.

It would be naïve to deny a musician or filmmaker's financial considerations, but thirty, even twenty years ago, creators seemed less apt to compromise stylistic autonomy in the interest of the bottom line. In the best of times, even in pop culture, authenticity and artistic vision possessed a certain public appeal, allowing profit and aesthetic to coincide. That super heroes, spin-offs, Auto-Tune and American Idols reign supreme in contemporary media suggests that we as an audience have become less receptive to originality when it comes to the big screen or radio dial. A fact that has rendered a widening gap between art and entertainment. Which would be harmless, if the distinction were readily acknowledged. Instead, many of us have developed a tendency to manifest artistic significance and legitimacy in "entertainment pieces" where very little exists, thus allowing projects devoid of craftsmanship to operate under the guise of art. Peter Travers calling the new film Splice a "provocative thriller about gender politics and human impulses" or The Washington Post describing Lady Antebellum's song, "Need You Now," as "somber and eloquent" suffice here as examples.

An assessment of (most) current popular music and film finds both devolving, substituting insight and nuance with an overt concentration on escapism. Perhaps this shift is symptomatic of societal hyper-stimulation or economic hardship, regardless, succumbing to intellectual lethargy and confusing manufactured entertainment with art is a dangerous game. By assigning artistic value to generic, cerebrally sterile media, not only do we as an audience perpetuate its production under false pretenses, we run the risk of exiling authenticity from the mainstream altogether.