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Art and Entertainment

Keri Sutter

Keri Sutter
Executive Director

Art and entertainment. There’s a difference. The two words conjure up different images and concepts.

“Art” is “high-brow.” “Art” is for people who have lots of leisure time and the proper education to understand such esoteric things. “Art” is not relaxing; appreciating “Art” requires focus, concentration, and the “proper” emotional response. “Art” is not for regular, ordinary folk.

“Entertainment,” on the other hand, is accessible to everyone. It’s easy to understand. No fancy symbolism. The words are in English (unless you’re in Mexico or Japan, where the words are in Spanish or Japanese). You don’t have to think too hard, or feel too deeply. You can kick back, relax, and enjoy yourself. If “Art” is the four-course formal dinner, “Entertainment” is the picnic at the park.

Or is it?

A friend of mine noted recently that she doesn’t “get” musical comedy. It doesn’t do anything for her; she doesn’t understand it. Now, musical comedy isn’t normally considered “Art.” It’s commonly thought of as “Entertainment.” It’s performed in English; in fact, it’s an American creation. It’s usually pretty up-beat – after all, every so often people start singing! And dancing! Many of the songs have become so well-known that many people can sing along (witness the advertisements for Mamma Mia – and how many people know at least the two lines of Singing in the Rain?) But it’s not part of who my friend is. For her, understanding musical comedy is the same as trying to understand opera or classical dance. It’s not relaxing. It’s not accessible. It’s not enjoyable. It’s no picnic in the park.

So what’s the difference? What’s the difference between a concert by Miley Cyrus (we all know who she is, yes?) or Kenny Chesney (big country and western star) and one by Renee Fleming (opera diva)? What’s the difference between the Christmas Pops concert played by the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, probably thought of by many people as “Entertainment,” and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, also played by the NMSO, which would commonly be thought of as “Art?”

Last Saturday, Ross and I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Peter Sellers. Peter Sellers is a stage director for operas. New operas. Operas nobody ever heard or saw before. Operas like Nixon in China and Adrianna Mater. Definitely not accessible, easy-to-understand works. They don’t even fall into the same category as old, well-known and -loved operas like Carmen or La Boheme. In order to direct these operas, Mr. Sellers has had to do a lot of thinking about opera and what opera means (if anything). In his talk, he pointed out that opera is one of the only places in American society where the artists can tackle the important subjects: life, death, birth, pre-destination, free-will, hate, and love. Heavy topics. Topics that require the audience to spend time and energy thinking, feeling, wondering, exploring. Topics that don’t make you feel too comfortable. Topics that would fall into the category of “Art,” not “Entertainment.”

I’m not totally convinced that he’s right. Oh, sure, songs like Summertime (both the Kenny Chesney song and the aria from Porgy and Bess) or Singing in the Rain are a lot of fun. But I’m not sure they’re just a lot of fun. We’re told that it’s important for our physical and psychological health to be relaxed and satisfied with our lives, feelings often enhanced by “Entertainment.” We also know that changes in ourselves and our world only come from dissatisfaction. And those feelings can be precipitated or clarified by what we call “Art.” We need both. But maybe “Entertainment” isn’t as shallow as we might think. After all, happiness is an emotion, and comparing our lives to those portrayed by pop songs is a way of evaluating ourselves and our world. And maybe that means “Art” isn’t as remote. What if we discarded both terms? Or called everything “Art” in order to give it all equal weight in our minds?

How would that change us?

How would it change the way we see and interact with our world?


August, 2008