Art vs. Entertainment

by Clark Roush, Ph.D.

We live in a culture saturated with entertainment choices! Never before in history has there been so many opportunities and options for people seeking entertainment. It could be said that we are becoming entertainment junkies – gotta have that next fix, you know?! Visual and aural stimulus flood our sensory perceptions on a 24-7 basis if we so choose. There are some aspects of this I enjoy. It’s nice to select particular music and listen only to what I want. The technological quality of these offerings is incredible. In this vast ocean of choice, there is little of what I would constitute as art.

I am somewhat worried that our culture is losing touch with significant art of the past in the rush and preoccupation of today’s technology and easy access. It concerns me that our government does not sponsor art on a national level as other countries do, but our legislators will get involved when professional sports are out of whack. We highly value and subsidize professional sports, which is entertainment, but not art – what does this say about us?

What is the difference? Entertainment is fleeting – that’s why we need another dose so quickly. Entertainment is merely something to fill time. It’s another way to either stay busy or multi-task, both which are highly overrated. We have convinced ourselves being busy, multi-tasking, and constantly devouring entertainment is essential. And the entertainment industry will gladly feel our addiction (reference all the garbage called reality tv, which truly is an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one).

Art has usually stood the test of time and allows one to think about things of substance in some way. I know to some readers this just reads like another elitist stance, but I think the subtle differences are salient to our spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical health. Art shapes us, changes us, molds us, and causes us to reflect – entertainment well, it just entertains. Our frantic lives need significant doses of real art! Please understand that I am not declaring entertainment as the anti-christ; I am saying that our lives are easily tipped off-balance when we get too much entertainment and not enough art.

This past semester has been one of the most demanding of my life. My parents’ health has been atrocious, and it has placed understandably huge demands on my life and time. I’ve had to balance the “personal” and “professional” as never before. I realized early on that mere entertainment would never help sustain me through this – it just doesn’t contain the substance. I put a “Mozart at Midnight” cd in my truck in January. It is a compilation of slow, beautiful, contemplative music from the master.  Every time I went anywhere, my traveling companion was the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (movement 2) among other incredible pieces. This music did something to me that I couldn’t get from stuff “on the radio.” I listened to Gregorian chant, Palestrina, Rachmaninoff, and other music that feeds my soul – not just my ears!

Everyone needs art that helps their “true north” stay established. It saddens me that we are in a culture that appears to value this less and less. Ask people about the role that museums, symphonies, operas, ballets, choral concerts, galleries, etc… play in their daily life and you will better understand the point I’m trying to make. In my neck of the woods, a typical response declaring the above listed as pretty irrelevant might be closely followed by a “Go Huskers!” Exactly my point! When we saturate our lives with entertainment that doesn’t cause us to think of mankind’s great themes, when we settle for quick “candy bar” music, when we support entertainment to art’s exclusion – we become malnourished, both individually and collectively.

I urge you to take some time, and time is indeed what it will take, to find some ART that causes you to reflect about your life, your mood, your choices, etc…. Spend some time watching or listening to things created by other artists to express their view of some eternal or earthly truth. Let it sink deeply into your heart, mind, and soul. Make it a habit and I believe you will see a positive change in your life.