the three shades of Art, Craft, and Entertainment

People get really worked up and lofty about the definition of art and while most people love entertainment it get used as a dismissive term a lot, but not as much as craft – a term which makes most people think of gluing popsicle sticks together. It’s pretentious to give gravitas to art, though and it’s dumb to consider the three mutually exclusive. So I’ll do definitions and examples:

Art – Something abstracted created to give an audience an insight into themselves or others.

So a diagram of the rain cycle to give an insight into weather patterns, not art. A painting of a rainy day that gives you an insight into human sadness, art. Why one and not the other? Because the diagram and the science of weather have a one-to-one straight forward connection whereas the painting is an abstraction which causes the audience to come to the insight in a less literal, more emotional way. So then all paintings are art, right? Nope, most paintings are craft.

Craft – a practical skill of creation.

The old form of art appreciation included talk of brush strokes, lighting choices, perspective and depth of field. Those represent the level of practical skill the artist had in creating the piece. Then impressionism came around and it became about feelings, then modernism came around it became about nothing. It’s often said that art is about interpretation and that leads to the shitty cop-out of creators doing something pointless and saying it’s up to everyone to interpret it differently. Which is not art it’s, at best, entertainment.

I often hear cooking referred to an as art and it’s not. It’s primarily a craft. A chef takes years of insight, skill and training to make something delicious that gets consumed by the audience and they rate how much they enjoyed. All very practical, no intended insight into humanity. Just because some people are really really good at cooking it’s natural to want to give it a lofty term like art but it’s time to bring back respect for craft. I know a lot of people who listen to extremely technical, virtuoso music and it’s not art (because there’s no abstract conclusion to come to) and it’s not entertainment to most people but they love it for the craft.

And I will say there is some art in the culinary world, you might hear a chef doing a deconstructed piece say they want people to think about how all food is the sum of it’s parts and that meets the definition. You have a creator, an audience, and an intended insight. What drives me nuts is when people see a dish they think is real pretty and call it art. In fact, confusing beauty with art should be one of the seven deadly sins, I think.

I’ve heard it argued that you can have a powerful emotional response to an excellently prepared meal and therefore it’s art. Sorry, that’s entertainment.

Entertainment – something that engages an audience.

Entertainment is thought of as Fun. It’s assumed therefore that entertainment is shallow, just a distraction, but great art has an element of entertainment to it. All great novels except Naked Lunch are entertainment. A well executed narrative of any kind is art, entertainment, and craft. And sad stories are still entertaining, they still pull you in and move you along. Roller-coasters are fun but they don’t engage you, they just roll and coast. And you don’t really have a choice about getting off roller-coaster but you know when a movie sucks but you don’t feel like turning it off? That’s the bare minimum of entertainment right there. If you do turn it off, if you do feel like you don’t need to go through the process it’s trying to pull you into then it isn’t entertaining.

So to wrap this up and use myself as an example, here’s how this applies to songwriting:

  • What is my statement, what do I want the audience to think and feel? That’s art.
  • What combinations of words and what combinations of notes most effectively communicate that? That’s craft.
  • Will this engage the audience, will it pull them in and make them feel like they have to get to the end? That’s entertainment.

So this is a pretty big topic and I scratched the surface to leave a lot of room for discussion and things so comment to your hearts content but if you spout any lazy cliches about Subjectivity I’ll burn your hair and eyebrows off.

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Singer/songwriter, jerk.

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