“Society does not value artists. Society values entertainers.”


Society does not value artists. Society values entertainers.”

Words above are from Frankie and they moved me to tears by their simple truth.

I’ve always (like the media) lumped arts and entertainment into the same camp. They do seem to go together. If they were animals, you’d find them in the same habitat at the wildlife park or zoo. They’re closely related. Like lions and tigers, or horses and zebras, there’s enough genetic similarity for them to breed. When kept in unnatural conditions of captivity, they do breed. Their generative equipment matches sufficiently for them to try without any need for test tubes. Modern humans and Neanderthals were similar enough genetically to reproduce; that said, even today there are plenty of folk who will screw anything if it has remotely the right shaped holes and lies still long enough.

I digress.

Arts and entertainment are close enough to mix; you get entertaining art and you get artistic entertainment. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure which is which. But society has always favoured that which entertains; as far back as Juvenal’s rather biting Satires, the understanding has been that you need to keep the masses entertained to keep them from revolt (panem et circenses~ bread and circuses) so the hybrids that succeed are the ones that have a higher percentage of entertainment in the mash-up.

There’s another interesting parallel to do with hybrids in the animal kingdom. The vast majority of the ones created in forced environments like zoos are sterile. They cannot breed. The offspring is the end of the process; there are too many differences for the genetic reproduction to go any further than say a Liger, a Tigron or a Zorse. I wish this were the case with the analogy I am using but these extreme hybrids between art and entertainment seem to spawn a whole new genre of soul destroying rubbish. Eventually though, they run out of steam and go back to find something to bring new blood into the arena.

In the animal kingdom, if you allow a domestic cat and a wild cat to breed, do you know what happens? Logically, you would assume you can breed for domesticity but in this case, you’d be wrong. The wild cat (by which I mean the real Wild Cat) cannot be tamed. The offspring can’t either. If you breed a wild cat with a house cat, the kittens will always turn out to have as wild a nature as their wild parent, but physically they will be smaller and lack many of the characteristics and strengths of the breed.

If I want my art to be strong, it needs to stay wild. It needs to stay away from things that might tame it, producing weaker and weaker offspring.

It’s no wonder the Wild Cat is an endangered species, but unlike many such species it’s not doomed to extinction by the elimination of the species but by etiolation.

Don’t let’s have that happen to Art OR Entertainment, eh?


16 thoughts on ““Society does not value artists. Society values entertainers.”

  1. I read this and was struck by what I perceived the similarity with bullying, prejudice and all the worst of the human condition. We seem as a species intolerant of difference, and want everything to conform to the ‘norm’ whatever that means, because the norm is a moveable feast too depending on the latest fad, fashion or whatever is mooted as the Zeitgeist.

    Those of us that don’t run with the crowd, that are different, who go our own ways are often viewed with suspicion. Its the old tribal thing, sectarianism, apartheid, call it what you will, what you described is another facet of these same dilemmas.

    Yet it is the rogue, the one that got away,. the one that goes against convention, the wild thing, that usually ends up inspiring us all.

    Stay strong and stay wild x

  2. On the other hand, “artists” can behave with incredible arrogance towards “entertainers.” I watched a programme called “What People really Read” (or something like that) the other day and as an entertainer I certainly felt the hurt the populist writers feel because of the snobbishness of the literary elite.

    In the past, when there were no subsidies, art and entertainment had to go hand in hand if the artist/entertainer did not want to starve to death. No one looks at a work of art by Michelangelo and dismisses it as populist although that’s what they were. But now, if an artist makes lots of money or gains a fan base outside of the elite they are immediately shunned by the gatekeepers of contemporary culture.

    • or Mozart.
      I get that. It’s not what I mean exactly.
      Art and Entertainment are of equal value but the process of debasing either is endemic in the way one is held above the other. It’s like the balance between the male and the female. To redress the imbalance, people often go too far the other way.

      • I suppose it depends on what you mean by society. The general public has little regard for non-entertaining artists and the establishment has little regard for entertaining artists. Unfortunately you only have to be highly regarded by one to be disregarded by the other as a matter of principle.

        As the unpopular elite (e.g. opera) are subsidised with money taken from people who have to pay the full price for their chosen form of artistic performance (e.g. rock music), it strikes me that the establishment is biased towards those categorised by the elite as artists rather than entertainers.

        Personally I would get rid of all subsidies accept for directly making it possible for people who cannot afford it to enjoy their chosen art, be it opera or rock music or whatever.

      • ….largely because the establishment is made up of the very same elite who LIKE Opera.
        It does seem again to come back to whoever has the money calls the shots.

  3. What an insightful post. I think you can take your idea a step further and say that traditional publishers aren’t interested so much in art as they are in entertaining because that’s where the big bucks are. The vast majority of people don’t appreciate art. They appreciate a fun movie, a catchy song, or an easy read. Art isn’t always “nice” and it doesn’t always have a happy ending, but it’s still beautiful in its own real way.

    I *love* your idea of keeping your art strong by keeping it wild. Yeah, no taming allowed! I’m all for that. 🙂

    • fun movie, a catchy song, or an easy read

      People like stories, melody and plot. A good artist can provide that without degrading their art. It’s crap artists who can’t do plot or come up with a decent tune. It’s fools who buy their product just because they’ve been conned into thinking that real art has to make you feel bad or bored or both.

      Unhappy endings are commonplace in entertainment as is wildness.

      • as I said, a minefield. What is art, and what is entertainment??
        Art needs to have something to draw people in these days.
        On another note, I was thinking about the Impressionists and about things I have learned in the last few years visiting the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. They had no patrons and were reviled and yet, they changed the way art is seen and understood.

    • Thanks Kendal.
      In light of Madpriest’s comment, I would clarify that there is an issue with whether art should be accesible or fun. I have been told that an easy read is damned hard writing.
      I’m a fan of a number of popular(exceedingly so) writers, like Stephen King and Terry Pratchett and to me their popularity does not degrade their art. It shows that good art/literature can also be popular.
      But the thing I think you meant, that the popular but shallow and easy stuff is not the same.
      I’d also say keep entertainment wild too, in its own way. The two are so closely intertwined and yet so different.
      ah, this is such a minefield and so emotive. I am not 100% well and am finding it hard to articulate my thoughts, but I am glad you came and shared with me here.
      thank you for being here.

  4. I think there’s more to this…art, one could argue, is designed to challenge us and make us think, to shake up the status quo. Or else it’s….just pretty and decorative and matches the sofa, but doesn’t have or add lasting value to the culture.

    Many people loathe being challenged! They want fun, easy, light, unthreatening stuff after being challenged all day long by work, family, money and health….

    I tend towards tough and challenging topics as a writer (my first book is about women and guns, my second about working retail) and how to also make them accessible/popular remains my tougher job. One might have to say “This is who I am and this is what I do” and expect whatever shows up.

    • Back to a question I hoped I’d not have to deal with: what is art??
      In my thoughts, art(however you define it) is one of the things that makes us human; it’s one of the criteria that palaeontologists use to assess early humans.
      And yes, people in the main dislike being challenged at all and will react against those who challenge them.
      I also tend towards harsh topics. It was cited in one rejection as why they didn’t want the book: they thought it too bleak a subject, despite the fact that the whole point of the story was a transformation.
      hey ho, plod on and hope that at least there may be a small audience.
      thanks for the thought provocation!

  5. All the Impressionists, from Turner onwards, were entertainers. And most of them hung around with entertainers. And if the plebs can’t understand art and only want easy stuff, how come Van Gogh is so popular amongst the hoi polloi? Answer: because his paintings entertain. So, are they art?

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