Thursday, 12 April 2012

Entertainment fills, art resonates

As a young man many years ago (OK, late 1970s) I was recruited by Wansbeck Council as their first Arts & Entertainments Officer. One of the questions they asked me at the interview was, what is the distinction between the two? I think I made some blandly vague answer about the difference being in the eyes of the beholder, and that one often slid into the other. The reply must have satisfied at some level since they hired me. Nearly forty years on, the question has popped into my brain again - I’ve no idea why - along with the sort of answer that when I have been drinking I might grab onto as a Eureka moment (should it be ‘an Eureka moment’?), only to wake up in the morning and dismiss as meaningless toss (should that be tosh? I quite like toss).

I haven’t been drinking (despite interrupting myself in parentheses) and it’s still a(n) Eureka moment to me, so I’ll state it below, with my name added to lay full claim to ownership:

Entertainment fills, art resonates
David Williams

I thought of tweeting the distinction and leaving it at that, but I guess it needs a little clarification; hence this short blog post.

We all need diversion, it seems - whether to relieve us from our labours, provide a temporary escape, alleviate boredom, help us socialise with our friends, or simply to fill in the time between the tick and the tock of our lives. That’s how entertainment started, and that still pretty much describes its role, in whatever form the entertainment comes. It can be variable in quality, it can be something done to us (as audience) or that we do ourselves (as participants) or both at once, but essentially entertainment fills these gaps in our time and community. Entertainment can both fill and, at its best, be fulfilling.

Art does more; and entertainment transmutes to art when, on occasion, it does more. Art does not just fill the moment, does not end at the end - it goes on. Think of the moments after a superb piece of music has played; after the curtain comes down on a wonderful theatre or dance performance; the sensation that remains when the great novel is ended and returned to the shelf; when the doors are closed on the great artist’s exhibition. The resonance may be at its most intense immediately after the direct experience (sensed as a wave of bliss, or grief, or passion, or revelation) and the resonance carries on, less intensely but perhaps more deeply, sometimes deep enough to make a groove in the rest of your life, to have an effect on your apprehension, your understanding and your response to future experiences in art and life.

Of course not all art will resonate with all individuals, far from it - we each carry our personal arts centre within ourselves - but one of the tests of great art is the power it has for creating resonance among a sizeable community of individuals and (rather like valency bonds in science if I understand the theory correctly) to bond them in accord, a shared acknowledgement of that greatness. It is through such resonance that our giants of art - our Leonardo, Shakespeare, Goethe, Beethoven, Tolstoy and others - came to be so memorialised.

Does this distinction resonate with readers out there? Let me know.


  1. As usual, you're spot on, David! For me entertainment is Britain's Got Talent or Peter Kay - something fun and frivolous that you don't have to think about too hard. Then there's art - when you keep thinking back to something weeks, months or years later - it resonates, as you say, in your memory. In my case, the luminescent Dutch paintings in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, or even the exquisitely crafted die made from bone I saw at Prudhoe Castle last week (unintentional art, maybe?). But then, I do keep thinking back to that Peter Kay joke about how mams don't put their seatbelts on in the car, just hold it round their just keep resonating - maybe Peter Kay is art!

  2. Some good examples there, Emma. I thought of another dimension to the distinction, which is sometimes one can make a memory of art or entertainment resonate further by applying art to it oneself - example, a remembered circus trip from childhood which becomes the subject of a poem one writes in adulthood. (Proust is full of such examples.) Getting complicated now.