What is art? Is it famous paintings encased in glass at museums? Is it the classical music from two hundred years ago? Does modern pop music also count as art? Is it dance? Is it literature, scenery, or architecture? Is art, like Plato said, merely an imitation of an imitation; simply a deceptive illusion of life? Is it enough to simply say that we like art, or should art mean something more? How do we know the difference between what is art and what is entertainment?
I love the arts. And it is because of that passion for the arts that I ask these questions. Years ago, when I was a drama student in high school, my instructor posed the above question: How do we know the difference between what is art and what is entertainment? The short answer is this: Entertainment simply serves to treat the senses, and everyone will experience it the same way. Art, however, is far deeper. Rarely will two people see it in the exact same way.
I prefer to put it like this: Entertainment tells us, this is the way life is. Art makes us ask the question, is this the way life is?
In other words: Buffy the Vampire Slayer = Entertainment. Girl sees vampire. Vampires are evil. Girl stakes vampires in the heart and kills them. Good wins. Yay for everyone!
However, Shaun of the Dead = Art. Because, although Shaun and his friends are out there killing the obviously evil brain-hungry zombies, we are left to wonder if the real “Zombie Apocalypse” is already happening all around us, only those zombies are the apathetic, complacent people we already know. The film also poses the question, “When our loved ones transform into zombies, do we destroy them in order to save ourselves, or do we stay and help them?” (Surprisingly deep thinking from an otherwise silly and ridiculous movie).
There are many more ways to define the arts and why they matter to people. They are a reflection of the human spirit. They are an expression of that which we experience in the natural world. They are a tool for communicating the thoughts, ideas, and emotions which we cannot express in another way. But I think the most important thing is that whether it is through a painted canvas, an artfully crafted sculpture, a melody, poetic lyrics, an inspiring story, or dance, art has a way of touching and rousing the spirit like nothing else can. Perhaps there is a lot of truth in Plato’s definition of art as mere imitation of the real world. But often it is through those reflections of real life that we best see ourselves.
Why I Am An Artist
Can you see in the way I move
the flow of the river
flashing green ripples
of glittering suns?
The smooth curves of the earth
and violent, rocky passion
of the sea?
Do you feel the way it moves inside of me?
Can you hear in the colors I paint
the harmonic battle
the clash and attack of drums that
startle melody awake?
The sweetness of flutes
rising to meet the dawn
like the song of the first bird of spring?
Do you hear it sing?