Art and entertainment

What makes good art? For anyone working creatively, it is a question you have to keep coming back to. The creative industries pressure us to make good product and to give people what they want. Not so long back I was at an event where Jonny Fluffypunk said that if you give people what they want, it’s entertainment. If you give people what they didn’t know they wanted, that’s art.  This really resonated with me.

I come back repeatedly to Ursula Le Guinn’s comment that good art is entertaining. Yes, I want to surprise, challenge and stretch people. I don’t always want to make everyone feel totally comfortable. But at the same time I want to add something good to their lives. I want to cheer people, enrich them, give them something they feel was worth having. I want to give people what they didn’t know they needed.

I feel this keenly as an author, and as an audience member. I am not comforted by seeing familiar things. I don’t want to replay formulaic products, or revisit endlessly the variations on a theme of stuff I once liked. I want to be surprised, stretched and challenged. I am willing to not always be comfortable, if it’s going somewhere.

I’m not cool with shock for the sake of it. I don’t want to distress, demoralise, desensitise a reader. I want to make big, difficult challenging things more palatable. And I want it to be accessible. I want to use a language plenty of people can keep up with, and put things out there in ways that don’t lock you out if you don’t have a degree, or aren’t glued to a thesaurus. Being too clever, too keen to show off all the big words all the time doesn’t make for a good reading experience.

I studied literature back in the day, and I learned some things that have stayed with me. Shakespeare was a crowd pleaser. Dickens wrote newspaper serials. The people we think of as the literary great and the good were not trying to make high art. The way language has changed makes them obscure to us and a harder read, that’s all. At the time, they were writing for people. Drawing lines between high brow high Art and Literature and popular stuff seems to be a modern thing. Beethoven was just trying to get bums on seats.

For me, if it’s being made for the special elite few who have been trained highly enough to properly understand it… I’m happy not to bother. I’m interested in books and arts that are made for people. Not to give people what some condescending industry oik reckons the lowest common denominator wants. Not trying to make everything be bland enough to be tolerable to everyone. But on the whole, making things for people as best I can.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

15 responses to “Art and entertainment

  • In The Autumn Of My Life

    I really like that and agree wholeheartedly. I am reasonably well read myself (I had all the Famous Five books and most of the Secret Seven too! Impressive, huh?) and I don’t mind coming across the odd ‘fancy’ word in a piece of fiction. That said, if it is littered with long-winded prose and clearly just the author trying to show how clever they are…turns me off, stops the flow, raises an eyebrow.

    People like to be understood. Why the need to be so sesquipedalian? *says sorry and sees herself out* 😀

  • Linda Davis

    Word nerd moment…entertainment means literally ‘ to hold together’ and I think that’s important. As an artist of whatever sort I think you’re taking your audience on a journey and you need to know that they’re actually with you! Whether it’s a funny rollikin pirate song or a challenging poem, are they gripped enough to stay on board (as it were)?
    Just read a novel where I stuck out to the end to see if it got any didn’t (hate it when that happens!). I won’t be travelling with that author again. It was only a short book otherwise I would have abandoned ship earlier. Life’s too short!

  • manonbicycle

    I often prefer arts that are created locally by lesser known people. A folk group in a pub or someone who produces jewellery or pottery to sell at a local market, as opposed to the “big” names that fill renowned concert halls or art galleries.

  • lornasmithers

    It’s a difficult balance. I’ve definitely found that anything very politically or environmentally focused without wrapping it up in fun doesn’t work. Neither does performing stuff from really obscure myths unless they’re made accessible in some way. A bigger problem up here is finding an audience!

    • Nimue Brown

      So many people just don’t engage with live performance any more, which is tragic. I don’t know what we do about that. The power of the large screen in the living room will take some challenging.

  • myhonestblog2

    This reminds me of Faulkner criticizing Hemingway for not using “big words”…to which Hemingway replied “poor Faulkner, does he really think big emotions come from big words…”

    • Nimue Brown

      🙂 I find myself thinking once again of all the punchy Anglo Saxon words.

    • jonathanscottgriffin

      To be honest, I get annoyed at both types of authors. I get annoyed at those who attack those for using gargantuan words, and I get annoyed at those who attack those who choose to use simple words. Writing is an art form, and like a painter, different writers are going to express themselves differently. The fact of the matter is Faulkner and Hemmingway were both outstanding writers. I think it’s nice to read stories that use simple words. But we also have a huge vocabulary for a reason, so why not make use of it at times? In short, I think both writing styles are needed, and some will prefer one style over another, whereas others will be happy with both styles.

  • jonathanscottgriffin

    This is a thought provoking and beautiful read. I would like to ask though, must “good art” be “entertaining?” Or can art be serious and somber, much like reality? Case in point, I consider Schindler’s List to be great art, but it’s far from entertaining. That said, you seem to possess a keen intellect. I am going to subscribe to your blog.

    • Nimue Brown

      Ah, I guess it depends on how you are wired, some of us are entertained, in the broadest sense, by that which is darker, more difficult. I would take ‘entertained’ as a short hand for ‘having spent some time in a way i feel good about’.

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