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Worthy Arts, Worthy Entertainment

by Katie Johnston

In the United States, fine art and entertainment could not be more different. Fine art (think your grade school art class subjects: classical music, theatre, painting) is by its very nature an exclusive experience, whereas entertainment (think movies and popular music) is by its very nature a mass media. In general, unless we’ve had lots of formal education in the fine art world, we are more attuned to entertainment; we understand it more deeply and are more inclined to engage with it beyond a surface level.

But why is that? It comes down to entertainment’s pervasiveness. Since its inception, film has been a relatively cheap form of entertainment, making it more accessible than the generally more expensive fine arts. To put it in perspective, an expensive movie ticket ($10 to $15) is still 5 to 7.5 times cheaper than an inexpensive ticket to a Broadway musical ($75). Over the last few years, streaming has also become a popular and cost effective way to view films, and while fine arts have also been made available for online viewing in the form of online galleries and pro shots of musicals for example, altering the mode of dissemination fundamentally alters the fine arts experience in a way that it does not impact entertainment.

Furthermore, the marketing phenomenon of comprehension tells us that when we receive new information, we relate it to information already stored in our long-term memory. In the context of arts and entertainment, this tells us that audiences are recalling past experiences with the medium when they critique experiences. Have you ever noticed how much more willing everyday people are to engage in a thoughtful critique about a movie as opposed to a piece of theatre? This is because they generally have a deeper well of filmic long-term memory to draw from and thus feel more well equipped to comment.

By now you might be asking yourself why any of this matters. Well, simply put, it matters because the entertainment industries make up a huge portion of the $877.8 billion economic contributions of the arts and cultural sector. Motion pictures and broadcasting alone make up almost a quarter of that figure. Fine arts are significantly less lucrative, generating less than $100 billion across all industries, and for this reason, among others, there’s a perception that the fine arts are a dying and unworthy sector. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, neither entertainment nor fine arts is more worthwhile than the other. They simply meet different needs. But if the fine arts want to reestablish their worth in the public eye, they shouldn’t focus on trying to compete with entertainment. Instead they should harness the power of their exclusivity and focus on building communities for their patrons, especially if it means helping them engage with the art more deeply.

Katie Johnston is a senior Theatre major with an Arts Management co-major and minors in History and Marketing. She loves traveling, crocheting, and problem-solving. Upon graduation, Katie hopes to pursue production management for film or theatre.


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