Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Music Note #7: Artistry vs. Entertainment

: (n) one skilled or versed in learned arts; one who professes and practices an imaginative
, a person skilled in one of the fine arts.

To Entertain: (v)
to keep, hold, or maintain in the mind.
Entertainment: (n) amusement or diversion provided especially by performers; something diverting or engaging.

When you look at Christina Aguilera, do you think of an artist? Now look at Bob Dylan, is he an entertainer? It is the old art versus entertainment debate that has been discussed for decades. Also, it is one of the debates that irks me because it is a useless debate. Music in general requires a balance of both artistry and entertainment. In reality, any type of art is a form of entertainment in its basic nature, whether it be for oneself or for other people. The term "entertainment" is often used in the negative sense to describe music that some feel are not "artsy," usually more pop-oriented artists, and some artists use it to justify why their music is better. Just because an artist is more commercial and popular does not mean that they are just entertainers and not artists.

What sparked my thoughts about this? Last week, I was watching Parallel Paths on BETJ and Rahsaan Paterson said that Christina Aguilera was not an "artist" and that singers need to get to a point when they are not just singers. But I find that to be close-minded (sorry Rahsaan, I still love you). There are different types of art and artistry. Singers are able to take a piece of material and creatively present it in a way that has never been done before or done differently than others.
You might be able to write a great song or music piece, but that does not mean that you can perform it well and it works the other way, too. That is why the term "performing arts" exist. For example, an actor does not necessarily create the script in a movie or show, but they are taking what is given to them and performing it in a unique way. Someone said on another blog site that a DJ or a clown is not an artist, but they are because they are taking something and doing it in a creative or original way.

Labeling certain musicians as just entertainers puts a cap on their visibility as an artists. Michael Jackson wrote and produced many of his own songs, but is often seen as a pop entertainer, as well as Mariah Carey, too. Christina Aguilera is mostly known as an entertainer, but she co-wrote "Miss Independent" for Kelly Clarkson and co-wrote some of her songs on her recent albums. Many musicians do not just take what is given to them, they do have some creative input in the music they are recording.

Now as for having that balance of art and entertainment, it is more important than one might think. Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, James Brown, U2 and other influential artists did not only create songs with serious or significant subject matter, but also create songs that were catchy (e.g. "Get Up, Stand Up" by Bob Marley). Would you listen to those types of songs if they were boring to listen to? Compare it to food, if healthy food taste very bland, I bet none of you would eat it, but if it has flavor, you would (same reason I do not like ricecakes). The songs have to be interesting enough to catch your attention and keep in your mind (definition of "to entertain"). At the same time, just because some artists do not create songs with serious topics does not make them any less of an artist. Louis Jordan in the 40s wrote very comical songs that were silly and goof but he did them in a way that shows his originality.

However, that does not mean all art is great art. Some artists create music that is comparable to the work of a 3rd grader. It doesn't mean that they cannot improve as they get older and wiser, but as for right now, they suck! The again, my views and views of art in itself is completely subjective and what I think is worse and less meaningful music might mean something to somebody else. Moreover, it does not give someone the right to say that something that someone created is not "art" and just "entertainment." In the end, "art" and entertainment are vague words that cannot be specifically defined. So, would everyone stop arguing about it!

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