Reader Request Week 2019 #6: Being Entertained as an Artist
Acshenglut asks about:
Being entertained as an artist:
I’ve often wondered if it is possible for a writer or other artist to look at work in their medium or a related medium (film and plays are still storytelling, for instance) as mere entertainment.
Is there such a thing as entertainment for an artist, or is picking apart the technique or artistic choices of another artist, even while being entertained?
Does “seeing the strings” another artist is pulling detract from or enhance your appreciation for another artwork or artist?
In my particular case, this covers a lot of ground, since I’ve written both fiction and non-fiction in several formats, have worked on film and TV projects, been involved with video games, and, heck, even released an album of music. Also, I’ve been a professional critic — mostly with film and music, but in other formats as well. So there’s that extra added layer of professional interest in how entertainment works.
And the answer is: Yes, absolutely I can appreciate a piece of entertainment just as entertainment, because sometimes — heck, a lot of the time — I don’t want to have to work when I seek to amuse myself, I just want to stuff my sensory organs full of input and then let my brain sort it out. When I’m off the clock, I am off the clock.
Moreover, I think this is a good thing to do: Being on the clock 24/7 as a creator would be exhausting, and always having to look at entertainment as a residue of process rather than an end result would likewise be dispiriting. Like anyone else, creators deserve their down time.
But I would also say that knowing all the tricks of the trade, as it were, doesn’t necessarily detract from the entertainment value. Knowing how movies get made, either in the technical or the business sense, doesn’t mean it knocks me out of being entertained — and indeed on more than one occasion I chose to see a film at least in part because of a technical process (see: my review of Gemini Man). To the extent I choose to engage with it, it can be an add on, not a distraction.
It’s also the case that being a writer myself gives me a grounding to appreciate when someone is doing some aspect of writing well, even as I’m reading without my “writer brain” engaged. Writing well is a skill, and it’s okay to be cognizant of that skill even if you’re engaging with it primarily or exclusively as a reader. That’s not the writer “showing off,” that’s the writer doing their job admirably.
Also, and independently, and with full cognizance it probably wasn’t meant it this way but even so, I don’t think there’s such a thing as “mere” entertainment. Entertainment as entertainment has immense value for people. Even in its most base state — a passing amusement — it has the potential to make someone’s existence better than it was, and that, as they say, is not chicken feed. A good book or movie or music album can make the difference between a good day and a crappy one. Beyond its base state, for example, people can and do find communities through their entertainment choices; they make friends, meet partners and can even occasionally find purpose. Again, not chicken feed.
(I mean, I’m a writer, after all — I came to it because I was a reader first. “Mere” entertainment became my life’s work, and has brought to me all sorts of benefits, not the least of which was meeting my wife. There’s no way our paths would have crossed had I not been a writer. None. So three cheers, and then some, for mere entertainment.)
In any event: Being a writer and creator generally doesn’t get in my way of being entertained. I can turn off my writer brain and enjoy entertainment for its own sake. But even when my writer brain is on, it’s a plus, not a minus, to the entertainment experience. The only time I’m really taken out of the entertainment experience is if the entertainment is bad. But that would happen whether or not I was writer. That’s what bad entertainment does, to everyone.