Are film and television art?

“What the mass media offers is not popular art,
but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food,
forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.”

I found the above W.H. Auden quote on my brother’s Facebook profile. The author’s comment resonates strongly with my own personal sentiment. My wife and I watch — at least in my estimation — a lot of movies. Some of these probably don’t fit under Auden’s definition of “mass media” (that is, they’re pretty obscure indie or foreign flicks) although without more context I can’t be certain. We also watch a lot of Hollywood fluff, perhaps to temper the weirdness of things like Donnie Darko (a pretty good film, by the way).

I have a difficult time recalling the fluffy films, so when Auden refers to these as “entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish” it makes perfect sense to me. I rent the video, amuse myself for a couple of hours, and take it back to the store (or drop it in the mailbox). By the next week I am hard-pressed to recall the title of the movies we watched the week before. I’m much more interested in what Netflix are sitting on the ledge today.

Films outside of mass-consumption I am much more likely to remember. Right now, my own Facebook profile lists Brick, Scoop, Thank You for Smoking, Little Miss Sunshine and Stranger than Fiction as my [current] favorites, just to give you an idea of the films I remember. Not all of these are as obscure as some, and there are a number of mainstream titles I dig as well. [Adding: One of the most memorable pieces of film for me was an installation by Ray and Charles Eames. Projected onto the floor of a dark room you watched soapy water, as if coming off of a car as somone washed it, rolling across asphalt.]

I suppose people would suggest that film and television have highs and lows just like any other artistic medium. It can certainly be argued that purchasing a Thomas Kinkade print is hardly different than renting the latest blockbuster. One difference is, however, that the Kinkade print — even though it’s a mass-produced marketing marvel more than it is a painting — at least sticks around in a palpable sense for more than two hours. It may even stick around for two years, before you get tired of it and shove it into the garage.

And then into mini-storage.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to Are film and television art?

  1. AM Putra says:

    Because there’s an effort and creativity (of course, even the most slightest) in film and television, I consider it as an art.

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