You're not a couch potato; you're an art connoisseur

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Stephen Colbert artwork

Popular television shows like Gossip Girl, The Office and The Daily Show attract millions of viewers per episode, but are they just indulgent entertainment or can they be considered art?

A definition of art would be a good starting point in determining whether popular television should in fact be considered art, but this is a nearly impossible task.

“Definitions of art are continually changing, expanding and evolving " often in response to new media,” says Christine Sprengler, who teaches new media art and its history at Western.

Kim Correia, a second-year media, information and technoculture and visual arts student, agrees.

“Art has grown to encompass many different mediums and the line between an art object and a non-art object has become increasingly blurred,” she says. “Art is subjective and means something different to everyone.”

The fact that art is difficult to define hasn’t stopped people from trying. Renowned Russian author Leo Tolstoy dedicated an entire book to the subject. In his aptly named novel “What Is Art?” he claimed, “If the spectators are infected by the feelings which the author has felt, it is art.”

Tolstoy’s perception rings true for some popular television shows. Surely the creators of The Office have experienced humour in creating each episode: humour that they try to pass on to their viewers.

John Hatch, an associate art history professor at Western, provided his insight on popular television as art.

“A lot of television shows qualify as art if they succeed in making us more self-aware, if they force us to question the world and our role and place in it. Seinfeld, The Simpsons, even South Park should be considered art, although like art in the past, they aren’t always successful.”

“Shakespeare was a popular form of entertainment, just like a lot of television today, that moved into the realm of art when it was able to be more than just entertainment and spectacle and could make us think,” Hatch continues.

If certain TV shows that invoke deeper thought can be considered as art, such as those that strive to provide a strong political or social commentary, then certainly the satirical comedy of The Daily Show or the controversial nature of HBO programs like The Wire and Big Love would qualify them as artistic.

The aesthetics of a show shouldn’t be ignored either. The glamorous wardrobes and glitzy urban settings of Gossip Girl or the Sex and the City series may qualify as art within the context of the show, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the whole program is an art form.

Stephanie Rogerson, professor of an art and popular culture course at Western, explains that art requires the intention to create and represent; these intentions can come from the creator or from the viewer who instills personal intent or meaning onto an object or image.

According to Rogerson, popular television is not art because “there is no intention on the part of the creators, producers or television companies.”

“I do, however, see artistic meaning and value in the dissemination of information by several TV shows because I as a viewer coat what is ‘entertainment’ with cultural meaning " I imbue intention,” she adds.

Does this means that even reality TV, notoriously criticized for its crudeness, could be recognized as art?

“There are slippages in reality TV where a camera shot or misstepped moment result in something ‘artistic’ happening,” Rogerson admits.

Hatch, however, doesn’t currently see reality TV as art.

“It tends to be more for entertainment sake alone, just produced to thrill audiences, to provide a distraction from the issues art addresses,” he says.

Maybe not all television shows fit the criteria for art, but as proven by the millions of viewers who tune into The Hills each week, qualifying as art is definitely not criteria for becoming a popular television show.

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette