Friday, February 20, 2009

Art and Entertainment

I was thinking today about Mozart, and that, even among classical composers, he is unique. His work, it seems to me, is the highest form of artistic entertainment. By that I mean that, to my mind at least, it lacks a spiritual dimension, and exists solely as art to entertain. Now before you all go running for your keyboards, let me elaborate.

I make a distinction here between entertainment, entertainment that rises to the level of art, and art that rises to the level of spirituality. Most of what passes for art is, in fact, merely entertainment, including almost all of the films ever made. (Very rarely does film rise to the level of art, in my estimation. The films of F. W. Murnau, for example, or of Andrei Tarkovsky, are among the few exceptions.) In such work, entertainment is the essence and intention; it is the nature of the work and the reason for which it was created.

Beyond entertainment is art as entertainment - that is, works the essence and intention of which are artistic - and the highest expression of this is the music of Mozart. And it is a very lofty expression indeed. But, try as I might, I have never been able to find in Mozart's music that sublime spiritual dimension that I find in the work of Beethoven, for example, or in the late work of Bach, or in the later fiction of Tolstoy. Art as entertainment remains on the level of artistic expression, lacking the spiritual dimension that would otherwise be its essence and intention.

Another example of high art as entertainment (though not as high as Mozart) is the music of Tchaikovsky. I was listening today to the Serenade for Strings and thinking how lovely it was, and how much beautiful music Tchaikovsky produced. This is also a very high level of art as entertainment. But only in the Sixth Symphony did Tchaikovsky begin to explore that realm of spirituality which characterizes the greatest forms of art. He did so, I think, through the sheer force of his aesthetic practiced over many years of composition, and in the face of his mortality. He was thus driven to spiritual art through an accretion of forces both within and without. Mozart, too, I suppose, in the Requiem, began to enter this realm for much the same reasons. But Beethoven seems to have been drawn to it, and to have dwelt in it, for most of his life. It appears to have been embedded in his nature both as a man and as an artist, as it was in Tolstoy's. Both men moved irresistibly into the arena of spiritual art and remained there, although in their earlier years they produced a very high level of art as entertainment. But ultimately and most importantly, the essence and intention of their greatest works was spiritual.

Still, Mozart remains for me a puzzle - a very wonderful puzzle - in that he produced mostly secular art, much as Shakespeare did, and as we know, Shakespeare was for Tolstoy also an inscrutable and frustrating puzzle. I love Mozart's work, and find it as close to formal perfection in art as anyone ever came, but to my ear it lacks that aspect which has always drawn me to art: the spiritual essence. I may be wrong, and do suspect that I am wrong. The deficiency is probably not in Mozart, but in me.