Weekly Question No. 24 - On Why we Value the Arts

edited May 17 in General Discussion

Strictly speaking, I guess it would be possible for us to survive without art. Getting fed is more immediately important than being entertained. All we really "need" to survive is air, water, food and shelter. Most other species on the planet survive without art. Would it matter if humanity stopped producing art?  What if we turned our attention and resources entirely to science and to solving pressing practical problems like climate change, to feeding, housing and educating all of humanity, to advancing medical science, and to not so obviously pressing ones like exploring the cosmos? What if we did this instead of devoting time, effort and money to the arts? Would we lose anything that is necessary by abandoning art? If you think art is vital to humanity, what is it about art that makes it too important for us to abandon?

(The term “art” here refers to all art forms: painting, film, literature, music, dance and so on.)



  • edited May 15
    Another good weekly question thanks @tassieguy

    I think essentially humans are creative, some more than others obviously.

    We are capable of creating chaos as well as beauty.

    Art in all its forms is language, I dont believe it would be possible to abandon it.

    It is food for the soul, for those who want to create it is a must and not necessarily a choice.

    Imagine how drab and dreary life would be without the arts.

    The spark of life would be extinguished.

  • Thanks, @MichaelD

    So,  would it be correct to say that you believe art is part of what it means to be human? That we couldn't give it up?  :)
  • Yes indeed I believe so

  • edited May 15
    That's interesting, @MichaelD. Art, in all its forms,  certainly seems to have a very strong hold on us.

    There's a lot more I could say on the question, however,  I want to give others a chance to respond before I give my own views. But I'm guessing your views and mine will be very similar. :)
  • For a person to survive, one needs basic things and nothing else. But once those are secured it becomes a natural tendency to make life better and improved. I guess one recognizes the value of art when his/her mind and feelings start to expand. They start to recognize things beyond food, shelter, clothing and progeny.
    I guess here they feel the need to expand the capacity of their mind (and soul). So, any kind of art becomes important to them depending upon their capacity (e.g. Marvel movies against vs. critically acclaimed ones). Historic people created art for the same reason and the trend continues. Comparing the significance of higher things against the basic needs is a faulty way to judge. It denies all the good things that we have achieved since the beginning!
  • Thanks, @Kaustav

    I take it that you think life without art would be a bleak existence. I'm sure most would agree. :)
  • To add to others thoughts, could “why it was created” be a factor in that? The value depends on whose placing that value or what market it’s in. So, it’s all “Creative” so to speak. Humm…..  so for me personally I’ll enjoy my painting and listening to my husband enjoy his guitar in the next room, that’s us being creative ….and our family & friends value it as much as we value their creativity. 
  • As any good question will do, serious inquiry requires the asking of many more good questions. Is art/creativity the basis of that seemingly endless desire of just wondering, knowing? Is the thing we call art possibly responsible for the beginning of science, mathematics, etc.? Wasn't art 'responsible' for depicting history up until a very short time ago? Maybe with the explosion of technology and communication in our lifetimes, what we used to think of as art has changed somewhat.  

    I think art adds 'Quality' to our lives. I don't use the word lightly because it may mean something different to each of us. In the book 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', the quest to define what 'Quality' is seemingly nearly drove the Author Robert Pirsig to the brink of insanity. 

    We all have our own histories and we most likely communicate best with those of at least similar histories. As a Chef my entire working life, I believe that good wholesome food, prepared with the needed knowledge of the craft, fresh ingredients, and a desire to please and impress (hospitality)...are the ingredients needed to improve the recipients 'Quality' of life. Creating that experience has an element of art attached to it that can positively or negatively effect all of the senses. Nutrition can also be sustenance, that which we need to survive, and there are far too many people still in that place. 

    Art has the ability to inspire one to think - and that can lead to something wonderful!

  • edited May 16
    Thanks for your responses, @joydeschenes and @whunt

    Yes, there's no question that we value the arts and would feel their absence. I guess I am wondering why that is so. Why are we the only species to engage in art. 

    My own idea is that, in may ways, art and science feed into each other and it may not be possible to engage in one without the other as this week's question asks us to imagine. Art and science are two sides of the one coin. And once a level of intelligence that enables rationality evolves, art becomes inevitable. 

    @whunt, I would definitely include the culinary arts under the umbrella term 'art".  :)
  • Imagine a universe without beauty. Bleak. No colour. No glorious sunsets. No love. No delight or joy. Just machine like creatures equipped with the logic to keep feeding their existence. Cold logic. Cause and effect. Pragmatism. Survival. Analysis. A clockwork existence.
    I don't subscribe to that at all. What makes us human cannot be defined entirely by physics. There are things that cannot be predicted in the most elementary particles and fields. Spock was interestingly depicted as half human. Half human because he either didn't experience or value the subjective.
    I love the sun warming my back on an otherwise cool autumn day. Warmth of a crackling fire as the night air cools. The sense of wonder. Beauty. Love. Laughter. Companionship. These aren't even art, but a third domain that sits alongside science and art (and overlaps). And then art? The elevation of our response to thought and beauty and wonder and the need to create into an aesthetic. Ah, we're capable of such ugliness - but all the same are capable of Toccata and Fugue in D minor or literature or art that soars to such heights that none of the non-conscious material universe or even simple forms of life could ever enter. 
    And where is beauty? It's somehow, mysteriously built only within us as observers. Take that you massive nebula or supernova. You might be big, but you don't even know you exist.
  • edited May 17
    Thanks, @Abstraction. Yes, it's hard to imagine a world without emotion and the experience of beauty which are the wellsprings of art. It wouldn't be the world we know. And it's hard to imagine feeling at home in it.

    Because of the type of creatures we are, I don't think we can help doing art. It's part of what it means to be human. As well as satisfying our innate need to express our feelings, it helps us make sense of the world and our experience of it . It's like a mirror we hold up to the world to see it and ourselves more clearly. Or perhaps art is like a conversation we have about the world and our experience in it.

    No doubt the need to express ourselves through art was built into us  - there is a biological explanation for it - and, as Theodosius Dobzhansky famously put it, "nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution." And I imagine that any intelligent species that evolved anywhere in the universe would, if they also have emotions, need to be doing art of some sort.
  • dencaldencal -
    edited May 16

    The preliterate Australians 50,000 years ago spoke in many languages, about 450 dialects across this wide brown land , nearly as large as the United States. The language that unified them all was art, paintings and engravings.

    The earliest engravings were geometric shapes, suggestive of landscape markers to water, food sources and essential materials. The most elaborate of these looked like maps.

    The mid range engravings depicted animals, perhaps used as teaching aids for children . As sea level rose on the North West Coast of Western Australia marine creatures came to be the dominant motifs. The growing population relied on these animals for survival.

    The latest engravings mostly show human figures with equipment and weapons. Commonly lines between human figures show relationships and family ties. Hand stencils in red ochre were common markers of visitation or ownership. Increasingly elaborate headdresses depict spiritually endowed men and supernatural beings responsible for the creation of the earth.

    In all societies we interact through symbolic communication. Art easily provides unity, direction, education, sustenance, cultural elaboration, self awareness, understanding of the environment, and referents to the supernatural.

    In our own ethnic group art was used to bring the bible to the illiterate masses and strike the fear of God into us all.


  • edited May 17
    Thanks, @dencal. Well said. I agree with all of that. Art is an integral part of the human condition that predates written history, and probably even predates our becoming fully human. And like a lot of other things, art can be used for good or bad purposes. It can, for example, be used to instill and maintain false beliefs and superstitions, and as an aid to subjugation and control. :)
  • The saying goes…A picture is worth a thousand word.
    I think the true value is the emotional expression that is conveyed, whether by a painting, the written word, music or dance.
    Great works impact us emotionally and have an element of truth in what is expressed.
  • Thanks, @GTO.  Yes, I'm sure there's there's some relationship between the good, the true and the beautiful.  :)                                                                                                                                          
  • I would say art in one form or another is indispensable for personal flourishing.. it provides a summation and sense of life (or some aspect of it) and it’s meaning, in one perceptual engagement and it can affirm one’s ideas and ideals about oneself and existence that form a kind of nourishment for the soul which only an inordinate amount of reflection, introspection, thinking and feeling could reproduce.
  • edited May 20
    I think all would agree, @CBG. Even if everyone's survival needs were met, It's hard to imagine anyone flourishing in a world without music, literature, the visual arts etc. 
  • edited May 20
    Thanks, @MichaelD, @KaustavM, @joydeschenes, @whunt, @Abstraction, @dencal, @GTO and @CBG for your input on what has perhaps been the most philosophical of our Weekly questions so far. All of your posts made interesting reading.

    The consensus seems to be that life without the arts would not be a full or satisfying life. Humans need more than just air, water, food and shelter to flourish. 

    Once basic survival needs are met, it seems as if humans don't have a choice about whether to pursue/engage in/partake of the arts in some form. What else is there to do? At the deepest level it's an effort to plug into something greater than ourselves. The arts seem to add meaning to life in a similar way religion has, and still does, for many people. The arts are an escape, a refuge from the cold realities of the human condition, and a way of transcending and making peace with it. A way of having our say about it all. As the ancients realized, Ars longa, vita brevis.  Great works of art live on after us and so provide enjoyment, wonder and instruction for future generations.  And they provide a sort of immortality to their creators.

    The bottom line is that it seems we need the arts at least as much as we need the sciences to be fully ourselves. 
    Thanks again, everyone. A new Weekly Question will be posted soon but if anyone wants to add anything to this one it's not too late.  :)

  • A very good summary @tassieguy of an enjoyable weekly question and postings.

    Thank you

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