I can think of a zillion places where I’ve heard some variation on this theme, but here are some off the top of my head.
I also remember seeing a link to a blog post or an article over at my art class classroom where, I’m not sure if it was also by an artist? But the article was questioning like, what good are artists to society, anyway?
Well anyway, full disclosure time: This post comes on the heels of that survey that seemed to cause quite a stir in the country it came out in, which isn’t mine but isn’t that far away. Or well it is pretty far away if you think in terms of how much richer that country is, eheheh.
But maybe not so very far away from the way a lot of us back here also regard art as pretty much useless unless you make a whole lot of money with it. It’s that whole, how your parents freak out when they find out you want to be a painter instead of a doctor or a lawyer or the CEO of some mega corporation-thing. You know the one ^_^
Or well, it isn’t just back here in my neck of the worldwide woods, either—I read once about how this other artist in the US, I think? Said that when people ask her what she does for a living and she says ‘I’m an artist’, people go, ‘Oh…’ (As in ‘Oh dear’.) But when she went to Paris, she would be like ‘I’m an artist’ and they’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful!’
Narrowing the field
In my last blog post, I did mention how art would naturally be one of the first things to go at a time like this when what people are really worried about is staying alive. Which is only meet and just—after all, if I was on my last legs and my children had nothing to eat, I’m not gonna spend my last farthing on a Persian miniature or something like that.
But that’s art in general. People aren’t going to dispute how we need music and movies and graphics and such to keep their spirits up, or even to get vital messages across during tough times.
I’m primarily a painter, so I’m going to narrow my discussion down to paintings, sculptures—you know, studio art, or gallery art. As these kinds of artists, we, along with what we produce, are often said to be not useful (I believe the word they used in the survey was ‘essential’), even at the best of times.
Okay, so ‘useful’ ≠ ‘essential’, if you want to get all ‘semantic’ about this, but either way, I concede—artists aren’t useful. ^_^ At least, not in the way a doctor or a farmer or a sanitation engineer is, and certainly not during times when the priority is to survive.
An oil-on-canvas rendition of a field of flowers or a prancing unicorn is not going to save you from the virus or keep you from starvation. So when global warming causes the waters to rise and we run out of space to live, you can toss us painters, et al over the edge to drown first, because you don’t really need us to live. It’s okay; I, for one, will understand.
It’s sort of like that whole ‘save the Mona Lisa or that little old lady’ type thing. Human life will always take precedence over human creations—or at least in my world view, it should.
Body and soul
But speaking of ‘world views’, in the one I have, people aren’t just bodies. They have a soul, too. At the very least, people aren’t mere bellies; they have minds that also need to be fed.
Don’t laugh, but I read a comic book once where one super heroine (with storm powers) says to the super hero (with adamantium claws //wink), ‘One feeds the body with nutritious food. One feeds the soul with beauty.’
Depending on how you define beauty and what you think art is for (which I’m going to leave to the philosophers, master’s degree holders and generally better minds than mine)—the point is that art isn’t for the ‘body’ part of people. It’s for the ‘soul’, the ‘mind’ part.
I’m talking about painting, sculpture and such here, but this applies pretty much to music and all the other forms of art (I did mention Houdini earlier ^_^).
I remember in another ‘non-essential’ book (by CS Lewis), they said it was a major thing to have to feed a centaur. That was because you didn’t just have to feed the man part, you had to feed the horse part, too, and both parts ate A LOT. That meant having to cook up a storm AND gather all these oats and hay and you get the idea.
Which basically means that if you feed the ‘body’ part of people, you also have to feed…again, you get the idea.
Show me the money
But say you don’t subscribe to the whole ‘man has a soul’ thing and that we’re basically just walking worm food or whatever, let’s talk about something that might be a little more relatable and undeniably useful. Let’s talk about money.
Art (as in painting, sculpture, etc) is a multi-billion dollar industry. I’m sure there’s no need to go into how much money there is in music, movies, graphic design, publishing and so on, but I’m pretty sure people also know that there’s some serious moolers to be made from studio art.
A quick-slash-superficial look at some numbers from UBS shows that
Interestingly, UBS also mentions how collectors in the US were generally aged 50 and up, 46% of collectors in Singapore were millennials, as were 39% of collectors in Hong Kong—making millennials 45% of all these big spenders.
Funny, though, isn’t it? How all this money is being magically generated by linseed oil and linen, but Vox, here points out how most artists are never going to be rich and famous. (Or at least famous, depending on your priorities in life, hee hee.)
Anyway, Vox also mentions how an art master’s can cost USD38,000 a year, which means you would have to spend something like USD100,000 to complete your degree. Again, I’m not conducting a whole lot of research, here, but it looks to me like art schools must be making some money out of everyone who wants to learn how to make like Michelangelo.
(Meow, I spent something like USD80 a semester to get my four-year bachelor’s in painting (then again, since it was my round 2 of uni, there were a lot of classes I didn’t have to take). I was told that if I ever went in for a Master’s, to not take it in my own country, but looking at these numbers, now I wonder if I’ll ever be able to afford it 0_o;)
I’m not sure whether it’s common knowledge that it costs an arm and leg to study art, not (just) because of the fees but because of the materials, which is another megabuck industry.
I caught a glimpse of how the art supplies industry, like many others around the world, had taken a hit from the virus, but Ibisworld says art supplies in the US alone has a market size of USD857 million. (I guess it makes sense for there to be a lot of money in selling these ‘essentials for non-essentials’ XD)
And what about all the people who give art lessons or workshops outside of the academic setting—enterprising artists who teach others how to paint or draw or sculpt. They’re making a good living, so they can’t be all that useless in this sense, surely? Not to mention the lucrative paint-and-sip industry, which was still going strong when the virus hit.
A different sort of useful
Which brings us back to the virus. Maybe it’s true that artists, particularly studio artists, are no use at all whether there’s a pandemic on or not.
I mean, let’s be honest—people around the world thought so before the virus hit, all the money being generated notwithstanding. And that circumstances (which brought about that survey) really only just confirmed or brought out into the open what people have been thinking (but just aren’t saying out loud) all along. And people are entitled to their own opinions.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that as one of these useless people, I’d like to apologise to eeeveryone out there who feels that we painters and other studio artists are just taking up valuable space.
Whenever we create something, however beautiful or meaningful it might be, all we’re really doing is consuming valuable resources and not actively contributing to the survival of the human race.
I guess I just want to say I’m sorry you feel that way, and that I’m also sorry for just taking up space. (Although I guess I have supported, in my own small way, all those paint and art materials manufacturers and the people who work at them and everywhere I ever took lessons at.)
I don’t know about my own work, but I do know that there are many paintings and sculptures and installations and so on out there that are able to, you know. Sort of calm people down and give them a little peace at a time when so many people are freaking out, not just over the virus, but over so many other things. These works of art give people hope.
And isn’t hope as essential to survival during tough times as anything else? Although, that’s a soul thing. Whether you believe in people having souls or not, surely it can’t be a bad or at least, a useless or impractical thing to help people think that someday things could be better than they are now.
In any case, if there’s anything I can do in my humble capacity as a useless, non-essential person to help you out in these uncertain times, I’d be happy and grateful to do what I can.
6/28/2020 04:47:56 pm
Jill, I agree with you that human beings need more than just survival based services. Yes, of course, survival comes first, but nobody is happy if all they need to deal with is only survival. This is the lowest level of existence, even spiritually. When survival needs are met, the other aspirations step into the picture. All cultures are known mainly for their art, even thousands of years after those cultures vanished. We go to the museums to see what their art can teach us about their cultures. Many inventions also arise from art in the form of design. We are surrounded by art and this world would truly be a dull place without it. In paintings and drawings and other fine arts, the soul of the artist is revealed in a way that no other expression can unveil and we individually either relate or do not relate to these artworks. We need beauty, we need the peculiar, we need the surreal and never before seen. Yes, fine arts are a higher aspiration and those in survival may have a hard time relating to these. Unfortunately at the current level of development human societies are very need based and this is why lawyers and doctors and others that tend to humanity's basic needs born out of trouble make so much more money in general than those who cater to higher aspirations. We need the arts to feed the soul and to create a better world. We need the arts to comfort us and to inspire us and to bring about the new. Jill, I believe that the world would be a totally dull place without arts, which are the mirror of our individual and collective souls.
6/28/2020 05:27:30 pm
I totally agree with you, Helena ~ and I guess, there's just no changing the way some people think, nor do we need to? (Or well, maybe we need to for -their- sakes, but, if they're happy thinking the way they do and they're not really harming anyone else by it (are they?)...
6/28/2020 07:47:14 pm
Art is essential in our world.
6/28/2020 08:10:57 pm
There are animals that also do artistic arrangements. There are species of birds that attract their mates by making elaborate designs with berries and twigs and other items that they find in nature, they create interior designs. There are also species of fish that do the same with sand. Also, think about spiders and their webs and bees and their honeycombs and all other nature's designs. Art is innate in the design of nature and thus an integral part of our being. We are the art, so, how could we not be essential? Human beings too often think that they have the answers to the mysteries of existence when we are just starting to find out what might be going on in the universe.
6/29/2020 05:17:28 am
Human beings too often think that they have the answers to the mysteries of existence when we are just starting to find out what might be going on in the universe. >> I think so, too, Helena ~ I sometimes think that because of all the technology and the science, people think they have all the answers? When actually it's an 'the more we know, the more we we don't know' thing?
6/29/2020 01:41:49 pm
I am not so sure that animals can only do what they are programmed to do any more so than human beings. I have observed some choice making and collaboration that has been truly amazing, including a chipmunk and a blue jay exchanging a peanut in a shell and a piece of bread. The chipmunk had difficulty with opening the peanut shell and the blue jay, who had a piece of bread, noticed this and flew down and put the piece of bread in front of the chipmunk, who gladly accepted this offer and left the peanut for the blue jay. This is only one of numerous interactions I have had the pleasure to observe. I think that human beings overall understand very little about animals and nature and the intelligence of anything beyond our own species, if even that. We are a very arrogant bunch of beings. I believe that everything animate and inanimate is intelligent in a way that serves its purposes in the bigger picture. Things that serve human purposes are different from the purposes that serve an ant, for example. We live in an amazing universe and on an amazing planet and anyone who thinks they know who or what is essential here is likely more high and mighty than they ought to be. All of us have recently been a witness to the actions and inactions of power hungry and self-interested leaders, who are here to "serve" people but most of the time serve their own interests and perhaps the interests of those who keep them in power. Unfortunately humanity leaves so very much to be desired.
6/29/2020 05:15:10 am
I hope so, too, Caro, I hope so, too ~ //hugs <3
6/29/2020 04:31:28 am
Our ancestors started making art and telling stories, thousands upon thousands of years ago. in Australia they have found cave paintings dating back 40,000 years ago. So obviously the development of art was fundamental to our evolution as complex, modern human beings.
6/29/2020 05:40:31 am
I think people in general (in any country) need art (as in need, like food, water, shelter kind of need) ~ it's just they don't realise x they may not know it (like they know they *need* food, water, shelter). And when I say 'people' I mean everyone whether they're artists or not. I mean like how some people who don't make art know they need it. Because maybe it's easier for people who make it to understand why people need it. I don't know, 'I'm just an artist' ^____^
6/29/2020 06:10:22 am
Meow, I read your post and it is powerful. Art is like breathing, we will always make art no matter what is happening. I just saw a friend's post on IG reflecting art with posters and chalk on the sidewalk protesting about Black Lives Matter. Art throughout time has often been a political target because it doesn't serve the goals of the people in power. Art speaks the soul of humanity, art expresses the emotions, thoughts, passion of people.It brings up conversation, dispute, and reveals. If this is Singapore you are speaking, it is a very restrictive country. They may try to suppress art, but it will pop up like weeds.
6/29/2020 04:26:24 pm
Meow meow thank you so much for reading my post ~ I super appreciate your taking the time to comment, too ^__^* Art is powerful; I guess if it wasn't people wouldn't mind so much? ^o^; And I think in any country around the world if things get restrictive art will still pop up like weeds for sure ~ thank you again Debra <3
12/20/2020 05:44:42 am
I absolutely love this! Fantastic article! I think since Covid hit the US people have realized how hard it would be to survive mentally in this sort of isolation and solitude without art, movies, music and writing to get them through just the day to day stress. We did not realize when it first hit how this virus would affect the human mind and our mental health. Even those who are essential workers come home so stressed and in desperate need of an outlet to release stress and any comfort in art or beauty or an escape in a beautifully made piece of media or video game is their tiny bit of happiness. Everything around us is a form of art. The human experience needs this to truly live and thrive. We have seen the mental health crisis without these tools for survival.
12/21/2020 01:58:00 am
Thank you so much for reading my post, Jenn ^_^ I super agree with you on how we need art to get us through the day to day stress and to survive mentally, and how everything around is a form of art. Living and thriving are two different things. Thank you so much again <3
8/24/2022 02:27:31 pm
Art - painting is the basis of all you see, use and live with. The artist listens to the manufacturer and creates the image. This can range from a can of food and a shoelace to aircraft. The manufacturer shows that image to the engineer who produces that item.
8/24/2022 06:31:27 pm
Thank you so much, Vic, for taking the time to check out my post. I couldn't agree with you more on how painting is the basis of all we see and use and I'm really happy to see someone recognise this truth. I hope that more people will be able to appreciate the visual arts the way you and I do. Thank you again~
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