The Arts: A Practical & Economic Case

I recently stumbled across a video in which Professor Jordan Peterson discusses his thoughts about the role of the Arts and the Artist within the wider context of society.

This sparked a realisation; something I think I have always been aware of, but I wasn’t fully “awake” to its consequences.

How valuable does society feel creative people actually are?

It’s rarely seen as a fantastic gift to possess artistic tendencies, because what’s the use in it?  This attitude has ground down my own self-esteem at certain points – in fact I often joke that my Illustration degree is useless.

But behind this self deprecating jest, lies a painful truth.

Even as we speak Government funding for the Arts (throughout all levels of education) is being slashed without mercy.  Currently the school in which I gained my degree (Hull School of Art and Design) is facing extreme cuts resulting in a staff cull and potential closure.

This disregard for the Arts creates a cultural landscape of fear and apprehension.   I worry that we are discouraging and devaluing a whole generation.

So why do the Artists still bother when society itself seems to be affirming to them that their services are not valued.

I think what struck me about Peterson’s video was how passionately he spoke about the necessity of creativity and beauty; and not relating to some distant utopia, but for every day people in all walks of life.

I have included the full video above, but I would like to note some key points that particularly resonated with me.

Beauty and Economic Development are NOT Mutually Exclusive  

It is vital to put forth an economic and practical case for the arts.  To highlight this, Peterson uses Europe as a focal point.

Over the last 1000 years Artists and creatives across Europe worked tirelessly towards a common goal; to make the cities beautiful beyond measure.

As a result these cities still benefit financially to this day, largely as a result of tourism created by these attractions.  The economic value manifested by this creativity has magnified over time rather than decreased.

The Arts Need no Justification 

The Arts have never been, or will ever be optional.  They are an integral part of the tapestry of life, even if you are not fully aware of their presence.  Life would be too dismal and tragic in their absence.  Art is a gateway to transcendence providing us with the courage to prevail amidst suffering.

We have art so that we may not perish by the truth

– Nietzsche

Beauty is a Call to Higher Being

Artists convey meaning to people, they contend with and are possessed by the unknown, they explore and express the full spectrum of emotion and translate this to the viewer, so that they may see aspects of their own nature looking back at them.

Art is when a human tells another human what it is to be human

 – Adrian Elmer

In Closing

I think the difficulty arises because the value of the Arts (both economic and experiential) are not immediately visible or obvious.

How do you monetise a creative act?  Van Gogh didn’t make a dime during his turbulent lifetime but his paintings are now invaluable.  Is this the best we can hope for?  To be recognised and praised in death…

I feel like I have only touched the surface with this piece, but I hope that I have restored some faith to any self deprecating Artists out there, and as Peterson states in his video, the absolute worst thing for a creative person is to not be creative.

So please I implore you, keep creating and keep adding value to society.

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