Debate and Discussion

Art is useless. It doesnt contribute to the economy.
kyupol at 10:50AM, Oct. 24, 2012
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So I had a discussion with a coworker… at my job… he told me that art is useless and doesnt really do anything to help the economy. And artists are like musicians.  They live in a dream world but in reality, only a few of em make the big bucks.  And even the ones who make the big bucks… arent really contributing anything to the economy.  That theyre wasting their time and other people's money and they should get “a real job”… like truck driving or something. 
I told him that my comics have helped inspire some people and even stopped some from committing suicide. 
How? he asked.
Cuz they found a comic that relates to them and resonates with them… therefore they felt theyre not alone and have no need to be depressed and/or suicidal. 
And after that he cant say anything anymore except “I looked at art and never felt inspired to do anything”. 
El Cid at 7:35PM, Oct. 24, 2012
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Well, the whole point of an economy is to give people the stuff they want. If someone pays money for some piece of art, then that means they value that more than they value the money they exchanged for it or, more meaningfully, more than they value any alternative goods they could have purchased with the money. The artwork then has served an economic purpose by making the individual feel better off than they were before. So you can tell your economist friend to piss off.
He might have a point though if he's talking about publicly subsidized art. The rationale for that seems to be that art is somehow a public good and we're all better off for having artwork around. I don't really buy that, and there are plenty of art forms that do just fine without being subsidized (movies and literature, for example). There's no reason to siphon off public money to pay for art projects that the majority of taxpayers are either not going to see or may even find offensive. So in that regard, I can see what your friend might have been getting at, at least in theory.
In reality though, funding the arts can repay itself not just culturally but financially as well. In the city where I live, the arts contribute between $600 and $800 million to our economy each year and employ tens of thousands of people. I don't know how much of that is publicly subsidized, though.
ozoneocean at 8:39PM, Oct. 25, 2012
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Excellent points from El Cid!
Kyu, even when people were living a subsistence, hand to mouth existence out in the frozen wastelands of Greenland 200 years ago or the baked deserts of the Tanimi desert in Australia or the Kalahari in Africa art was still a solidly important part of people's lives- as any archaeologist or history of those peoples can tell you.
Your friend is wrong in every possible way that he can be.
Those peoples from those regions and times had extremely hard lives and had to put almost all of their daily energy into survival, and yet their jewellery was amazingly carefully crafted, their music was refined, their dances were intricate, their clothing, their carvings and rock art, even their cooking utensils and weapons.
People rave today about the “clever” design of Apple products, it's a child's joke to the effort Australian Aboriginal people put into decorating and crafting their hunting weapons.
The thing is that humans don't live and work like simple machines or farm animals in a pen, culture is inextricably linked to what we are as a species, right down to the very basic level. A person who believes that sort of thing is superfluous to us is the one living in his own little crazy fantasy world.
In some cases, people who believe as he does have actually got genuine psychological issues, or maybe even physical neurological disorders… but that's quite rare.
kawaiidaigakusei at 1:33PM, Oct. 26, 2012
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There is an underlying hilarity in the statement your coworker made. Given that you were probably in an office setting in your workplace, you were surrounded by objects that were created by artists. That chair that he was sitting in; the computer on your desk; the office desk; the stapler; the pen; even that over priced phone he reached into his pocket to check the time. All of these objects were once an idea that a product designer had to conceptualize in the beginning stages through an illustration.

The truck that he brings up as a practical career path was created by an automobile designer. Art is everywhere and it is impossible to avoid. Although it might not find its way into a New York gallery opening, it is still considered a type of art.

I am glad you used your own comic as an example on how it can change one's opinions on the world. I just believe this–there are two ways I can spend my life–walking through a never ending gray hallway with every door that looks identical OR I can add color and art to it and make what we have been given more enjoyable. There is one thing your coworker was right about, artists are like musicians, because they both make life worthwhile.
Hawk at 9:30AM, Nov. 1, 2012
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This discussion makes me think of the movie Equilibrium, where society had changed to a point where things like art and musc were illegal.  I could never really buy the movie as a whole because I didn't think the scenario was at all possible.  It seems to me that humans almost make art out of necessity.  If you take away their oil paints, they'll resort to crayons.  If you take away their crayons, they'll smear poop on the walls.
Abt_Nihil at 5:16AM, Nov. 7, 2012
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A lot of great points have been made here - I basically agree with everyone who's commented. I'd just like to add one thing: Making money and having purpose are completely different things. It just so happens that in our culture, the idea of being economically profitable and being useful are knit together very closely. But assuming that that can be the only viable concept of usefulness is very close-minded, in my opinion.
Previous commenters have pointed out how art actually does generate revenue and also can have non-monetary use. But just to back that up a bit from the other side: It's quite easy to find examples of completely useless stuff which generates a lot of revenue. In fact, I'd argue that only very little actual revenue is generated from productivity. Stock markets today reacted considerably to the news of Obama's re-election, which made a lot of people a lot of money. But there was no actual production of anything involved.
El Cid at 10:44AM, Nov. 7, 2012
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It sounds like you're trying to go back and forth between economics and philosophy there. With regards to the stock thing, you're basically making the same mistake Kyupol's coworker made. If a stock goes up in price, that means investors are willing to pay more for it now, meaning they value it more, meaning they receive more utility value through purchasing it. So, from an economic standpoint, there was an increase in value, at least to those parties concerned with the transaction.
If someone is voluntarily willing to pay for it, then it has value, regardless of whether an uninvolved third party approves of it. You may not see the value in buying shares of a company, just as someone else may not see the value in buying a bunch of colored paste on a canvas. If an artist suddenly becomes more popular, his older works are worth more, even though they haven't physically changed one bit. It's the exact same thing. Whether this serves some higher “purpose” or not sounds like a normative statement, and may be beyond what economics is meant to address.
last edited on Nov. 7, 2012 10:50AM
Abt_Nihil at 3:03PM, Nov. 7, 2012
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joined: 8-7-2007
Of course I believe in values that are external to economics, and I hope you do too! If a work of art has kept someone from committing suicide (kyupol's example), then that constitutes a form of usefulness, no matter whether money is involved or not. I take your argument to mean that under ideal circumstances, the application of economic laws would tell us that there is a monetary value which accurately reflects this usefulness (I am refraining from using the term “utility”, which I take to be a technical term in economics, and would in my context only facilitate misunderstandings).
Now, I'm not sure you'd even argue for the associated stronger claims - that there is NO value that is external to economics, or that monetary value ALWAYS reflect extra-economic usefulness (again, the notion that goes beyond mere utility). I would deny either. It easily follows from either of your claims that art has usefulness, since you're arguing from monetary value plus someone's willingness to voluntarily shell out the money. However, I introduced my argument to emphasize that, even in cases in which art does, for contingent reasons, not contribute to the economy (i.e. does not have a monetary value), it can be useful.
last edited on Nov. 7, 2012 3:09PM
El Cid at 3:24PM, Nov. 7, 2012
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That's actually a good question… There definitely are values that are not monetary, tons of them, but are there values completely removed from economics? Hmm… I'd really have to think on that one…
I think I see what you were getting at though.
ozoneocean at 8:03PM, Nov. 7, 2012
posts: 26,050
joined: 1-2-2004
I'm not up with philosophical or economic theory, so I'm unequal to discuss things on those terms. I do know a lot about art however, so I can tackle that.
If you talk about art strictly in terms of buying art pieces from galleries then there is small difference between that and share values.
There are a LOT of very distinct levels in the art world, I won't go into them all here, but at one level art is nothing but a commodity.
This is high value art, the trend began with historically significant pieces but soon bled into any critically fashionable work. The key factors that drive value are availability (how many works by that artist), how fashionable and popular the artist is, how fashionable the movement or even the style is. There can be other novel factors like age, sexuality, ethnicity, or even species! - art by animals has at times reached high values.
Traditional ideas like aesthetics or emotional response are irrelevant. They have a similar bearing on value as the name of a horse does to the outcome of a race.
scri66leKitty at 2:16PM, Dec. 19, 2012
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joined: 12-20-2007
Personaly think that art is a very big contributer to this economy
I think your friend just has a pretty narrrow view of things
For instance if it weren't for artist and their creative minds then big corperations that control food, clothing, computers etc. would never have grabbed the attention of consumers with their bright and shiny logos or clever advertisments they have graphic designer and art therapist to thank for that.
KimLuster at 1:23PM, Dec. 20, 2012
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Surprised I haven't seen any mention of Plato's thoughts on this matter.  Plato had a low opinion of the Arts (especially poetry).  He of course, is the source of the platonic ideal, a nebulous realm that has perfect ‘forms’.  Our perceived reality is, at best, an imperfect copy of this ideal realm.
And Art is therefore a imperfect copy of an imperfect copy.  What is better?  To be a General and help defend your country, or to be on a stage and pretend to be a General and accomplish nothing of substance.
Personally I think all that's Hogwash.  Without Art, life isn't liveable to me, but it's an interesting premise.
ozoneocean at 6:53PM, Dec. 20, 2012
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The Ancient Greeks had a pretty different view of life generally, but art was absolutely irrevocable inseparable from any other part of their culture, which is the main reason it's carried on so well to this day.
Achievements in the arts were viewed, at least in Athens, as equal to those in battle… while the more militaristic and less art focussed culture of Sparta totally died out - not just because of their Nazi like master race carrying on but because they had no real culture to pass on.
I have to confess though that I only know of Plato's teachings from a very distant perspective, not directly at all. :(
bravo1102 at 2:09AM, Dec. 21, 2012
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Plato extolled the virtue of the Spartan culture such as it was.  He just loved blind dicipline to a state.  Aristotle is the guy to read on Greek appreciation of the arts.  And you know it tells you something that Alexander brought poets, dramatists, musicians, dancers, sculpters and painters on his conquests and whenever he stopped he'd have athletic and artistic competitions.

Art was a part of life and made life more worth living even when you're thousands of miles away from home fighting an enemy no one even knew existed in a land no one knew existed a few years before.  Sounds like Alexander anticipated the USO. Alexander built a theater in Afghanistan to entertain the troops.  The USO is doing that these days.  Some USO shows in WWII were held in the ruins of ancient Greek and Roman ampitheaters. 

Just a little continuity there. 
last edited on Dec. 21, 2012 2:10AM
Corruption at 1:59AM, Jan. 11, 2013
posts: 24
joined: 5-30-2007
Just looking at comics alone I would have to say YES IT DOES HAVE VALUE!

I say yes. In Japan, Manga comics are a major industry. In other countries comics have a lot of economic force just on the part of the companies that make and sell them. Then there are all the shops that sell supplies to comic artists, the tutorials and other things people pay for. Considering all this, I would say that Comics have a solid part to play in the economy.

If you want to decide if something contributes to the economy, you have to look at not just the industry directly, but all the businesses affected by it. It is estimated the comic industry directly in America is worth around a few billion a year. That is not including all the other businesses that benefit from it.

If he has never felt anything from any art, I pity him. He has never enjoyed music, a show on TV that was not a documentary, current affairs, Reality TV or Game show.

Tell him that without the Art industries, the economy would be centered on the basics only, and there would be not much economic movement at all. In most co called civilized countries, we depend on the arts. Without them, most other businesses would fail due to the ripple effect.
We are all corrupt in our own ways

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