During my regular surfing about on various forums and blogs, I happened across a comment that summed up to “art is useless”. Now, doing what I do on my free time, and indeed what I’ve done since as far back as I can remember, I took a little offense and was fairly brief in my judgment of this statement, first coming to the conclusion that this person was a “total moron.”
After some further thought, I decided that I was being completely unreasonable and taking it a bit too personally, thus retract my statement to give this some further thought.
So then the question stands. Is art useless? Why would someone consider it so? What is it about art that allows some people to completely dismiss it, as though it’s some sort of vestigial component in human society? I suppose the fact that art has been part of human evolution and the advancement of our societies for many thousands of years is, to some extent, small potatoes. So, would society be no worse off if art disappeared? If there was no Met, or Louvre to visit, no paintings, no art supply stores, no art schools, or even a box of crayons in a stationary store, would the world be as colorful as many of us see it now? I suppose in its absence we would not know the difference, but if one were actually able to compare each reality side by side, I would think it’s pretty obvious which society would be lacking inspiration, and the creativity and ingenuity that we currently enjoy and often utilize. I can’t imagine that our emotions would be nearly as developed, with no broad expression in music, poetry and all forms of fiction throughout all forms of media.
Seems that an argument one might make is the comparison to tools, like maybe a wrench, or a hammer, or a simple wedge like a ramp or cutting tool. These things obviously have timeless functionality in modern technology (at least not until magic is somehow discovered). But when it really comes down to it, is the comparison to these sorts of tools really valid? Sure, I can’t build a house with a painting, I can’t install a fixture with any abstract sculpture, nor can I hammer a nail into a wall with a statue (unless it’s one of those small metal ones and you’re sort of desperate), but then art in general is not intended for this kind of purpose anyway, no more than a chemistry textbook is at all adequate for teaching me how to fish.
The problem I have most with the phrase “art is useless” is that it seems to ignore all of the conceptual work and inspiration that crops up throughout the years and could lead to real innovation. Powered, human flight, for example, began in mythology and on paper, as fantasy apparatuses soared through the air. Even if those machines were physically incapable of achieving flight should they actually be assembled, the influence was there. One might argue that man achieving powered flight is inevitable, since nature itself did provide inspiration through its own assortment of flying fauna, but then, without that same spark of inspiration that brought about the myths of Daedalus and Icarus, and of the webbed wings and spiraling lifting devices as those drawn by Leonardo Da Vinci, would we have moved beyond the convention that man was simply not meant to fly?
The thought occurred to me that perhaps art, in its entirety, is simply the byproduct of our ingenuity; that all of our creative spark births both the practical and impractical at the same time. Even if that were truly the case, the aspects of creative work that one may see as useless, would be a symbiote to practical application.
Art is as useless as every moment one looks up at a field of stars, conjuring up wild ideas about how to reach them.