How important are the arts?
Plato famously said about music that it is “a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything.”
Are the arts a necessity? Some, like Chris Ashworth, argue not.
The arts are not necessary.
Yeah, I went there: Not necessary. Water? Necessary. Food? Necessary. Medical care when we’re sick? Necessary. Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck? Not necessary. Awesome play, but not necessary.
At least, not necessary in a way that anyone has ever been able to make clear. Even when really smart people try really hard, the most they can say is that the arts might provide some instrumental benefits sorta kinda like other things that probably do the job better, but we’re not really sure.
Most of my life I’ve wanted the arts to be necessary. I had it in my little American heart that, since all necessary things are also worthwhile, all worthwhile things must also be necessary. That’s a big mistake. For deeply worthwhile human activity (like the arts), it obligates one to build arguments that may not be true, in order to prove the connection back to “necessary”. At the very least, it puts you in the unforgiving position of pitting the necessity of the arts against the necessity of, say, roads.
You can read the rest of his article here
One of the challenges of cultural sustainability or cultural preservation or cultural conservation is that while we are used to thinking in those terms with the cultures of indigenous populations, or displaced populations, or other people-not-like-us , it is entirely another matter to think about our institutions of the majority culture in those terms. Of course we need to somehow save the wonderful folkloric singing of the native island people of such and such? Maybe in a heritage museum, or a theme park. But not as a living, breathing, capital intensive, hand-wringing, ever school child must experience it kind of thing.
So how important is art? Here’s an YouTube video about a family who decided to test the premise.
You can read more about this concept at