According to wikipedia, art is an outlet for human expression, a vessel for our creativity. A very attractive definition indeed. But what value does art provide? Why do we care about outlets for human expression? How does it apply to our day to day lives?
Way back when, in my college days, I was deeply puzzled about the usefulness of any study that doesn’t yield immediate measurable value. Let’s say you studied medicine, shortly after you graduate you are treating patients, helping people get better, making families happier while making money in the process. How about engineering? You finish school today, tomorrow you are designing cities , building robots , crafting useful software , taking over the world one achievement at a time while yet again making money in the process.
But let’s say you studied arts and can write poetry, now what? How am I gonna use your poetry in my day to day life? It’s not a bridge, not a car or a medicine. I grew up with this thinking because where I grew up, only people who do medicine or engineering can find jobs and start families. Otherwise, your only other option is a rich family with connections. At this point, I knew I enjoy forms of arts more than others like music and fiction books, but I was still unclear about how are arts useful at all?
For me, it seemed that the “enjoyment” factor is all what there is for arts. I enjoy a song or a book and then I go on with my life. But the more time I invested into thinking about the usefulness of arts in general, the more I realized that art is so much more than means for enjoyment. When you read a tragic novel , watch movie that you know will end badly , or listen to a depressing but beautiful piece of music, do you actually enjoy it while you consume it? it makes you sad, doesn’t it? typically enjoyment is associated with happy feelings, so what is it then that makes you flip the pages of a tragic novel, reading it till the back cover without throwing out the sad book?
Art touches us at a much deeper level than mere joyful feelings. It reaches a very sophisticated part of the brain that is exclusive to humans. It evokes different feelings deep within ourselves; happiness, sadness , joy , awe , anger. It can influence people and nations. Over the years, it creates the cultures that we live in. Good art gives our lives colors and shapes and sounds. When it makes us happier, we get more productive at the task at hand. When it makes us sad,we relate more to other people leading more difficult lives. It makes us think better, live better, face life from a deeper and richer perspective. Science fiction art is what brought the passion towards scientific discoveries which led us to spaceships and the digital era. We don’t have to like all forms of arts out there, some people appreciate music more than poetry, others can’t live without good poetry. The undeniable fact is that there is a piece of art out there for every single one of us that can touch us and touch deeply at that.
Art is an extremely powerful and effective human companion because it can evoke feelings from entire nations. Anything so powerful is destined to be a double edged sword. It can plant seeds of ideas that last for millennia and spread to no end. Throughout the ages, tyrants endlessly tried to suppress any form of art that doesn’t shed a positive light on them or what they represent. The risk is just too great to ignore the mighty effect of art. Art could be used to move people from one direction to another. It can be used to make groups of people like a person or hate a person. It can be used to drive societies to go to war or to support peace. It can either make communities highly aware and critically intelligent, or shallow and dim.
Without art or the ability to appreciate art, we simply lose our humanity.