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Week 28 Questions for Know Thyself 2019: Art

You love the arts and want your government to spend more on grants and public art, right? Well, even if you don’t, there are many good reasons for devoting effort and resources to the arts, such as cultural development, social activism and community engagement, and childhood education.  The artists themselves insist that art is good for us as human beings.

But there are plenty of reasons to reject funding the arts, too.  Top of the list: it costs a lot of money, it “does nothing”, and we can’t even agree on what counts as art.  The alternative is to spend money on things that give us utility – we can all agree on what’s useful to society.  In contrast, words probably never said about art: “That’s really useful.”

art critic

This week’s journal topic: Art

Let’s explore the Top 5 reasons to reject art as a concept and as a recipient of funding!

1: Nature does it better. 

The world untouched by human beings is a beautiful place. The number of colours in a sunset can’t be recreated by an artists’ palette. The number of mountaintops from which to view lush valleys might as well be unlimited, because no person will ever run out of new peaks or peeks from peaks.  We can never run out of natural beauty. The world does not need human beings to reinterpret nature, nor can human creation augment the beauty and creativity of Nature.

2: We can’t even define what art is.

It’s unclear what “art” actually means – poll 10 people separately about art and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. Perhaps there’s consensus that a Monet is art, but what about skillful and imaginative political-charged graffiti? Or folk art – useful and beautiful handicrafts – that require skill and imagination to create, but fails to communicate a message.

Furthermore, what counts as art seems to be a matter of taste.  Just like a preference for chocolate over vanilla, taste in art cannot be fruitfully disputed.  You like what you like, and what’s art to me might not be art to you. Art is undefinable because what counts as beautiful, or artistic, or interesting does not rest on any objective measurement.

3: Art doesn’t always require skill.

Sometimes it’s difficult to discern a great abstract piece from a similar piece created by a finger-painting three-year-old.  Nothing boggles the mind like seeing an abstract artwork that cost the taxpayer $50000, but could have been purchase from my nephew Roan for the price of a cookie. Value is created from skill, time, and expertise – art doesn’t necessarily require those in its creation.  Let’s not give arbitrarily high value to paintings that did not require skill to produce.

4: We can’t even agree who art is supposed to serve.

If public art receives big government grants, then we are entitled to see exactly what benefit we’re supposed to get.  But imagine that $50000 is awarded to an artist who then creates an unintelligible pile of toilet seats and grilled cheese sandwiches, places it in a public square, and calls it art.  When the artist is asked to justify the use of the money, he states that the purpose of art is to be emotionally therapeutic to the artist and express his inner emotional state.  The artist doesn’t buy into your belief that a piece of art should deliver value or evoke something in the audience, for the audience’s sake.

5: We can’t agree on what we want art to do.

Should art be good, or should it be popular?   Perhaps some art takes skill to create – let’s call that “good” art – but nobody likes it. Compare an Andy Warhol’s Marilyns with Picasso’s Guernica.


I think Guernica is “good” art, but the general public would be more likely to recognize and appreciate the Marilyns.

Journal Questions:

  1. Do you think you have good taste in art? Why?
  2. Have you every tried to create art? What were your tools and materials, and did you have a process or message or feeling to communicate?  How did it feel as an artist, and were you thinking about the audience or just yourself?
  3. In your opinion, does art need to be beautiful (in some way)? Why or why not?
  4. What’s more pleasing to you: traditional artworks in a gallery or impactful graffiti?
  5. Do you think visual art should represent real world objects? Another way of asking this: do you think abstract art is real art?
  6. What do you think of spending public money on art, assuming there are still homeless people and schools that need more funding? How would you justify spending public dollars on art?
  7. What’s the purpose of “art” for you? Is it to create something beautiful, visually interesting, create a sublime feeling, or deliver a message?

How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:

Don’t rush through the questions. Do one question every day, leaving space to add thoughts later as you learn and evolve. The journal is designed to help you develop a consistent, daily practice of self-reflection.

If you liked this week’s topic, please help me by sharing, liking, or commenting!  I love to hear your ideas about the topics and what you enjoy reading about.  (And a little “Like” goes a long way for my spirit!)  Remember to subscribe with an email address so you don’t miss out on future posts! Thanks for reading! 

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