roadly speaking, humanity’s greatest achievements can be lumped into spheres (art, science, philosophy...) While no one disputes that art is one of the main fields of human achievement, it is often given a backseat. Throughout my school life I took art classes, however they were always viewed as an addition to the ‘real’ subjects, at the bottom of the academic hierarchy. This is of course unsurprising – clearly learning maths and science is more useful than learning to paint – but do we tend to undervalue the importance of art?
We are taught from an early age that art is indispensable. We learn about literature, music, poetry and paintings. But as we progress through our academic careers, the idea that we should aim to become one of these artistic practitioners – or at least the notion that being an artist can put bread on the table – becomes increasingly remote, a daydream abandoned along with our finger paintings and astronaut aspirations.
Our educations are, sadly, chiefly to prepare us for a life of work. This is inevitable in the capitalist world we live in, but there sometimes seems to be a tension between capitalism and the arts. While great works of art endure through the ages and are cited as the pinnacle of mankind’s achievement, society is by no means tailored with this in mind. If aliens visited Earth to study humans, they would no doubt come to the conclusion that our primary purpose is to maximise the profits of the corporations we appear to worship, even if it means destroying our environment and abandoning our morality in the process.
Yet art is still produced, even if it seemingly appears not to be our primary aim. The Pop Art movement that emerged in the mid-1950s pokes fun at the disparity between art and capitalism. Art depicting advertisements, logos and soup cans aimed to blur the line between art and mass culture. Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein transformed products, posters and comic strips – things previously regarded as mere commodities – into important works of art. The Pop Art movement seems to underline how creativity became segregated from the rest of our endeavours – long gone are the days where artists were regarded as another group of skilled craftspeople. It now almost appears that producing real art is the exclusive vocation of the eccentric.
Today it seems Pop Art’s form of parody is unnecessary. ‘Creativity’ has become a marketing buzzword, advertisers are being branded ‘creatives’, while companies like Apple exhibit their hottest gadgets like artists dropping the veil on their latest masterpiece – it seems we now view shiny consumer products with the same reverence as works of art. However, it is worth noting that capitalism is also beneficial for art. The vast majority of art I see or hear only reaches me because it profits someone else to do so. Patently we cannot all be artists, but it seems sad that this vocation is by its very nature reserved for the few. No one wants less art to be produced, but our profit-driven world is doing little to encourage its natural development.
One has to ask, when humanity is buried under the dust of eons, what will we be remembered for?