It was Pablo Picasso, an 18th-century Spanish artist that said that the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. I find no better definition. The arts have been part of life as long as man has existed. Even before formulas and pythagorases and laws of gravity. Essentially, humanity is art – one big artistic expression. To ask whether society should support artists and other creative endeavors is to beg the question.
The benefits of the arts are enormous, and the failure of society to validate persons venturing into the arts and other creative works is saddening and only reveals the recurring ignorance that has crippled many societies. Briefly, I will discuss why societies, organizations and even governments should support artists and others pursuing creative works.
First, arts and other creative pursuits bring a common denomination to life, thus wherever art is, everybody can relate and join the conversation, from people working in STEM fields to those working low-level government jobs. To this end, art has been used as a means of peace-building in many societies in the past. It can also be used to increase civic participation.
Closely following that is the fact that art is therapeutic. This advantage cannot be over-emphasized as art and other creative works have been used for so many years as means of therapy for those suffering from mental illnesses, recovering addicts, patients with terminal illnesses, internally displaced persons and those suffering from depression. An example of this is the Ivuka Arts Project in Kigali, Rwanda used as a social therapy for victims of genocide. Also, last year, The founder of Tender Arts collaborated with Sickle Cell Foundation to use art as a therapy for victims of sickle cell in Nigeria. Instances abound of art and creative pursuits curing various mental conditions like schizophrenia. According to Nicholas Mazza, a professor of social work at the Florida State University, ‘The arts therapies provide a complement to traditional ‘talk therapies’ because they can address the full range of human experience—cognitive, behavioral, and affective domains.’
Perhaps one of the biggest arguments for the arts and other creative forms is that it promotes culture and tourism. The US Department of Commerce reports that a large percent of influx into the US is as a result of tourist attractions including theaters. These are an offshoot of art. The role of art in promoting culture is also enormous. The artist is fundamental to preserving the cultural heritage and national life of any society. It is the arts that seal in concrete through songs, weaving, dance, drama, poetry, painting, sculptures and other art forms, the culture of any people. In fact, I daresay that culture cannot exist without art. This is why the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recently begun promoting the idea of the “creative industries” as a mode of development; in other words actively encouraging the stimulation of such activities as music, film, crafts, and so on, as important economic activities in their own right in order to promote culture in communities
The Art contributes greatly to a nation’s commerce. When we speak of films and novels and music labels and dance professionals, symphonies, theaters and museums, we talk about the arts and its commercial value. The U.S exports of arts goods grew to 72 billion dollars in 2011. Also, a 2014 analysis of Dun and Bradstreet data counts 750, 453 businesses in the U.S that are involved in the creation and distribution of arts. These businesses, apart from bringing in income for themselves, boost the country’s Gross Domestic Product and provide employment for millions of people.
Art is also a great driver of social works and campaigns. Till date, campaign and advocacy messages have not been passed across in a better way than through films. Campaigns against violence, bullying, female genital mutilation, and for environmental protection, human rights, and education have been powered through artistic posters, songs designed for the purpose, special graphic designs and films. Thus, art not only helps for commercial good but also for social good.
Research has also shown that art and other creative endeavors lead to increased levels of creativity and innovation. A study has also shown that students who involve in the arts have better grade point averages, lower dropout rate and generally score better in standardized tests. This is a good thing, considering innovation is what is required in many organizations today, people who can seek new ways and improvements and not just those who can follow directions.
Finally – and I saved this for last because it is the foundational part of society’s encouragement of the art and other creative endeavors – children benefit a lot from the arts. It helps them grow their physical, emotional, imaginative, cognitive and experimentational development skills. It also helps them build visual-spatial and motor skills. This is why rhymes, cartoons, songs, paintings and drawings, colorful fiction books and diverse art forms are employed in the early phase of children. Research in education has shown that it better prepares them for the world by equipping them with the necessary skills and giving them sharp IQ’s. A quote I read by Picasso recently saddens my heart. It says ‘Every child is an artist, the problem is to remain an artist once he grows up’. And this is because our society, with all the obvious benefits of arts that are seen, discourages children from venturing into arts and creative fields.
This is a reminder to the society, to government, to parents, of what the arts mean to us, of how human existence is founded on the arts, of how it is the water that constantly washes us of life’s dust, of how after all the hustle and bustle of the day, if we don’t support the arts and artists, what then would we do in the evenings?
Caleb Adebayo, a participant of AskPetersen Scholarship.