Art & Culture in the Real World
The Practical Importance of Art & Culture
Free thoughts by Indrajeet Yadav, Editorial direction Julien Vandanjon, Assistance Mariana Turiel.
If a picture speaks a thousand words, how much does a stunning piece of art do? A million perhaps, or more! That, in a nutshell, is art – appealing to the intuitive, emotional creature inside us. More than that, art is where culture crystallizes and assumes physical form. And its mega bandwidth makes it an inseparable part of society, health, education, and, of course, economy. Not for nothing is art so highly prized. In terms of value though, art is priceless. Oscar Wilde will agree!
Art: The Great Leveller!
Back in a 2014 speech, then U.S. President Barack Obama contended that folks can make much more and quicker by learning skilled manufacturing skills than pursuing a degree in art history. Balanced as he is, the president swiftly added how he loves art history and that his point concerns skill development even without a four-year college degree.
Good intentions notwithstanding, the comments did not go down well with the art history community. Art History Professor Ann Collins Johns at Texas University, Austin shot an email explaining the relevance of art history in building the skills of critical thinking, reading, and writing. Imagine her pleasant surprise when the president responded with a handwritten apology and asked her to spread the word of his regret. Now, Barack Obama belongs to a modest genre of politicians. But that doesn’t take away the “critical” importance of art (history). Even the most powerful man of the day had to take note!
Remember the first time you witnessed the Sydney Opera House in its full majesty? Or were transfixed by the rhythm of Beethoven’s melodies? Or glanced at Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise?
Have you noted how you lose track of time and get transported to a blissfully different world when reading an engaging book? Or when enjoying a gripping movie, play, opera, or orchestra?
Were you enthralled? Bedazzled? Mesmerized? Captivated? Enchanted?
A thing of beauty truly is a joy forever!
One look at St. Peter’s Square, especially the Basilica dome, will inspire an awe that lasts beyond a lifetime. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa never fails to hypnotize, and his The Last Supper is fascinating.
Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement leaves us spellbound, painted as it is to superhuman perfection, and proportions, on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.
The Arts Council of England nails this in its 2011 report The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society – without arts, we won’t have the elements that add fun to life.
But the role of culture as depicted by various forms of art – literature, sculptures, paintings, architecture, music, songs and the like is not limited to the fun factor as the report goes on to elaborate, for these cultural facets are absolutely necessary for education and society to thrive.
Museums, theatres, libraries, galleries, and cultural festivals are not just showpieces. They have a pragmatic value, which, although not immediately obvious, is a strategic national resource as the Art Council of England’s report aptly describes.
An Interdisciplinary approach to Art
This is what happens when art meets science-technology, society, education, and economy:
- Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential artist-scientist who utilised his brilliantly artistic sensory perception and depiction to understand science and postulate science-based solutions far ahead of his time.
For example, he noted the difference between arteries and veins, going on to precisely sketch the human circulation mechanism.
Birds flap their wings at different speeds for flying up and down. Da Vinci saw this and conceptualized a flying machine more than 400 years before the Wright Brothers got the airplane right.
- Music helped the genius Albert Einstein obtain insights that culminated in him developing the Relativity Theory.
- Efficacy of the art-science linkage is not an isolated case by any means:
- COLLIDE is CERN’s idea exchange program between scientists and artists. CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
- Robbert Dijkgraff guides his students towards art when faced with apparently unsolvable challenges. Dijkgraff is the Princeton-based Institute of Advanced Study’s director.
- Greater and more regular association with arts and culture typically delivers better subjective wellbeing.
- Bell Laboratories put together a team consisting of computer scientist Kenneth Knowlton, electrical engineer Dr. A Michael Noll, and artists such as Lillian Schwartz and Stan Vanderbeek. The group went on to pioneer computer animation with applications in video games and visual special effects.
- Depression, dementia, and Parkinson’s patients reported positive effects of applied culture and art mediations.
- Musical studies help doctors improve the correct identification of sounds from the hearts, stomachs, and lungs of patients.
- Similarly, young people and students develop superior cognitive abilities by participating in structured culture and arts.
- Back in the 1980s, electrical engineer Karl Brandenburg was looking to complete a Ph.D and psychoacoustics expert Dieter Sietzer was looking for a student who would take to completion his pet project of compression of audio files for easier transmission. Psychoacoustics is how humans interpret sound. The mp3 format was born out of this partnership..
- Arts Council of England’s report found that getting involved in art and culture inspires:
- Communities to unite by minimizing insecurity and social exclusion.
- High school students to vote (on reaching voting age) and volunteer. Art participants in high school have a 20% more voting probability than the non participants.
- Leadership qualities.
- More employability and job retention among students.
- Dermatologists can better identify and describe skin lesions after a study of paintings in museums.
- In education, attending:
- Structured music events boost early language learning, maths understanding, and early literacy.
- Library and drama advances literacy.
- Sculptor Kenneth Snelson executed futurist architect Buckminster Fuller’s concept of tensegrity to come up with massive and ornate public sculptors. This involves synergizing aluminium bars and steel cables to create structures that are stronger and more rigid than conventional structures of the same size.
- At the risk of sounding like Oscar Wilde’s cynic, one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, we have to mention the economic dimension.
An Economic Growth trigger…
A broad view of this linkage would be the recreational effect of participation in art-culture. Recreation hikes productivity. And productivity is among the major driver of genuine economic growth over the long term.
- Specifically, art and culture stimulate local economies because they:
- Develop skills and talent.
- Generate employment.
- Attract tourists and visitors.
- Draw in and retain enterprises that resurrect places.
- Associate Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, Bridget Alsdorf’s Self and Society in 19th-Century French Painting course examines French paintings for surge in modern individualism. The theme and its implications are relevant today in the context of people posting their edited images on social media.
- When introduced in primary schools, comparative evaluation of art in various traditions inspires students to take note of the distinct elements in diverse cultures, fine tune their awareness of art and culture, extend their knowledge, and boost their critical and analytical thinking – the recipe for intellectual and social advancement is complete!
Art & Culture: Laying Impregnable Civilizational Foundations
Maybe because art and culture help us understand and communicate with people via images, stories, and sounds across the barriers of language and lifestyles. Or because they open our minds to a whole world of possibilities and make us more considerate by appealing to the innate being inside us. Maybe because they trigger creativity . . .
All said and done, artistic and cultural involvement imbibes values – the very fundamental of healthy civilizations.
With art and culture being such invaluable assets for the human race, no effort and, certainly, price is too great for pursuing the noble objective of conservation of art forms – digitalization of culture being one such endeavour.