Why Art Matters

Volunteers painting wall together. Hill Street Studios/Eric Raptosh/Blend Images/Getty Images

It is no secret that, if judged by public funding, the arts are undervalued in the United States.

("Public funding for the arts in the United States is most readily quantified through current and historical funding allocations to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the nation's state arts agencies, and direct expenditures by local governments.") (1)

As a result, arts programs have been scaled back or cut entirely from schools over the past decades, arts organizations and institutions have lost important sources of funding, and yet the cost of doing business for artists and art organizations has continued to rise.

According to a 2014 report by Grantmakers in the Arts on Public Funding for the Arts, although total nominal funding for the arts by federal, state and local governments has increased by 19 percent over the past two decades, this belies the actual truth, which is a much more dismal picture. "In fact, after adjusting for inflation, public funding for the arts has decreased by more than 30 percent in this same period."(2)

Read: Culturally Impoverished: US NEA Spends 1/40th of What Germany Doles Out for Arts Per Capita 

These are the the unfortunate facts. Yet we all know that art is vitally important to the individual and to society.

Here are just some of the many reasons why art matters.

Art increases brain activity and critical thinking skills, making us smarter.

Art brings beauty and joy into our lives.

Art encourages creativity, flexibility, and open-mindedness, showing us that there is more than one way to look at an issue and more than one way to solve a problem. 

Art encourages a problem-solving attitude that can be transferred to other subjects and other areas of life.

Art-making promotes the development of physical skills in early childhood and in rehabilitation from injury.

Art-making fosters self-confidence and self-awareness.

Art helps build community.

Art makes us more compassionate.

Art encourages collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas.

Art helps people access and express their emotions and feelings.

Art helps us heal from trauma.

Art helps promote peace. 

According to Dr. Carol Rank, Senior Lecturer of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies of Coventry University in a 2008 presentation, “The power of the arts to promote peace lies in their emotive nature; the arts can help people feel the pathos and waste of war and help to instill a desire and commitment to end war and work for peace." (3)

Art creates empathy and fosters understanding between people of different backgrounds.

Art allows us to re-imagine and create our future. 

Dr Rank also said, “Art can contribute to social change through the imagery it gives us and the ways it can be used to communicate our deepest feelings and needs. To create a culture of peace, we must first imagine it, and the arts can help us do that, for ourselves and future generations.” (4)

Art is visionary.

Artistic expression is an appropriate, and even necessary, response to the violence that exists in the world. In a time when it is easy and understandable to despair, the visionary work of artists becomes even more important, for artists channel the despair and transform it into hope for the planet, for its creatures, and for humanity, putting forth and sowing positive energy into the world.

Read: Promoting Peace Through Art

Art is universal and everyone can be an artist. It is an attitude and a perspective that defines what makes an artist as much as technical skill. As Robert Henri (1865-1829), renowned American artist and teacher said in the classic book of his thoughts and teachings, The Art Spirit:

"Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book he opens it, shows there are more pages possible."

But it doesn't end there. There are as many reasons for why art matters as there are artists and those who appreciate art. 

In a unique and interactive project, The Conversation of Art, the Bainbridge Museum of Art invites you to add your own responses to six questions they pose about art:

  • Why does art matter to you?
  • What can art teach us?
  • What work of art has moved you?
  • Who is your art here?
  • What's your museum moment?
  • Your thoughts on BIMA?

You can see the collection of written responses and a short video on the website. The effect is inspiring and uplifting, connecting you to creative people from around the world, artists past and present, and the richness of human experience,  showing you why art really does matter.

Read: Art Makes You Smart

More: 8 Reasons Why Art Improves Your Thinking

If you are interested in learning more about advocating for and supporting the arts, Americans for the Arts, which organizes an annual Arts Advocacy day, provides much up-to-date information.

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REFERENCES

1. Stubbs, Ryan. Public Funding for the Arts: 2014 Update, Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 25, No 3 (Fall 2014), Grantmakers in the Arts, Supporting a Creative America, http://www.giarts.org/article/public-funding-arts-2014-update

2. Ibid.

3. Dr. Carol Rank Senior Lecturer, Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies Coventry University. Paper, presented at the 2008 IPRA Conference Art and Peace Commission, Promoting Peace Through the Arts: The Role of Anti-War and Peace Art in Building Cultures of Peace, http://escolapau.uab.cat/img/programas/musica/peace_through_arts.pdf

4. Ibid.