On one of my most beloved advice shows, viewer Renee writes in complaining that her work lacks deeper meaning. After working in healthcare for several years, she worries her work as an artist won’t make the same kind of real-world impact. “I’m a little bogged down with the realization that my purely aesthetic work won’t have life-saving or life-altering value,” she confesses.
Who hasn’t had this concern? Whether we’re painting at the canvas or writing at the page, haven’t we all wondered: “does this even matter?” or “who cares?” What’s the point of staging a 3 act play or writing a novel or directing a short film? What difference am I really making by sketching a drawing or writing film criticism? Compared to teaching or dedicating ourselves to some noble cause like alleviating poverty or feeding the homeless, creative work can feel like it has less of an effect on the real world. I mean what impact are we really making by sharing a story or playing a song?
If you’re an artist who’s tormented by this existential “what’s the point,” let the list below act as a lovely reminder that your profession does, in fact, matter.
Why Art Matters
1. art sparks meaningful conversation
Novels, journalism, painting, art: all spark conversation about issues that matter. Don’t think your art can have a significant impact on the real world? Think about Harriet Beecher Stowe. By penning Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe was able to draw national attention to the monstrous evil of slavery like never before. So far-reaching was her impact that when she had the honor of meeting President Lincoln, he famously said, “So you’re the little lady who started this great war.” Lesson? Never underestimate the power of your art to change the world.
2. art brings joy
Master of witticisms Oscar Wilde once said, “All art is quite useless.” Though this claim seems to contradict my assertion that art matters, it absolutely doesn’t. Art is useless only in the sense that its central purpose isn’t utility or profit. But it does have an aim: joy. A song, a story, a poem: none are practical in the sense that they achieve some end but all contribute to the world by offering the possibility for rapture. Certainly in your life, there’s been a beloved sitcom that’s taught you to be more light-hearted or a book that’s provided solace in difficult times. Maybe a line of poetry showed you beauty resides in simplicity. Or a catchy top 40 song just provided a momentary distraction from a rough day. Even if what you create isn’t “useful” in the traditional sense of the word, it still matters. Art might not build bridges or solve world hunger, but a podcast or blog, a book or TV show, can bring much needed joy to those it encounters.
3. art makes us feel
The most beautiful thing about art is it possesses the power to move; hence, Victor Hugo observed, its civilizing power. A great novel (or film or painting) can foster sympathy, stir us to action, incite us to anger. It can reacquaint us with beauty or simply remind us to marvel and wonder. The ability to truly feel beyond the instinctive drives for food and shelter is what separates us from brutes. When you create, you reconnect yourself and others with this vital sense of humanity. I can think of no worthier endeavor.