Art has little place in society, much less in our school. In examining the detrimental effects of art, it is first important to define what constitutes art. Broadly, any form of creativity can be considered art. However, such a nebulous definition can lead to false or inaccurate categorizations. Can graffiti, cooking, and web design really be grouped with painting, sculpture, and music? In order to achieve a more precise definition, “art” in its purist form must be distinguished from music, performance, and literature, and the focus of this article will be upon visual arts. Art is not particularly harmful as a simple expression of creative thought; however, many artists often ascribe meaning to their work, ostensibly to endow it with purpose beyond simply looking pretty. By tying their work to greater concepts and social movements, artists hope to lend gravitas to their creations and persuade themselves and their audience of the wider social implications of their work. In this way, artists work under the impression that their work has the capacity to change and influence society, and thus attempt to use their work to transmit messages which further movements which they back. However, in doing so, artists only hurt the very movements and messages they hope to advance with their work.
Art is problematic because it encourages people to uselessly express ideas through meaningless creative pursuits rather than taking action. In creating art meant to convey a message, artists distract themselves from actions which will precipitate into real change. It’s important to recall that when one action is taken, it is at the cost of the individual’s ability to engage in a different action. With a finite amount of time and energy, individuals must devote themselves to the most effective action possible to achieve their goal. Consider, for example, a world in which Martin Luther King Jr. painted instead of marched, or a world in which Gandhi became an actor, and opted not to practice civil disobedience. Though both forms of creative expression may carry similar societal messages, the advancement of artistic pieces undoubtedly is less effective at galvanizing support and change than tangible actions. Watching on national television as state troopers brutally attacked civil rights marchers bolstered white support and gave legitimacy to the fight against long-neglected racial injustice. These actions allowed the civil rights movement to take hold of the national dialogue and mobilize tangible reform. Landmark legislation including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed due to the political capital gained from these protests. Ultimately, the opportunity cost of expending effort to create artistic pieces meant to convey a message is never worth the trade-off with the ability to take tangible action.
By encouraging the study and practice of art, PHS falls for the art trap by perpetuating the notion that artistic expression is a useful mechanism for transmitting consequential social messages. Ultimately, artistic expression only distracts from action, the impetus of real social change, by precluding the artist from having a tangible impact and trivializing its own message through commodification. If you want to make a difference don’t draw a picture; take action.