On more than one occasion, I have heard persons say that the liberal arts, the fine arts, and the performing arts are either useless or a waste of time.
If we think the liberal arts, the fine arts, and the performing arts are useless, then we likely don’t really care about preparing persons to live as thoughtful and creative members of a free society; we likely don’t care much about fostering critical and creative thinking; and we likely don’t care much about the cultivation of beauty in our world.
If we really think that the liberal arts, the fine arts, and the performing arts are useless, then what kind of world do we want to live in? Do we simply want a world where the only values are quantitative rather than qualitative? Do we want a world where we don’t know our history, doomed to repeat similar mistakes over and over again? Do we want a world devoid of the beauty, challenge, and passion of dance, music, poetry, theatre, art, film, and literature? Do we want a world without the love of wisdom for which philosophy aspires? Do we want a world where participants in the democratic process don’t understand the history of thought concerning the development of the good society? Do we want a world in which we don’t understand the complexities of our own psychology or the relations of our interconnected social systems? Do we want our teachers to have no knowledge or experience with the liberal arts, the fine arts, and performing arts and all of the inspiration these provide for their students? Do we want a world in which persons do not learn how to “know scientifically, understand humanistically, . . . express artistically” and act morally? (see Gary Gutting’s http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/what-is-college-for/?_r=0). If we really think the liberal arts, the fine arts, and the performing arts are useless, then what is our definition of useful?
I guess it is possible to have a world in which we only have economic production and exchange, health care, some basic laws, and the products of engineering and technology, but such a world seems devoid of passion, meaning, and purpose. There might be a lot of information in such a world, but it would be a world of little wisdom, and it would be a world in which our development as persons and human flourishing in general would be greatly diminished. Do we really want a world in which people only buy and make our stuff, create technology, and fix our bodies when they are broken? If the answer is no, then we should never even be tempted to say that the liberal arts, the fine arts, and the performing arts are useless. We would be less than fully human without them.