Why We Need the Arts

Art has been central to human expression since time immemorial. We have come a long way from the cave paintings of our earliest ancestors to stop motion animation. But connecting all modes of artistic expression is the representation of the human, his thoughts, feelings, and aspirations. The power of art has only become stronger with time and remains as spectacular as ever. Even when we have progressed far ahead in science and technology, art has never been and never will be something that is non-essential. While everything else is poised towards our pursuit of knowledge, the arts itself is a way of knowing and representing the seeker himself.

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, with almost the entire global having to shut-down and face an unprecedented crisis, humanity is desperate for hope. This pandemic has not only led to a health crisis but a global economic and political crisis as well. While we battle against the odds as best as we can with all the knowledge and expertise that we have accumulated over the years, we have also come to see the importance of things that make us hopeful and optimistic.

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The arts have proved their value yet again in this situation by offering us the respite we need from the daily inflow of depressing news and uncertainty of the future. In the months of lockdown, music and cinema have been constant companions to many. With the cinema closed and live music becoming temporarily non-existent, it is a blessing that we can still access the arts through technology. Art often allows us to distract ourselves for a little while and thus maintain a balance, not getting fully sucked into any kind of despair. From stand-up comedians to big-screen movies, from mural art to simple tunes, the arts have helped us get through many a day and have reminded us who we are. It lets us remember better days and also leaves space for hope. It allows us to imagine and expands our perspectives on life. Art has been proven to concretely influence our physical health and well-being. Art also provides a platform from which we can interact with other cultures and other styles of expression. It is also a tool for political awareness and self-assertion as well as the creation of identities. It adds meaning, curates safe spaces, and tells our story.

While we praise the arts often in public, one has to wonder whether we had placed it as being lesser useful than the sciences. In many households in India, children are actively told to pursue science or professional courses which will land them a steady income and security in life. This is because an industrially-driven culture that focuses only on profit places a lesser value on endeavors that might not seem to have any specific tangible profit. This has led to artists struggling to make a living and many being forced to leave their passions to pursue other ‘safer’ options to survive. Artists are regularly underpaid and underappreciated. This has also led to many small-town and emerging artists struggling to make a living during this lockdown. This pandemic ought to make us see this practice that has been so ingrained in our society and move us to re-instate the arts as equal, if not more valuable, than all other pursuits. This needs to be a systemic change and has to be prioritized, keeping in mind how much art has enriched our lives. We need to understand how it is intrinsic to our humanity and that at the end of the day, we need more than just medicine for the body but also healing for the soul, a way to process our emotions, and a reminder of our shared humanity.