Are the Arts “Non-Essential”?

“Human artistic expression is blessedly, refreshingly non-essential.” Elizabeth Gilbert

When a woman who lives off the profits of her creative pursuits says that her work is non-essential, and in many ways “useless,” it stops you dead in your tracks. Creating has always been an intrinsic part of human nature, because we are at our core curious beings. We want to test things with our hands, see what it can make. This could be a sculpture, a science experiment, or a new song. And it’s kind of wonderful to know that something new lies at the tips of your fingers. You just have to wait for inspiration to strike. Therefore, it was disheartening, but a valuable reality check to hear Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on this.

She’s not cynical about her profession, just realistic. In the process of writing this article I’m very much aware that I’m not going to find a cure for cancer, or feed a starving child. In fact creativity is selfish and indulgent. I’m not speaking up within a totalitarian regime, there are literally zero consequences for my words. In fact, it’s my god given right to be able to say what I want.

“If music needed saving, I would die for it.” Tinie Tempah

You would have a hard time proving that another role was less important than mine – a cleaner, an engineer, a lawyer, a political lobbyist, a teacher, a fisherman & a hooker are all above me on the professional pecking order. Each of them play a role in the fabric of society. But creativity? No. Creativity is like that sneaky piece of chocolate after dinner. You don’t need it, but it will certainly brighten up your day. Art isn’t worth dying over. If you fuck up, nobody is going to take you out the back and shoot you. The stakes just aren’t that high.

However no one can deny the binding contract between health, art and healing. It’s exquisitely freeing, and a source of happiness and catharsis.  There are also an assortment of other odd connections between the two. One study revealed that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who listen to 20 minutes of their favourite music daily found a significant reduction in their perception of pain.

Therefore, art in my eyes is in no way non-essential. But in the scheme of things, yes it matters less. Creative endeavours aren’t connected to our pursuit of survival, in fact it’s the opposite of everything in this world that is fundamental and inescapable. Taxes, water, food, shelter – we need these things. Creativity however is a gift, and a luxury. It’s literally a bonus from the universe.


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