Chris Carlier

Is Art Necessary?


Years ago, a friend and I had a friendly arguement about the necessity of art.

Our hypothetical situation was something like a post world-war, chaotic, “survival mode” sort of thing, where the majority of people had to struggle to meet basic needs. I had asked my friend if she thought art was necessary or even possible in such a time.

My brain is hardwired to think through sound and music, so of course I knew my own answer would be yes. Given that I knew my friend has an appreciation for the arts, I had assumed she’d affirm my own view, but without a moment of hesitation, she said “no,” asserting that in a time of extreme hardship, art had no value and was totally unnecessary.

Of course, I was gobsmacked! In fact, since I hold music so deeply, I became defensive and even dismissive. While I imagined there would be people who would disagree with me; people who might think the arts were superfluous and lofty, I never expected someone I knew to be arty to shoot down art so easily.

I argued that art is an inescapable part of life. Even if “high art” concepts such as painting a portrait or composing a symphony had to be temporarily abandoned, humans, as a species, required ability to express themselves artistically. Think of storytelling or just humming a mindless melody while working.

She argued that during times of relative peace and comfort, art can easily be admired and appreciated, but since it wasn’t truly necessary for immediate physical survival, they would have to cease at least until life could return to a comfortable enough state to enjoy them.

It’s been years since this conversation, but I think of it often. It may have even partially come to shape why I create things: ‘Is this necessary? Could this thing I’m creating potentially make someone’s life ever so slightly better during a hardship? Can it make it worse?’

What do you think? During the hardest of struggles, is art necessary? Is it even possible?