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Essay: Is Art a Waste of Time? Exploring the Views of Effective Altruists

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 989 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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In upcoming screenwriter Rhys Southan’s essay “Is Art a Waste of Time?” many different philosophical opinions came to light. Southan held conversations with Effective Altruism (EA) members and learned their viewpoint on what careers include helping others. Effective Altruism is a rising activism movement that is known to put others before themselves, but to what extent? The belief of an Effective Altruist is that art is a useless tool. Although many people, like Effective Altruist’s, perceive art differently, I believe that art is a major ongoing factor in society.

To learn how to do as much good as a human possibly can, Rhys Southan spoke with a number of Effective Altruists. Southan asked these so he thought well-rounded individuals their views on the arts’ impact on the world (Southan 435). To my surprise, they responded in such ways that makes me believe Effective Altruists think of artists as unethical and a waste. I found Hilton’s response to Southan’s question irrational, “The idea that someone’s book, film, painting, or dance could be their way to reduce the world’s suffering struck Hilton as bizarre, almost to the point of incoherence.” (Southan 435). This response exposed me to the reality that Effective Altruists are not in this business for the satisfaction of doing something good.

Effective Altruists use their occupation as an excuse to portray their unequivocal views.

The author finally unearthed what being an Effective Altruist is all about:

As usual, creative types are ignored if their ideas aren’t lucrative or if they don’t support a

favored ideology. Crass materialism and ethical anti-materialism now seem to share

identical means: earning money or rephrasing the ideas of others. But there are plenty of

people drawn to the media and the arts who care about making the world better. For them

to accept the EA position will often require that they give up what they love to do most.

What do EAs say to that? For the most part, they say “tough.” (Southan 438).

When looking to hire, Effective Altruists mainly consider people with a background of philosophy and mathematics (437). An Effective Altruist with a passion for the arts is unfathomable. To them, having a career in painting, writing, and performing is seen as unethical because they are only doing it for themselves.

Effective Altruists think that ethical careers only include careers that individually help people. Having an ethical career is the society’s norm. A man named Robert Wiblin once stated: “Effective Altruism would sometimes say that the thing you most enjoy isn’t the most moral thing to do.” (438). Michael Bitton, a former filmmaker, took his input to heart and became apart of the Effective Altruism movement. In my opinion, most (if not all) careers are ethical and can be used as a tool to so many. Effective Altruism is a very black and white business, making no room for color and originality. They are not open to any other ideas outside of their beliefs. It is their way or the highway.

Art is beneficial to society in many ways. It is a way to educate others, send a message, produce creativity, and make a difference in the world. The foundation of all art is exposure. The way people perceive art depends on the viewer’s impression. Some may get a negative impact by viewing art and some may be skeptical of it.“How can art benefit someone’s life?” or “Why have an occupation in the art business when you can save lives?” are all relative questions when it comes to art. The reality of art is that it is the basic principal for all things in life. Everybody in this world has been influenced, impacted, and touched by the arts. It is an effective support system and communicative tool. Our emotions, moods, energies, and encouragements are all impacted by the art that surrounds us. As director Steven Soderbergh once said, “I think this world would be unlivable without art.” (435).

Art, the foundation of technique, imagination, and critical-thinking, can bring endless emotions and thoughts to someones life such as tranquility, appreciation, and darkness. For example, educational posters in classrooms and offices can bring a motivational energy to the room and can bring ease to the viewer. Public art installations causes someone to think beyond what is right in front of them. Personally, I am a big fan of public art installations. Just a few months ago, I transformed the dance studio at my school into a creative and calming space by painting repetitive patterns on the walls. This art is used to inspire and teach the dancers to focus and express. Art also has the power to spread an important message. Each work of art has its own meaning behind it and is up to the observer to interpret. With its intriguing symbols, art finds its way to communicate with the world.

The aesthetically pleasing and uniqueness of art can spew out creativity in the human mind. It is a way to engage others with thoughts and expressions that they won’t generally feel. Art is a way, not only to deliver stress-relief, but to impact the development of the brain. This is why art is so essential in the early stages of our lives. Art is even a way to touch on real-world problems such as poverty, discrimination, and addiction. With the strong message an art piece can express, it can encourage people to engage and take action on important topics.

To me, art is so important. Although some people comprehend art in different ways, I truly think that it is crucial in society. It is a form of expression, both personally and collective. I believe that Effective Altruists should learn to think outside of the box with a more colorful stance. Thinking this way can open up so many more opportunities in life. With the right intentions, art can guide society to excellence.

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