So here is a bit of heresy for the New Year. A recent post by Clayton Lord on his blog New Beans, This Is Your Brain on Art (sizzle, sizzle), reminded me of my first exposure to the Rand Corporation’s 2005 Gifts of the Muse study. A distinction was made there between instrumental and intrinsic benefits of the arts. I remember feeling a bit uncertain about its reasoning at the time. I’ve remained so. Its central premise is that there are two kinds of benefits provided by the arts, intrinsic and instrumental. The latter have (and had) been highly touted as rationale for support for the arts, both public and private. The study claimed, rightly, that the instrumental benefits had been over-hyped at the expense of valuing the arts’ intrinsic benefits. So far, so good, especially when one evaluates the two categories. (The following is excerpted from the Research Brief linked above.)
Instrumental benefits were identified as:
- economic (employment, tax revenues, spending; attraction of high-quality workforce)
- cognitive (academic performance; basic skills, such as reading and math skills; learning process)
- behavioral and attitudinal (attitudes toward school; self-discipline, self-efficacy; pro-social behavior among at-risk youth)
- health (mental and physical health among elderly–especially Alzheimer’s patients; reduced anxiety in face of surgery, childbirth)
- social (social interaction, community identity; social capital; community capacity for collective action)
Intrinsic benefits were in three categories:
- immediate benefits, such as pleasure and captivation
- growth in individual capacities–enhanced empathy for other people and cultures, powers of observation, and understanding of the world;
- benefits that accrue largely to the public–the social bonds created among individuals and the expression of common values and community identity.
Where I had and have a question is what the fundamental difference is between the two categories? In each, the arts do things. They enhance or improve lives. They also overlap. For instance, how are “behavioral and attitudinal changes” different from those listed as examples of “growth in individual capacities” or “social” from “benefits that accrue largely to the public”? Certainly, the economic and cognitive categories of instrumental benefits are outliers. They are the (relatively) new kids on the block for arts advocates and, particularly with economic benefits, were arguably the least unique to the arts. (How does the economic impact of the arts differ from–how is it better than–the economic impact of professional sports?)
But my point here is not a critique of the Rand report. It is simply a way in to the title of this post. What do we mean when we talk about “art for art’s sake”? I harbor a suspicion that some of the enthusiasm for the Rand report was rooted in the arts community’s preference for viewing the arts as transcendent experience. I do not differ. What concerns me is the fact that we can forget that the arts provide transcendent human experience. In other words, the value of the arts is in the impact it has upon people. As I sometimes say, if art took place unobserved in the woods, would it still be art? (We will now let the aestheticians hold forth.)
I worry that “art for art’s sake” sometimes leads us to believe that it is the art that is important, less than the impact the art has on people. It is the capacity for impact that led me to a career in the arts and it is a big piece of my commitment to engagement. As a result, I am uncomfortable with the “art for art’s sake” argument. Give me “art for people’s sake” any day. That is, in essence, what I see both instrumental and intrinsic benefits as supporting.
My friends at Animating Democracy have asked me to share an internship opportunity with you. The information is given below. If this sounds interesting to you or might be to someone you know, I encourage you to consider it.
Internships in Arts for Social Change with Animating Democracy
Are you passionate about arts-based civic engagement? Would you like to explore how the arts are activated for social change? Then consider interning with Animating Democracy!
As a program of Americans for the Arts, Animating Democracy brings national visibility to arts for change work. By demonstrating the public value of creative work that contributes to social change and fostering synergy across arts and other fields and sectors, we work to make the arts an integral and effective part of solutions to the challenges of communities and toward ensuring a healthy democracy.
Animating Democracy is seeking motivated individuals to work on an array of projects related to our IMPACT and Arts & Social Change Mapping Initiatives. Through research, communications, and outreach focused on driving database development, resource cultivation, and program promotion, interns will expand their knowledge of the field while contributing ideas and content that supports the Animating Democracy mission.
Positions are available immediately for winter/spring as well as summer and fall 2012 for qualified individuals. Most do not require working in the Americans for the Arts office and can be arranged as virtual internships. A modest stipend is offered.
How to apply: Interested individuals are encouraged to contact Joanna Chin, Animating Democracy Coordinator as soon as possible via email for winter/spring opportunities; firstname.lastname@example.org. Send a brief letter of interest, indicating which internship(s) are of most interests; a resume; and when and how best to contact you.