The Locus of Value

GoldIt’s an amazing thing to be the parent of an adult child, read something they have written, and say, “Wow! That’s brilliant.” My son, John Borwick, is an IT consultant for the higher ed world. He is also a blogger who recently wrote about MOOC’s, Massive Online Open Courses. The whole thing is a fascinating consideration of the good and the bad of the concept. I’ll say a bit more about that later, but the thing that convinced me to include a mention of his post here was a sentence near the beginning. “Technology has no inherent value. The latest smart phone isn’t ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the previous one. Value doesn’t exist without people: technology has value based on how it’s used.”

Long-time readers of Engaging Matters may remember a post of mine in which I said Art for Arts Sake? There’s No Such Thing. The gist of it was that the distinction between the intrinsic and instrumental benefits of the arts was a bit convoluted because in both cases the arts were providing some value external to the work itself. The point was that the only reason for art to exist was its impact on someone (at least one). Of course, in my estimation, the more “someones” it impacts, the better. So, if I take the quote above and “artify” it, we get, “Art has no inherent value. . . . Value doesn’t exist without people: art has value based on its impact on people.” The first of those two sentences may rub some the wrong way; but think of it this way, if there is not a benefit associated with any person (dead, living, or future), of what value is it?

To my mind, maintaining focus on the fact that the art has value in its impact on people is extremely helpful in supporting community engagement work. Community engagement is about developing relationships with more and more individuals, many of whom do not feel the arts are important in their lives. Making the arts important, valuable is critical work for each of us.

The rest of John’s post re: MOOC’s is, to my mind, a very good analysis of the merits and problems with this latest option in higher education. I’d recommend it to any academic administrator thinking about online learning. It could be a helpful antidote both to a bandwagon mentality and to knee-jerk opposition. If MOOC’s are a part of your world (or are being considered) consider passing this along to the “deciders” in your institution.


I’m off to Americans for the Arts conference in Pittsburgh, leading a roundtable discussion on engaged programming (Saturday afternoon) and then presenting to a post-conference session for NASAA’s community development network.



Photo: Some rights reserved by digitalmoneyworld

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. says

    The phrase ” art for art’s sake (“L’art pour l’art”) is credited to the author and critic Théophile Gautier (1811–1872), as the first to adopt the phrase as a slogan. The true expression of the slogan wasn’t whether art was to be or not to be about people or being human as you suggest but rather it was a philosophy that suggested that the intrinsic values of art be divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function. The important concept that Gautier and many others afterwards believed was that the intrinsic functions, or the true nature of art doesn’t serve the needs of politics, propaganda, religious dogmatic beliefs, or advertising. They believed as I and many other do today that good art is about bigger more important things than those; that art’s function, art’s sake if you will, is greater than these dogmatic or utilitarian functions. I think that’s true.