It’s often held that art can only be art if it’s useless. It’s a pretty good guideline. I went along with that until a few hours ago.
Any activity can be separated into the pursuit of the activity itself, and making a profit out of that pursuit. These things are very different. Often art is held in contradistinction to science, at least formally. But science is ultimately aesthetic. Scientists do science because it is an expression of who they are, as do teachers, doctors, nurses, soldiers and just about anyone who does anything really important. We are lucky in that respect because if people did things purely for profit our society would collapse instantly.
So really there is no distinction between art and science, science is an art. Art, for us, stands distinct from industry. We make a distinction between things that are productive and things that are art. The problem with this is that in reality everything is an art, it’s just that some things can also be used to make a profit. Further, our modern consumerist culture has made us think that things that are industrious are something different to art, a different type of activity, when really those things are profitable for purely circumstantial reasons. A footballer can run around a pitch and get hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, while a scientist could cure cancer and struggle to earn that. Football is simply a performance art that happens to be, because of artificial human cultural conventions, profitable. What makes some art forms seem industrious is purely a matter of current trends.
People pursue art for it’s own sake. This should be our model for all human activities.
If you are in doubt about what really drives human beings then you only have to consider this: Where does all the profit go? I’ve already pointed out that vast amounts of money go to footballers, hedge fund managers, lawyers while people in the sciences or education or frontline healthcare get practically nothing, and yet, people still find the motivation to do all of these things to an extent that permits our continued survival. Surely that demonstrates something about how human beings really function.