“Art is Superfluous” | Oh No He Didn’t

Let me paint a picture for you.

A different version of our world.

Now, this is going to bleak and very dark, but worry ye not:

There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

And no, it’s not a train.

Ready to play?

Ok, I want you to remove the following people from history:

Van Gogh,


Homer and Anais Nin,

Bach and Bowie and Armstrong,

Pablo Neruda and Chaucer,

Frank Lloyd Wright and Gaudi,

Fred Astaire and Josephine Baker.

Got it?

Pretty sad world, right?

But we’re not done yet.

I want you to make each of those people represent all their colleagues, throughout the entire span of human civilisation.

Remove them all, they never existed.

No artists in history, ever.

Nothing but science, politics, religion and commerce.


I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to live in that world.

I’m telling you this because of a book I’m reading, by a Dutch economist and artist named Hans Abbing.

It’s titled Why Are Artists Poor? and it’s a good read so far.

He’s got a firm grasp on things, and makes excellent points.

But there’s one thing he says that I vehemently disagree with:


Art tends to be detached from the needs of everyday life. Food for instance, fulfills needs. Among its functions are nourishment and social gatherings. But art seems to serve no such purpose; it is superfluous, luxury par excellence. The aesthetic experience thus is an aim in itself.


It’s a viewpoint I’ve come across before.

But while I see his logic, I want to ask him (and I will as soon as I finish writing this article) what he thinks of a world without art.

You know I like to say that ‘art makes and defines culture’.

Without art in all it’s myriad forms, our world and our culture would be drab.


Pretty much uninhibitable.

So if you’re an artist, and you’ve been in situations where someone asks you what you do…

And after giving your reply, the response is:

“Oh, so you’re an artist…”

You get to reply:

“I am. I’m the progeny of those who created the culture you live in.

“You’re welcome”.

Right, so let that sink in for a bit.

Meanwhile, you know that I also consider selling your art a duty.

And earning well for it, a right all good artists have.

So if you want to get better at that, maybe we should talk.

Answer a few questions, and I’ll get back to you to schedule an appointment: https://martin283.typeform.com/to/v7Dsh8



Oh, and PS: you can put all those artists back into the world now.

Also published on Medium.

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