The Art of Life

Understanding How Participation in Arts and Culture Can Affect our Values

Taking the form of a core essay and a number of critical responses, the report attempts to start “a dialogue about how arts and culture impact on our values”, including “deep values” such as “self-acceptance, affiliation, community feeling, freedom, creativity, self-respect, equality, [and] unity with nature”.

Acknowledging that the research underpinning the report is “speculative” rather than definitive, the essayist (Tim Kasser, Ph.D. in Psychology at Knox College in Illinois) argues that engagement in the arts and culture has the potential “to encourage values that support well-being, social justice, and ecological sustainability”. The essayist offers three main reasons for this potential connection:

  1. Engagement in the arts and culture is connected to intrinsic human motivations such as following one’s curiosity and interests, being creative, and “desiring a world of beauty”.
  2. Engagement in the arts and culture generates feelings of “flow, creativity, play, interest, and curiosity that characterize intrinsically motivated activity”.
  3. The arts and culture can provide disruptive experiences that may “act as catalysts to help some people identify the truly meaningful and satisfying values around which to orient their lives”.

There are many interesting comments in response to the core essay, including:

  • “Culture is about identity and difference as well as the common experiences that make us human.”
  • “What we all need, regardless of our occupation, is not ‘arts and culture’ per se, but simply the time and space beyond the realms of the market, where we can each access knowledge, critically reflect and feel empowered [to] change our lives for the better.”
  • “The way we currently think and talk about art severely hinders its ability to catalyse change.”

Rather than “art for art’s sake”, the conclusion to the report indicates that we may want to think about “arts and culture for our sake”. The conclusion suggests that researchers develop “empirical work on values in relation to arts and culture in order to find ways of evidencing increases in our individual and collective sense of wellbeing”.

Summary: 

Taking the form of a core essay and a number of critical responses, the report attempts to start “a dialogue about how arts and culture impact on our values”, including “deep values” such as “self-acceptance, affiliation, community feeling, freedom, creativity, self-respect, equality, [and] unity with nature”.