Do Artists Contribute To The Economy? Of Course


A controversy over government stimulus money going to the art industry prompted a really silly debate over whether or not the art industry was a legitimate industry, and whether its employees are really hardworking taxpayers like everyone else.

Some Congressmen who would like to cut out all federal arts funding say no. Others, like NYT letter writer Monika Gross (via Art Market Monitor) think it’s outrageous that artists would get treated as though they don’t contribute to the economy.

We agree with Gross on this one. It’s myopic to think that only people in the most basic industries really contribute to the economy. Our society is blessed to be wealthy enough that it takes relatively little to produce enough food and housing for almost everyone (actually, in housing we seem to have a big surplus). As such, we obviously value art (just look around you) and are willing to pay for it in various ways. Conversely, a world without art would be worse. Art clearly contributes to our standard of living, thus it’s economically valuable.

This isn’t to say that art needs a bailout (if you haven’t noticed, we don’t really think anyone deserves to be bailed out). And arguably the government should get out of funding altogether. But saying this industry is valid and this one isn’t is just as bad as any other attempt by man to second-guess the market.

That being said, we can think of a lot of spending that might be more wasteful than the art market:

Ginormous flat-screen TVs (big is fine, it’s the ginormous we have a problem with).
Useless liberal arts degrees.
Video games (waste of money, but especially time, at least nobody gets addicted to art).
Coffee (Yo, people, it’s called sleep. Try it some time.)
Slot machines.
Pilates (What, yoga isn’t enough for you?)
Pet grooming (duh)
Human grooming (can be done at home pretty easily)

We could go on and on, but hopefully you get our point. Once you start deciding that some industries are worthwhile and legitimate and some aren’t, you head down a bad path.