This is a very interesting topic we covered in this Young Leaders Forum. When we talk about whether it is appropriate to spend more on art when world poverty or world hunger is not solved. This was among the hottest debate we had.
Two Sides of the Question
One opinion was, we should pay attention to world poverty first. There are still people starving, or there are still children dieing because of lack of medical assistance. What is the point to spend the money in art. The extreme statement can be: Spend a dollar on piano may kill the hope to save a child’s life.
The other side of the argument is, the importance of art and others (like space technology) is as important as solving the other problems. Government should have a balanced budget spent on all different areas.
My Two Cents
I lean toward the second opinion. There is a Chinese saying:
If you wait for being rich before you help, you will never be able to help;
If you wait for spare time to read, you will never be able to read
That is what I am trying to say. Although we hope one day, the world, or a country or a person can be rich enough that there is nothing else to spend but to put into art, this day will never come.
There is another Chinese saying: “Don’t stop doing good deed just because it is small. 勿以善小而不为”. Although spending on art does not seem as noble as spending on saving people’s life, it is good deed and we should do it.
I also face the same question in daily life. When I tried to save a cat, someone pointed finger to me and said “Why bother care about a cat while some human being is still hungry”. When I tried to help people in hunger, someone may say “You should spend to help people’s life”. The “more noble” thing is endless. We should not criticize anyone from doing any good thing – anyway, it is the same kind of people who save both cats and human. If someone does not care about cats, it is more likely that he/she does not care about human.
What J.F. Kennedy Said about This
I searched my photo album, and found another sentence I took on the wall of J.F. Kennedy Center for Performing Art.
Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang in 2004
There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Lorenzo De Medici was the age of Elizabeth also the age of Shakespeare. And the new frontier for which I campaign in public life, can also be a new frontier for American art
Thanks J.F.Kennedy to put it preciously that spending a dollar in art may not always cause reducing some spending in other area. The push from art or other field to economic success may eventually complete the positive feedback loop (my major in university is automatic control), so it is not always conflicting with each other.
Hopefully, this helps to justify many of the good things artist, dramatist, conductor, musician, astronauts, even soldier is doing.