Scores of people gather in front of the Mona Lisa, one of the most revered portraits in the history of art, at the Louvre museum in Paris.

Scores of people gather to see the Mona Lisa, one of the most revered portraits in the history of art, at the Louvre museum in Paris.
Photo credit: Resul Muslu / Shutterstock

Ever wonder why people are willing to pay millions for a single painting? Or why museums go to great lengths to preserve an ancient manuscript? If you’ve ever questioned the worth of such things, you’re not alone. The importance of art is frequently questioned in a society that values business, politics, and practicality above all else. In this article, three experts explain why art is important.

Most people think about the value of art within a historical context, but did you know that art also has a lot of modern applications? Angel Fernandez, associate professor of art at Tarrant County College in Texas, outlines just a few of the many ways we benefit from the use of contemporary art:

Think about the iPhone, the Fort Worth Water Gardens, Call of Duty: Black Ops, floor rugs, royal processions, Gucci’s Spring line, Versace furniture, Ducati motorcycles, Land Rovers, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Calvin Klein, Calatrava bridges, sunglasses, military uniforms, Star Wars, Rolling Stone Magazine covers, and the Transformers. Now, remove any element founded in creativity, art, and design, and all that remains are piles of materials that require human imagination and visual thinking.

Another way you can measure the value of art is in terms of its cultural significance. As Afzal Ibrahim, founder and editor of The Artist Blog, explains:

When you see a Zen garden in Sydney or San Francisco, you know that it’s a practice that originated from China. Likewise, when you see paper swans swarming a beautiful wedding ceremony, you know that this is origami, an art that came from Japan. When you see films featuring Bollywood music and dancing, you know that it’s a movie from India. Art has the power to take cultural practices from where they are from and then transport and integrate them into different parts of the world without losing their identity. There, these art forms can be used to entertain, create awareness, and even inspire foreigners to accept these cultures, no matter how strange or alien they may seem.

Cultural significance aside, art also has a transformative power that can bridge political divides and bring about positive change. Meg Brennan, visual arts specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts, put it this way:

The arts matter because they are the one thing on this planet with the power to change a person’s perspective, mood, assumptions, beliefs, and ideas; they can transform a place, represent a community, take you back in time, or move you forward into the future; help a person understand from where they came and where they are headed and grapple with the beauty and uncertainty of all that occurs in between—nothing else in the world has that kind of power and responsibility.

Keep in mind that the importance of art was not lost on world leaders. Many dictators recognized its power, and thus imprisoned or killed artists whose work did not align with their own personal views. And yet, art still has a way of living on even after the death of its maker, making it an eternal treasure of sorts.