Recently in Germany a 35,000 year old five hole flute and a figurine of a nude woman was discovered in a cave covered with beautiful carvings of animals. These are the earliest examples of culture ever found and date to the migration of homo sapiens into a Europe then occupied by Neanderthals. What interested me about this was an observation offered by the German archeologists who discovered these artifacts. Their view of the usefulness of music to prehistoric humans was not based on a judgement of the phenomenon or altruism. When questioned about the purpose of a flute to a Stone Age society the answer was that it “could have contributed to the maintenance of larger social networks, and thereby perhaps have helped facilitate the demographic and territorial expansion of modern humans.”
That struck me as such a fundamental and important function of the arts for society. If this is the case culture is not just what you do after hunting and gathering but instead plays a foundational role for large scale human endeavours. The arts are not good or bad, useful or useless but a genesis for the growth of civilizations. Are real estate transactions the basis for human advancement? Is buying and selling money foundational? Is inventing needs for superfluous commodities moving society to accomplish anything? Is it in our interest to financially incentivize what arguably could be considered peripheral activities and discount a principal occupation? The arts are often characterised as an ineffectual and incidental discipline and left to flourish merely as a product in the marketplace that can survive only by how popular it proves to be. Must everything have financial value to be valuable? Would anything else be possible without art and culture?