Art does have utility

Jackson Pollock  Number 1, 1949

Jackson Pollock Number 1, 1949


This post is in response to Design, Illustrated in 3 Charts by Julie Zhuo

I find Julie Zhuo’s placement of art on the spectrum of utility, being near zero, to be disconcerting. The perceived value of art is not in its physical utility, but it’s psychological and social utility. Great art pushes the boundaries of current conversations in our society. Art, as she has described it in plotted points (Da Vinci, Monet, and Jackson Pollock), relates mostly to older artworks and of completely varied content/conception. The artist Kandinsky offers a valuable perspective on art and it’s understanding which can be interpreted as perceived value:

Kandinsky views this process of the widening understanding of art as a sort of triangular one; the tip of the triangle always occupied by the originators, the innovators, whose work is little understood. As the triangle of taste moves onward, an ever-widening public comes to understand it, until the base of the triangle is reached (or approximately the whole public) and the work is widely accepted. By this time, of course, new ideas and new ways of painting form the apex of a new triangle, unacceptable again to the major part of the public, but probably destined for its ultimate enjoyment and understanding.
Ben Shahn, The Shape of Content, pg. 128

This quote offers a prime reason why I disagree with her and others about the perceived value of “Art” in relation to the utility of “Design.” The apex of the Art world is where many very new ideas or ideas that combat the status quo originate in the visual/audible form. These early representations of ideas and conflict bring light to progress and/or the need for progress. While not, in and of itself, a physically utilitarian good, art creates an amount of social utility via the conversations, debates, and arguments they help initiate or feed. These conversations may then lead to very utilitarian goods in the physical world or within the digital world.

While I’m not saying that Art is the underlying origin point of all great utilitarian design, it cannot be ignored as a primary point of origin throughout history.

Benjamin Kowalski