“We have the Arts in order not to die of the truth”. This quote by Nietzsche highlights not just the importance of the Arts in providing us with a room of escape but also being a source of catharsis, and treasured for the moral and educational value it brings along with it as well as an exercise of our freedom of expression in this increasingly pluralistic world. In the past, the pursuit of the Arts was only viewed as a luxury that the rich could afford due to the need of people to devote themselves to fields that could possibly wield more assured tangible economic returns. However, as countries are becoming more affluent, developed and urbanized, the Arts have since been perceived as a more attractive and essential need in contributing to the emotional, moral and social betterment of the individuals. Since the Arts are vital in boosting the emotional and mental well-being of individuals, developing the moral stance of mankind and provoking thoughts towards social issues, I largely agree that the pursuit of the Arts is no longer an option but an integral part to the growth of the people.
Detractors of this perspective of the Arts put forth the contention that in the face of rapid economic development, the Arts which contribute little to the financial and economic prospects of the individual may not be that critical or pertinent to people’s lives of the individual. The Arts, they assert, are merely an interesting and meaningful pasture at best; a frivolous distraction from practical concerns at worst. In short, they believe that the Arts have no direct impact to the progress or relevance to the daily lives of people especially when the need for financial prospects through the conventional mode of STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics –are much more practical to that of individuals. The Arts, therefore, offer nothing more to them than mere entertainment in the face of economic progress. How would watching the angst and pathos of the Shakespeare’s King Lear help put food on the table for the family? How would reveling in the splendor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra help an accountant clinch a promotion or keep a banker from getting laid off? How would the multimillion-dollar investment of the resplendent Esplanade theatres help fend off fierce economic competition from larger economies such as China and the US? Hence, they claim that the Arts are of no concern daily lives in which they can do without.
This argument, unfortunately fails to depict the world in holistic terms. The Arts is critical to the alleviation of the mental and emotional stress that individuals in this increasingly affluent yet stressful world are subjected to. In truth, the Arts are necessary in promoting the emotional and psychological well-being by providing a source of escapism for individuals in enabling them to take a breather and better cope in this harsh and unforgiving society. Singapore working hours are among the longest in the developed world – 2,287 hours a year according to the Federal Reserve Economic Data website. The Arts are therefore vital in promoting the intangible aspects of human health, acting as a source of catharsis through providing a medium of unrestricted expression for people to indulge their stress in and further strike a compromise between the work-life balance among stressful workaholics in Singapore. The Arts, which takes place in many forms, ranging from art fairs, festivals, such as the recent Artbox held in Marina Bay Sands in 2017 as well as the latest high-end and acclaimed theatrical ‘Les Miserables’ production in Singapore’s Esplanade theatre have attracted many from all works of life. The Arts thus also provide a temporary escape for Singaporeans to seek a relief from the hustle and bustle of society, allowing them to temporarily forget their troubles by reveling in the profundity the Arts have to offer. The Arts thus act as a source of catharsis in alleviating many of the emotional stress that Singaporeans face and thereby bettering their lives in these intangible means. Hence, this makes the pursuit of the Arts not an option but an integral part of the growth of the people in promoting the emotional wellbeing of individuals in a stressful and demanding world.
At the same time, the increasingly apathetic culture of men and the diminishing role of religion in many people’s lives have also disrupted our moral compass. In truth, the Arts are now increasingly recognized for its soft power and ability to reach out to matters of the heart and shaping our moral beliefs and teaching us new things. The Arts have always been respected for its profundity and its ability to provoke and stimulate one in unleashing one’s moral values such as compassion, grace, forgiveness, humane, humility and so forth. For instance, the intellectually-stimulating art piece of the ‘Age of Innocence’ painting which subsequently founded the novel itself does provoke thoughts among readers in defining their definition of innocence and forces them to reconsider the various aspects behind morality with that of social acceptability. In addition, new dramas such as ‘Mrs Warren’s Profession’ by George Bernard Shaw written in the late Victorian period seeks to confront the traditional perceptions and attitudes towards prostitution by portraying the protagonist’s mother as one who resorted to it not by choice but by circumstance, causing us to sympathize with her and acknowledging the ills of our capitalist system. The Arts is therefore an effective tool in contributing to the moralistic and ethical development of people in society and engineering strong notions of values and culture, which in some ways is also reflective of our way of life. Thus, the moral qualities that the Arts brings make it not an option but an integral part of the growth of the people in shaping one’s moral discernment.
In addition, the role of the Arts in our exercise of our freedom of speech in this increasingly pluralistic world is imperative in us arguing for the need of the Arts in our daily lives in expressing our right and view to things. Through the ability to exercise our freedom of speech we are able to bring about new changes in improving the lives of others. The Arts, which can take place in different forms such as government feedback channels like the ‘Daily Talks’ which flames Trump and his policies or even citizenry platforms such as REACH forums in Singapore allows for greater participation in society which promotes a more inclusive and integrated society in fostering stronger national bonds and unity among fellow citizens. These channels of the Arts or even in local films such as ‘Ah Boys to Men’ by renowned local producer Jack Neo also seeks to express his personal thoughts of what every Singaporean man will have to experience in National Service, which is vital in reinforcing the cultural identity and national belonging to one’s native country and calls for society with greater social cohesion in it. Yet, while the Arts allow for the freedom of expression, it should be recognized that this should be conducted along with personal discretion in promoting social cohesion. In the established reporting of the Charlie Hebdo incident, the social satirical magazine that mocked the prophet Mohammad experienced severe backlash for its inappropriateness and insensitivity to Islam. Hence, the Arts while on the pretext of preserving and enabling freedom of expression should also be closely regulated in order to not endanger social cohesion and promote internal strife. Thus, the room for freedom of expression, if carefully regulated, makes the pursuit of the arts not an option but an integral part in the growth of the people.
Since time immemorial, the Arts have always been regarded as one that was secondary to that of meeting the basic needs as iterated under Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. However, in an increasingly affluent and stressful world, the need for the Arts has become vital and important among people across the world due to the benefits bestowed upon the emotional, moral and the sense of national belonging in an individual.