Capstone Project Ideas: Thoughts on the value of art

Last semester I took English 225 and made a mistake I don’t want to repeat. Okay, it honestly wasn’t that bad, but let me explain. The whole course was centered around a thirty day experiment in which we could choose to immerse ourselves in any sort of community that we wanted. Afterward we had to create a multimodal project based on the experiment, present it on a panel, and write a research essay about it- a lot of work. To make a long story short, I somehow ended up asking professors and students about their opinions on taking gap years, which wasn’t something that I initially intended to do, and it wound up being pretty dry. In the end, the motivation to finish was hard to muster up. This is a problem I’d like to avoid, if possible, with my Capstone project this semester.

Among the consequences of poor planning, one key mistake that hurt me in 225 was choosing a topic I assumed to be “practical” over what I was actually emotionally and intellectually invested in. This led to a teeth-pulling-esque writing process as I tried to convince myself that what I was doing was important for me, when now I can see that I actually didn’t fully believe in it.  This is also something I plan on changing.

So, onto the topic. I am still in the very beginning stages, but, as someone who loves the arts (music in particular) more than most things, I have been thinking about looking into the concept of art and artistic creativity. In particular, I have been interested in the philosophical and ethical side of things: What is the purpose/value of art in our societies? Is it ethical to devote one’s life to artistic pursuits? Is artistic talent/creativity innate or can it be learned? I could examine these questions from a more theoretical stance, such as in the light of the Effective Altruism movement, but I also see a real-world applicability, such as fund allocation in educational departments, or the practical decisions that both established and aspiring artists have to make in their careers. I think combining these ideas (eventually through a more specific lens) and maybe adding some creative work of my own could make for a challenging, argumentative project.


9 thoughts to “Capstone Project Ideas: Thoughts on the value of art”

  1. Hi Joe!

    Trying to define artistic value itself is probably one of the hardest intellectual questions out there. People are quick to judge a piece of art as something they themselves could achieve with their eyes closed, but it’s often just as much about what the artistic process and motivation to create the piece suggests. I took an Art History class on avant garde art and it’s completely changed how I perceive abstract pieces and has helped me appreciate the actual theories employed by various artists. One artist that perhaps obviously comes to mind is Andy Warhol, who replicated images of pop culture figures, dollar bills, or grocery store items. And no, these weren’t his own original sketches, but the idea behind them was revolutionary. It suggested that our culture values certain iconic figures or materialistic items, yet when they’re mass produced and replicated (as his pop culture images are), these items lose their value. It’s a huge contradiction that I think would be super interesting to look at philosophically. On the same note, Marcel Duchamp created “ready-mades” that displayed everyday things such as urinals or bicycle wheels to illustrate the ways in which such objects, void of association with their usual function, can aesthetically become something else.

    This might also be a point that really hits home: People assume that a liberal arts education is “easier” than an engineering one, for example. And for awhile, this really bothered me. And then a film professor pointed out the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey and how the evolution of man and increase in intellectual ability led to violence towards mankind itself. This type of art points out the truths of humanity that science and equations cannot solve, or for that matter, even fathom. I think that addressing the importance we place in understanding art could add a lot. For example, how does our society appreciate art? What is the right way to appreciate it?

    Just some ideas and I hope they help!

  2. Hi!
    I think this is really a great jumping-off point, and it’s always great to hear that someone will be pursuing a topic they actually have an emotional connection to!

    The points that you’ve made are really great and I 100% think you should discuss them in detail, but in order to complicate things, you could go into intrinsic vs imbued value as part of your discussion of art’s value in society. It is revered as an object but are we revered as its creators? What makes anything worth something between us as humans? Is our emphasis on art (in all of its forms) innate to us as humans or just as western society? Is the “starving” part of being an artist a kind of penance we have to pay in order to justify our participation in something that is counter-culture?

    There are just so many interesting avenues for your project to take depending on the framework you use. I think this looks great so far and good luck!!

  3. Hey Joe! Good thing you got that bad experience out of the way, I guess. To me, the most interesting question you ask is “Is it ethical to devote one’s life to artistic pursuits?” I think that the question of ethicality is often overshadowed by the question of practicality, because it’s so hard to make a living at being an artist anyway. I think it’d be really interesting for you to spend part of your project looking at what kind of people are able to make a living off of art, and maybe also looking at the demographics of different art schools. That sounds kind of boring when I type it out, so take it or leave it. You could also think about what we qualify as high art or low art, and how that is often dependent on race/gender/class divides — for instance, West African traditional art was considered low art until Picasso “elevated” it in his paintings, jazz was low art until it became sit-down music in uptight concert halls, etc etc. That’s only one tiny aspect of what you want to do with this project, but can’t hurt to think more about it!

  4. Hi Joe,

    What your questions make me think about are how different art is categorized in our contemporary world right now. I’m in a graphic design for non majors in the art school and yesterday we were talking about this specific subject. He drew two circles on the board one for ‘traditional’ artists and another for graphic designers. In the ‘traditional’ artist circle he drew a very small sliver maybe like 6% on a pie graph, and in the graphic designers circle he carved out like maybe 40-60%. This was supposed to represent how many of these ‘types-of-people’ likely get jobs in our contemporary economy. But under the ‘traditional’ artist circle he wrote “millions” and under the graphic design circle he wrote “60,000” and said that in his understanding fewer ‘artist’ artists get jobs, but if and when they make it, they make it big, while more graphic designers get jobs, and enough to pay your mortgage etc, but almost never make it big like an ‘traditional’ artist would.

    Do you consider some sorts of marketing art? What about book covers? magazine layouts? contemporary architecture? How as the definition of art changed, or not changed? And if you believe it has changed, do you believe it’s changed for the better or the worst?

  5. Hey Joe,
    As someone interested in the policy side of things, I find your topic to be really interesting. How can we quantify the societal value of art? Has public/private investment in art increased or decreased, and what effect has that had? In terms of fund-allocation, I think its clear that economic demands have pushed more and more money towards STEM and Business-related majors, which makes sense, but maybe we’re not taking into account what tangible impact a de-emphasis of the arts might have. Like you said, there are a lot of directions you can go with this, and I think including some of your own creative work and reflecting on it could be part of that.

  6. Joe,
    So I’ve learned you are interested in music not only from this post but from your comment on my post. I think the questions you pose are engaging and thought provoking. Something that comes to mind is the idea of modern art. Many people shrug it off as useless and that anyone can paint a box on a canvas and call it art. So then why did that artist get paid millions of dollars to display that canvas in MoMa? Consider the artists. Why do they do what they do? Is it for the money? Or is that secondary to producing something they are truly proud of? If you bus up to the great North, there are plenty of artists and musicians who are paying a great deal of money to train themselves in their respective fields. Why are they doing this? And why might their motivations differ from say a biology major or an engineer? I think a comparison could be interesting, especially at the undergraduate level. Not sure if that helped at all, but that’s what I’ve got for you. It sounds like there’s a lot of potential here so good luck!


  7. Hey Joe!

    I think this is a great beginning. Last semester, I went to Berlin and Amsterdam to study how community arts initiatives are utilized to help at-risk youth and how these programs compare to programs in this country, specifically Detroit. I think it would be awesome if you did a cross-analysis between different places and show each place utilizes and values art differently. You can then connect that information to another piece of information. For example, what are the value and number of programs compared to the amount of kids who are prevented from being at-risk. Or something like that. You can try to link how art is used in different societies and the effect that has.

    Good luck!

  8. Hola,

    I think the guiding question of “what is the value of art in our society,” is very important and relevant for today, but I think you will definitely have to concentrate your focus. That’s a huge question to ask, but if you maybe find an interesting to story to report on that is a compelling narrative on why art is important, you will have a reasonable amount of info to work with. You could also phrase your question in a more specific way so that you will be able to get a more selective means of finding relevant information.


  9. Hi Joe,

    One resource I’d consider you to consult as you move forward would be the TED talk done by Amanda Palmer called “The Art of Asking”; here’s the URL:
    I’m wondering if you could think about how we, in our capitalist society, often equate an object or substance’s “value” in our society with its monetary worth, and how that might (or maybe might not be?) a flawed approach in the world of art. How do Amanda’s ideas about crowd surfacing offer a new idea of what it means to be valuable, to a society, and how would you measure the “value” or music if not through record sales or billboard hits? How might Amanda’s example illustrate the value of art to a society, and how might it challenge it? Is she helping other artists, or does this provide us with a new hope for other artists hoping to follow in her footsteps?

    I hope this helps, and please do watch the video. Even if it doesn’t serve your project in the end, it’s a cool speech.

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