The Intrinsic Value of Arts vs. the Good Impacts of Art, workshop by Teemu Mäki

What is the future of art’s societal position and funding, when the belief in art’s intrinsic value fades and art is more often evaluated on the basis of its external returns — on the good impact it may have on society? How do artists, art-lovers and art organisations react to this change? In art politics it has been common to claim that art has mainly intrinsic value and because of that art’s special position in society and the funding it receives should not be justified by the external, good impacts that it may have for example on public health or national economy. However, “the spirit of the times” demands now other kind of thinking and rhetoric. How should the art sector react to this? Some art professionals or defenders of art cling to the old rhetoric and some others try to adapt and prove art’s importance by referring to its non-artistic, external impacts.

In my short lecture I propose that we should stop using the intrinsic value -rhetoric. I claim that art’s importance and freedom can be quite successfully defended and increased by referring only to art’s good impacts and societal purpose. And this doesn’t have to lead into instrumentalisation or “enslavement of art”. This is perhaps an unsual proposal coming from an artist and a chair person of an artists’ union. It does demand clarification and I try to open the reasoning behind the proposal and on what kind of definition of art it’s based on.

In my presentation I look into half-a-dozen traditional arguments with which European states have traditionally justified the special position and public funding of the arts. I then assess the content and future of these arguments. My viewpoint is that of an artist with a doctoral degree, ex-professor and current leader of an artists’ organisation. I’ve been active — in various roles — in cultural politics on city, state and EU level for a long time. In my presentation I also use some of my own artworks and art projects as examples. I end my presentation with three questions, which I hope the workshop participants can answer and have debates on.