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Is art a necessity or a luxury?

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

The definition of what art means has evolved over the years. From being restricted to the likes of painting and/or sketching, ‘art’ as a term today encompasses all sorts of creative expressions like fine arts, films, photography, creating music, fashion to name a few. Be it sketching a pretty flower or finding just the right shade of pants to match your shirt, a common denominator in all such acts is humanity’s need to express.

By Bhavini Sharma, Creative Intern, PaperBaag Company.

Human beings are creatures of love, poetry, appreciation. We seek tangible objects to give a shape to the intangible that exists within our hearts. A reserve of creativity exists in all of us in varying degrees and we seek sources to help us escape the mundaneness of our life. Art serves as a companion in this. A quote which comes to my mind when I think of this is-

“Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.” – Vincent Van Gogh

An age old debate among people has been whether art serves as a luxury to the elite few or as a necessity to all of humanity.

However, the picture painted by this debate isn’t as black and white as it seems. History is proof of the fact that elements of visual art, like murals, sculptures, carvings have served as an important means of communication, a necessity. In a country like India, with its diverse cultural background, art has always played a major role in depicting life. Whether it was to document our history, play an agent of politics or a symbolism of religion, it has been an inseparable part of society.

Art has also existed as a form of beautification, solely for the sake of aesthetics. Even today, if you take a stroll in a local village, you’ll find walls painted with motifs, usually made with sustainable and natural materials found commonly at home. The practice of Parola in the region of Jammu and Kashmir is one such example of this. One does not have to be wealthy or supremely talented to seek art and feel its presence. These small, almost unnoticeable efforts to choose art over and over again is why it will always be a necessity. And this innate need for art stands above any classification. Differences arise when we talk about art as a commodity or as a career.

The material aspect of art, the ability of an artist to sustain themselves in relation to their economic background is where the question of luxury comes in.

‘I want to be a full-time artist’ is a statement which will make most of the elders in an Indian middle-class family faint with shock- an abomination! A dreadful revelation for most people, something which will account for a good deal of career advice and eye-rolls. However, behind the stigma is a valid rationale that also plagues art as an industry. Simply being good at art does not ensure a stable career. A person struggling to make money while being highly creative and talented would avoid venturing into the said field because they do not have the financial stability to take such a risk. Privilege sets apart how further we can take our appreciation of art.

An incident that comes to my mind as I ponder over this debate is when my sister came up to me and asked me if I had a spare notebook and pencils. When I asked her why, she told me that she noticed a child doodling on the ground at a construction site in front of our house and wanted to do something about it. A child does not know which family s/he’ll be born into, but the family’s income defines what kind of opportunities s/he’ll be provided with and the level of creative freedom s/he’ll have. It is easy for motivational speakers to say, ‘follow your dreams’ and ‘do something you are passionate about’, but in terms of practicality, someone who is trying to feed themselves and their family would much rather make a decision of choosing a stable job. The platter of choices is available to the kids who have the financial stability from their families to take the risk.

The capitalist society commodifies art which further leads to a monopoly of the rich in the art market. This is seen in the case of owning expensive art and even making that kind of art. Having the right connections and an ample amount of resources plays a major part here and one cannot simply deny the role of class, money, and access to such opportunities. Local artisans, folk-artists, craftsmen who continue to follow the legacy of their ancestors in promoting local arts do not have such access and practice their art at the expense of their income. This is also why many such arts are fading with time and have less popularity among the younger generations in artisanal communities.


The question should not be whether art is a necessity or a luxury because it is an undeniable fact that we need art for our survival. Any act to cut down or limit our creative expression in the past has never had a favourable outcome. However, to acknowledge such a fact, a conscious effort is needed at the end of those in power to empower artists struggling to achieve their dreams. Why, in a world that constantly strives for art, should there be such a disparity in how artists are treated? Every time an artist from a low-income background chooses to make art, they are trying to fight a system which favours only the creamy, affluent layer. Next time you see a local artisan or even someone in your own family, try supporting them as much as possible and consider buying from them, because everyone truly needs art.

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