I’ve always felt it important to have a good, broad mix of readings in Emerging. It’s important to address contemporary issues like technology, yes, but it’s equally important to ask students to think about what some might consider enduring issues, like art. In fact one of my favorite essays in the first edition was “The Art of Collecting Light Bulbs” by Michael Kimmelman, which used unusual collections (such as a light bulb museum) to think about how collecting itself is a kind of art.
In this edition we’re introducing Rhys Southan’s essay “Is Art a Waste of Time?” Southan is a screenwriter exploring the philosophical and ethical Effective Altruism movement, which has a fundamental goal of maximizing the amount of good each individual accomplishes in life. EA, as the movement is abbreviated, has some interesting implications, since it seemingly suggests that individuals should pursue careers that allow them to achieve the most good possible, which often means working hard to earn a lot of money so that you can give it all to the needy. In this context, Southan investigates, what good is art?
Art is not in itself incompatible with this approach to living, Southan finds, and yet he unearths the complex relationship between ethics and aesthetics, the good and the beautiful, creating and helping others. It’s a great piece not only for what it has to say about art but also because (like so many readings in Emerging) it has a lot to say about a lot of things, ranging from capitalism to career choice to utilitarianism to ethics.
I also think it’s the kind of reading that could prompt some vigorous discussion in class since it poses a fundamental question that students will need to answer for themselves. I can’t say how they will answer it of course, but I do feel part of the goal of the FYC classroom is to encourage students to find (and support) their own answers. To that end, this is a great reading to check out.
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