Why Art is a Waste of Time


The enjoyment that is felt from spending hours on end with your closest friends or relatives; the peace encountered while looking upon a tranquil, painted sky at sunset; the sense of fulfillment held in the gaze shared between newly-weds; these familiar circumstances share a commonality: they are neither productive nor useful. It seems to me that our culture places the highest value and importance on a thing’s ability to produce – its "usefulness" (often identified as utilitarianism).  We certainly all agree that the instances described above are considered to be good, important, and valuable. Nevertheless, when confronted with choosing one of the former circumstances versus an opportunity to produce some kind of tangible good (e.g. go to work to make money, scrub the floor to produce a clean home), our world celebrates the most “productive” choice. This utilitarian mode of thought, in my own experience as a songwriter, is utterly opposed to the concept of art.

What does art produce? If we answer, “Paintings, drawings, sculptures,” the following question may be, “What usefulness do these products have?” Even with much deliberation, one would struggle to uncover any particular usefulness in these things. One might suggest that music is useful for concerts, or that paintings are useful for art shows. But this assertion is a stretch and would beg the question, “Is art then useless and an utter waste of time?” By the standards of utilitarianism, I would have to agree that it is. So, if art is useless, does art cease to be valuable? And, if art is not ‘productive’ does it cease to meaningful? As an artist, of course, I would give an emphatic “No!” and say that the utilitarian mindset is a flawed one, in general and especially in regards to art. The crux of my position is this: something can be an utter “waste of time” and yet still worth doing.

For Christians, this notion should be easy to grasp, and even celebrated, as this concept can be effortlessly applied to prayer as well. Prayer doesn’t seem to produce much. Like art, it hardly seems to be useful, at least not in any tangible or quantifiable ways. It is easy to see why our religiously hostile, mainstream culture finds prayer unimportant and even repulsive. Yet, we not only consider prayer important and valuable, but essential. It is with this same spirit that we should approach our art.

 A few years ago, I had the privilege of doing a number of events with an artist named Joe Castillo, AKA the “Sand Man,” who was featured on America’s Got Talent. (If you have never seen Joe and his artwork, look up Joe Castillo on YouTube and prepare to be blown away!) That summer, Joe and I had a conversation I will never forget.  He told me, “Art takes time. Creativity needs time. Give your art enough time to be creative.” I have seen the truth of these words in my own artistry. When working on new music, I am guilty of becoming so excited and enthralled that my desire to finish it ‘now’ hinders my creative zeal, leaving my finished product bland and stale. On the other end of the spectrum, I tend to give myself deadlines for songs, totally canning my work if I haven’t completed the song or expanded on an idea in 6 months. This is equally problematic. If we want to be great artists with great art, let us give ourselves the time to do so. Give the world a work, a moment, to savor. Let’s waste enough time.

Written By: Steven Joubert


For additional information on this topic, be sure to check out Leisure the Basis of Culture, by Josef Peiper.