Value Theory, Arts Culture + Society

Where do our values come from? And why is the value of arts culture so subjective?

As the year draws to a close, I am reminded how much like the ancient Celtic people we are, as we enter into a time of reflection and surrendering. The original Samhain festival, known more commonly now as Halloween, was a time where the Celtics shed the emotional weight of those they loved and lost in the past year, as they travelled to the otherworld, and in the process they readied themselves to take on the new year. In the same way, the close of our year has become synonymous with a time of reflection on what was; a time to surrender a version of ourselves and our goals, and prepare ourselves for a new beginning and another year.

This cathartic process of reflection and surrender, brings us closer to the truth about what we value in our lives. It begs the question then, how do we determine that value? One way to look at what we value, is by saying that for something to have value, it must be good in some way. So what then, is good?

Is there an objective good, such as a moral good?

Or is even that subjective?

Let’s assume that despite our diverse cultural backgrounds, our axiological definition of moral good is defined by choices that preserve the wellbeing of ourselves and others. Even though our cultures might have different ways to enforce this good, they still believe this to be the grounding point of what is ultimately good and therefore valuable. There could be some value then, in our yearly reflection and surrender, because this process is about reassessing our choices – in order to make sure they align with what is good for us (and others).

What ‘good’ then is art? Is it fair to say then, that arts culture which challenges us to reflect and reassess is also good, and therefore has value? Some might say yes. But the problem with arts culture is that its ability to challenge us and inspire self-reflection is subjective. Essentially making the ‘value’ of arts culture subjective.

At Fringe we recognise the value in arts culture to be about more than just about inspiring and challenging us. The ‘good’ is also in its ability to invite participation and be inclusive of all different types of people, regardless of ability or skin colour.

Our recent commission of self-portraits from artist Damian Smith is about demonstrating how we stand in solidarity with the artists and creators within arts culture. Damian’s style was chosen because it inspires reflection. He uses symbolic elements such as horns, antlers and birds to represent a part of his subject’s nature. And in our portraits, you can see how these elements differ between Grant and I. He employs techniques such as dripping paint and layering to give the images an element of the ‘other’, inspiring the viewer to ask questions.

Fringe Portrait Paintings, Damian Smith

“Upon Reflection” –  Fringe Portraits, Damian Smith

Not all arts culture is so blatantly subjective though and even though Damian’s technique and use of symbolism entices people to look deeper, there are still people who are not inspired in this same way. Our culture and life experiences influence the lens in which we view the world, and to capture and measure something intangible like inspiration is like trying to capture and measure the sun’s rays.

If we are to reflect on the histories of our different indigenous cultures across the globe, we can see the way employed song, dance, stories and paintings to communicate and ensure the wellbeing of their own and their neighbour’s Tribal families. And we also begin to see the necessity within its purpose. It seems to me that the more ‘civilised’ we get and the less we rely on arts culture as a means of survival, the less we connect with the instinctual need to bond with others through creative means.

It is no wonder then, that our society feels as fragmented as it does. If it is not a matter of survival, how then, can we invite people to be open and engage with arts culture and see its value?


Do you see the value in arts culture?

Do you connect with it?

If you do, why? Let us know in the comments.

Ali. x