How often have you heard the phrase "Art is useless?" I bet it's a lot. The truth is, people struggle to respect what has no physical bearing on their lives. That's an inescapable effect of being human.
But what if I were to tell you that art was actually responsible for saving lives in the first and second world war?
Camouflage was a major improvement to a soldier's arsenal. The ability to be passed over with a glance, or to have the advantage as you crept through hostile territory was instrumental to many operations.
But then there's an issue. A soldier can wear their camouflage for grass and trees and mud. A plane can be painted blue and grey to hide amongst the clouds and sky. Even heavy vehicles can be given scrim nets to hide them in bushes and wood blocks.
But what about ships? Any observer can see the shape. Paint it blue? There will still be an outline. Grey? Then it will be so very visible in the sunlight that you might not have wasted the paint at all.
The answer came to one man, and his idea flipped the idea of camouflage on its head.
Norman Wilkinson recognised the threat of German u-boats and devised a plan. If a torpedo would have to be aimed at where the ship would be in a few moments, If a ship's gun would have to be adjusted to aim ahead of its target, then why not make the target as difficult to follow as possible?
Instead of traditional camouflage, ships were painted with bright, clashing colours, or black and brilliant white. These were aligned into specifically designed, odd, jagged, shapes. Observers would struggle to define the exact shape of the ship from a distance. And, with no landlocked monuments nearby, would struggle to calculate its heading.
While it definitely looked strange, these designs were invaluable in sailors' lives. Today, we still use them. To a much lesser extent, since we aren't in open conflict. And today's computer technology rendered them pretty useless, too.
But hey, these brilliant stripes and shapes make for good coffee mugs and abstract display pieces, right?
For my conclusion, I think that art definitely has practical applications. Not just in war, but also as a way for a stressed miner to vent their frustrations. For a white-collar worker to mingle with their friends around. For a wise investor, ready to play the long game.
As a society, we should stop looking down on things that don't have a physical presence in our lives, here and now. Instead, let people have what they enjoy. With no art, there would be no writings. No writings would mean that we would still be stuck in the middle ages, unable to even design plumbing, let alone computers.