Sydney is endowed with a rich artistic life. Writers, painters, poets, photographers, singers, dancers, actors, architects and designers thrive here. From the beginning, serious attention has been paid to theatres, galleries, concert halls - as well as public art - for the delight and stimulation of the populace.
Yet Sydney continues to suffer from the social ills that plague most large cities. Our enthusiastic attendance at galleries, theatres and concert halls doesn't appear to subdue our anger, relieve our stress, or incline us to become friendlier to each other. Those of us who love the arts like to believe we are "improved" in an almost mystical way by our exposure to various art forms. But where is the evidence that theatre or concert goers are better citizens - more attentive, say, to the needs of the marginalised or disadvantaged - than non-attenders?
In her modern classic, Everyday Ecstasy (1985), the English writer Marghanita Laski examined whether the ecstatic response to art is translated into enthusiasm for, say, charitable works designed to alleviate the suffering of those who may never experience such ecstasy. Is that how it benefits society, by making us more sensitive or compassionate? Her reluctant answer was no.
Art is for enjoyment. We shouldn't confuse it with something that's doing good to art consumers.