IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this book chapter

Art and Culture in the History of Economic Thought

Listed author(s):
  • Goodwin, Craufurd

Attention to art and culture goes far back in the history of economic thought. In the seventeenth century those activities were viewed suspiciously as likely to be either wasteful extravagances of the aristocracy, or dangerous distractions for the working classes. Eighteenth century economic thinkers offered more positive and thoughtful speculations. Mandeville and Galiani observed that the prices of art works were determined almost entirely on the demand side of the market, often by fashion and the search for distinction. The Enlightenment economic thinkers were intrigued by various aspects of art markets. Hume and Turgot perceived positive social benefits emerging from the arts, and they attempted to understand of what these consisted. Smith picked up some of the hints that were dropped and looked at art markets in a depth that had not been undertaken before. Like some other Enlightenment thinkers, Smith pictured the arts as being mainly about the imitation of perfection. Jeremy Bentham, with his emphasis on utility as a tool by which both to understand and judge market performance, insisted that the arts should not be distinguished from other forms of entertainment: pushpin, he asserted, equals poetry. Other political economists followed Bentham's lead and steered away from exploration of the economics of the arts. To some extent the void thus created was filled by humanistic writers, novelists, and essayists, notably Arnold, Ruskin, Dickens, and Morris, who were highly critical of the industrialization of the period and the emerging discipline of political economy that they perceived to go with it. In the "marginal revolution" of the 1870s the Benthamite injunction against special treatment for the arts was largely observed. At the same time, several of the new economists, notably William Stanley Jevons, became "closet esthetes", enjoying their guilty pleasures but not often subjecting the arts to economic analysis. Disappointingly little concerning the arts and culture can be found in the distinctive American economics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. There was almost a reversion to the seventeenth century view of the arts as the corrupt playthings of the idle rich. However, something like a return to the rich speculation of the eighteenth century Enlightenment occurred in the Bloomsbury Group that included the economist John Maynard Keynes. They rejected "Benthamism" and distinguished between the artistic experience and human consumption, and between the "imaginative life" of the mind and the biological activity of humans and other creatures. They discerned complex effects of the arts throughout society and placed arts policy high on the policy agenda.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

in new window

This chapter was published in:
  • V.A. Ginsburgh & D. Throsby (ed.), 2006. "Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture," Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture, Elsevier, edition 1, volume 1, number 1.
  • This item is provided by Elsevier in its series Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture with number 1-02.
    Handle: RePEc:eee:artchp:1-02
    Contact details of provider: Web page:

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:artchp:1-02. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.