Sarah Ruhl’s essay entitled Is Theatre Helpful? deals with the utility of art. How seriously is art taken where you live? In many countries, children are encouraged to study science and technology; even in developed countries, humanities is being removed from universities. The question is often whether arts will help further anyone’s cause. Does it have the seriousness required for it to be taken seriously?
For this reason, Ruhl was surprised when she received help from exponents of Buddhism for researching her play. They saw her effort as beneficial for sentient human beings.
“This confidence in art’s helpful quality—“your play might benefit other sentient beings”—is not, I think, a deeply held conviction in the West. Or—to put it another way—it might be a deeply held unconscious belief held by many artists, but it’s not confidently articulated in the culture at large. “Ah! You’re an artist! Well then you must be helping other sentient beings!” One does not hear that kind of reinforcement about one’s usefulness in general.
In our culture (which evolved from the Pilgrims), the utility of pursuits with moral uplift or application is made into the opposite of the solipsistic luxury of art. Art is often defined by both artists and non-artists alike by its very uselessness.”
Ruhl believes that art is more of a gift than a profitable venture. It is useful as a catalyst and has a cathartic function that no society can do without even today. Even if the arts are being done away with and the utility of humanities is questioned, there’s nothing like a good story, drama or screenplay that can affect an audience.