I’m currently studying a STEM degree at UC Berkeley, so you can bet good money that I know a lot of people who think “art is stupid.” I’ve always disagreed. Art is human. Things like mathematics, law, physics, medicine—that’s how we’re still living, but art is why we’re still living. But for a certain definition of “art”, I’ve got to concede that the EECS kids have got a point.

Self-expression and creativity is a very fundamental desire. Making art, experiencing beauty, translating experience into something tangible—that’s all in our nature. Art is something human beings have been making since the beginning of time. And in that sense, art means something.

Then you look at what the “art world” is today and it’s not hard to see why people think it’s useless, and stupid. People making all these fancy, random things and coming up with fancy, random words for them to put them into museums and books that only rich people have the time and inclination to ever see or read. Meanwhile, the world spirals into environmental disaster and people die and grieve and struggle just to get by, yeah? People work their whole lives to buy their mom a house or to achieve financial freedom or send their kids to school. People work just not to starve. How many people in the world live in abject poverty? How many people don’t even have clean water or air? How can you see how much suffering every single person lives through on a daily basis and think: okay, these people writing esoteric-sounding articles and making “installations” are doing something that matters. Like, Dude, come on. Grow up. The ability to “make art” or “be an artist” or even experience art seems to just be the function of tremendous privilege. Even being able to sit here on a Tuesday morning and think about whether art is meaningful is a privilege.

But to follow this train of thought: I feel like there’s this notion in art that things that are “good art” can’t be “understood” by the “common” person. There are laypeople and there are people who get it. And we’re supposed to take the things that make it into the museums in Europe as the pinnacle of achievement. The things that other “people who get it” have agreed is Good, and Smart, and Important. And if you’re in the know, you will also agree that these things are Good and Smart and Important. But art can’t just exist in a sealed vacuum with other art, you know. Or, it shouldn’t.

When is art not just self-serving and self-aggrandizing? When is art not just wealthy white men congratulating other wealthy white men for being “genius”? I’m trying to come up with something. And I think the answer is something like, art has to be about other people. Art has to be public not in the sense of, existing in a public space, but public in the way we say “public education”. It’s got to be accessible. The more accessible, the better. And it should do something. Some real affect. It has to touch the soul, or else it’s just shit sitting in a museum so that a handful of researchers and critics and professors can coo over it.

Not to talk about The God of Small Things, but to talk about the God of Small Things. I read it and I fell in love. And then I recommended it to all of my friends and persuaded people to buy it. Anindit cried twice in the first forty-something pages. And so it’s this thing that affected me, deeply. And then other people, too. And it becomes something beautiful you all experienced and can share between each other. That matters. That has value.

Art has to connect us to other people. Whether that’s art that is made collaboratively, art that is about people, art that is political, art that can become a shared interest, art that captures universal experiences, art that soothes, art that is cathartic—it can be anything, really. It just has to connect. And I think the “art is useless” people have a real point that a lot of what’s sitting in museums and galleries and what’s published in journals doesn’t necessarily do that for anyone outside this insular, inaccessible, ivory-tower group of people.

So then I guess the question is: how do you make art that connects? I don’t know the answer, or if an answer even exists, but I’m thinking about it. And I’m pretty grateful that I get to.