How does the study of art relate to economic issues? 
Ancient Athenians, 700 years before the Common Era, created pottery of such beauty and utility that their wares were easily traded for essential food products they were unable to produce. Gothic cathedrals were the central structures within medieval cities. They could have only been created through the joint efforts of hundreds of highly skilled members of specialized craft guilds; e.g., stone masons, sculptors, and stained glass fabricators. The wages earned and spent by these artists contributed significantly to the prosperity of farmers and merchants within their communities.
For thousands of years individual artists, working alone or with apprentices, have been commissioned by royal and powerful patrons to create forms that express their nobility, religious beliefs, and/or social and economic status. A brief sampling of these commercial artists of the past would include great masters such as Phidias, the sculptor/architect of the Parthenon, and great masters such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Goya. Modern day commercial artists emerged in the 19th century when designers and craftsmen had to be trained to produce objects that would be competitive in the world markets generated by the industrial revolution.
Today, corporations and all levels of government have become the chief patrons of the arts. Billions are spent annually to design and market a vast variety of consumer goods. The "corporate image" is projected primarily through visual design forms such as trademarks, packaging and advertising. To enhance their corporate image and to improve the quality of life within communities where their employees work, American businesses contribute annually hundreds of millions of dollars to the arts. Many states have percent-for-art laws and art-in-public-spaces programs, in addition to arts councils which complement the efforts of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The enormous audience for the arts not only provides employment for artists, designers, etc. This audience also supports hotels, restaurants, and retail stores, which are patronized in association with visits to "blockbuster" shows at museums and other cultural events. For example, it is estimated that when the Pharaoh Tutankhaman Exhibit was in New York City several years ago, 11 million dollars in extra revenue was generated for the city's hotels, restaurants and retail businesses.
The need for informed consumers
Americans constitute just five percent of the world's population, but we consume twenty-five percent of what the world produces. Clearly, we are the "Homo consumens" of the world and the economies of many countries are dependent upon our high levels of consumption. In addition, our mass media have convinced many of us that consuming is the high road to happiness. But what is the nature of this consumption? Does the purchase of a great variety of goods necessarily result in increased satisfaction? Often, purchases based upon pressures to conform to current fashions rather than upon sound principles result in increased levels of frustration.
The arts are concerned with the quality of life rather than the quantity of commodities that can be consumed. Abilities to deal with qualitative dimensions of experience need to be cultivated. One simple example of the need for this type of education relates to the notion of "scale" or proportion. If a concern for proportion is ignored when purchasing furniture or clothing and purchases are based simply upon what is being "pushed" by the popular culture, items can be purchased that are entirely too large for the size of an existing room, or clothing may not enhance one's physical appearance.
What we are discussing is a need for being an informed consumer. Not only in terms of function (will the item work and last) but also in terms of its potential to provide true enjoyment and pleasure because purchases are based upon aesthetic principles rather than what is currently in vogue.
Informed consumers will have a positive impact upon the quality of our lives. Such consumers will demand and receive higher levels of performance. This is possible because we live in an open society where the market place determines what will be produced. If consumers are informed, they will respond very positively to the availability of quality products. It is no more expensive to create beauty than ugliness. And where the knowledge and skill to create and/or appreciate beauty exist, communities prosper.
There are several examples throughout the nation where residential and/or shopping areas have been planned to meet the demands of sophisticated consumers. These areas have been designed with a great deal of concern for aesthetics. As one drives or walks through such areas, one experiences a designed landscape that complements the built environment, evoking feelings of joy, euphoria, and/or tranquillity.