Once upon a time, questions about the use-value of art were the height of philistinism. “All art is quite useless,” wrote the aesthete Oscar Wilde, presaging the attitudes of modernists to come. Explaining this statement in a letter to a perplexed fan, Wilde opined that art “is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way.” But if you ask Alain de Botton, founder of “cultural enterprise,” The School of Life, art—or literature specifically—does indeed have a practical purpose. Four to be precise.
Bigger data gets the bigger picture . . . in this case, the big picture in the form of an amazing visualization of global cultural evolution. In Europe. Things move slowly at the beginning, when the only stars and centers of cultural gravity are Athens and Rome. Watch Europe flicker through the “dark” ages until the Renaissance lights up the map. Of course, things really get going in the nineteen hundreds with the industrial revolution.