YES: The arts – in the field of painting – provide us with many artifacts and experiences of beauty in its various manifestations, even if they do not explicitly change the world.
The mastery of technique and its execution in painting can inspire our aesthetic sensibilities to a great degree, providing us countless moments of pleasure in viewing them.
For instance, well-known masterpieces such as Song dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan’s scroll paintings of life in the Song Dynasty draw viewers into rapt contemplation of urban life in historical times.
Many styles of painting feature distinctive techniques that emphasize and sharpen our awareness of a particular visual element, helping us to reflect on them in new and emotionally compelling ways.
Impressionist paintings for instance, are well-known for their emphasis on depicting the changing qualities of light upon the painted subject, often drawing us to view liminal moments, such as dawn and twilight from fresh perspectives unavailable to other types of painting.
Some paintings are done on a whimsical moment by the artist and while they may not convey any deeper social message, make light hearted comments that provoke irreplaceable moments of humor from viewers, invariably brightening the otherwise mundane routines of many.
Irreverent adaptations of the Mona Lisa for instance, have superimposed the faces of well-known celebrities such as comedian Rowan Atkinson over the iconic beauty, provoking countless laughs and metatextual references amongst the masses.
NO: The arts, especially in the field of painting, are both manifestations of beauty and means to realize practical changes in the world.
Painters have often utilized their art as a vehicle to convey important contemporary issues of a political or social nature, informing and galvanizing public opinion towards these issues.
Picasso’s Guernica is often cited as the work which brought global attention to the atrocities committed by General Franco’s soldiers during the Spanish Civil War.
Many styles of painting feature techniques that sharpen our awareness of a particular visual element, subsequently inspiring many to develop new ideas, concepts and products in their own fields that significantly transform society and how we view ourselves.
E.M Escher’s symmetry paintings, such as the iconic Angels and Demons, has served as the starting point for Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo’s well-known book The Lucifer Effect, which highlights the profound effects of operant conditioning on creating unjust prison systems, including the ones exposed by the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Some paintings capture the most profound aspects of human nature and behavior, facilitating our deeper appreciation of the themes, feelings and passions central to human experience and become canonical works which add to our universal heritage.
Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son for instance, is at once an aesthetically heightened yet emotionally disturbing painting, and art lovers worldwide have consistently returned to view it, drawing insights about repression, greed and obsession.
Again, this is a highly challenging and specialized question, similar to the one on statistics in 2002, and I have provided additional assistance and examples for students here.