Economists don’t have reputations as being particularly artistic or even being sensitive to the arts. According to the old tired saw, they aspire to be accountants but lack the personality. And yet, in reality, the intersection between them and the arts is surprising rich. Here is an overview (and I will follow up with more detailed stories):
First, we have economists who changed their countries’ policies to make them supportive of the arts. One case stands out: John Maynard Keynes, the most famous economist of the 20th century, and his support for the theater, the opera and the ballet. (He also married a famous ballerina!)
Second, we have economists who defended or helped particular artists. Examples include Alexander Gershenkronof Harvard standing up for Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” against a particularly bad translation by a celebrity writerand Gregory Grossman of Berkeley providing a home and enabling the Polish poet Alexander Wat to produce a masterpiece of Polish literature “My Century”
Third, we have economists who provided patronage for the arts by collecting works of struggling artists. There are many examples, but perhaps the most fascinating one is the case of Norton T. Dodge of the University of Maryland who, at great personal risk and over many years, bought and smuggled out of the Soviet Union thousand of pieces of avant garde arts. Another case is that of Tyler Cowen of the George Mason University who championed the cause of Mexican amate painters, and art form that without interest from abroad would have probably have died out, and with it the ancient art of making amate paper.
Fourth, there are the economists who have enriched the arts by leaving economics and becoming artists. Professor Richard Gill of Harvard left the teaching of economics and became an accomplished opera singer. The famous Vikram Seth left the graduate program at Stanford to write his masterpiece “The Golden Gate” (also a tribute to “Eugene Onegin”). And even today, in St. Petersburg, the young jazz singer Olesya Yalunina is exuberantly celebrating her transition from economics to performing arts and we have painters as far apart as Nigeria and India who are doing the same.
(Thanks are owed to Tyler Cowen, commentators on his blog “The Marginal Revolution”, and Christopher Kofler their help in collecting these and other cases.)