02/27/2014 04:04 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2014

Working to Live, Living to Work

We'll soon be upon graduation season, and students will be searching for work, or creating work if they're entrepreneurial. We'll also probably be talking about what kind of degree has the best return on investment. And that probably isn't a bachelor's degree, or a BA, since the arts are so often considered secondary to other degrees, such as engineering or the sciences or mathematics (especially mathematics if you can also code and come up with algorithms to power some new application).

I was reminded of this by an article in The New York Times describing a new movie about the search for that elusive particle, the Higgs boson (to be very basic about it, this particular boson -- and there are others -- is part of what gives matter its mass, and without which we wouldn't exist).

This is a fascinating subject, but what really struck me was a quote from one of the scientists involved, Savas Dimopoulos. He posed a question posed by many people in other fields (students, teachers, legislators, among others): Why do people do science? Why do they do art? "The things that are least important for our survival," he said in the article, "are the very things that make us human."

This reminded me of something that Winston Churchill supposedly said, regarding whether or not to fund arts during wartime (saving art from destruction is also featured in the new film The Monuments Men). This is probably an apocryphal story, but the reason he gave for denying a cut to arts funding during the war was, if we cut support for the arts, then why are we fighting at all?

Even if he didn't say it, the point is valid (and it sounds like something Churchill might have said).

You can't measure human achievement, human emotion or artistic urges by an economic measure.

Why reduce us to numbers?

Of course, when you're starting out in life, and you have to support yourself, a job is essential, and a BA degree might not get you something to pay the bills. But then again, it just might. (Google might perhaps hire you regardless.)

But if you only live to work, then really, what are you living for if the work you do isn't rewarding?