The family of the great painter Benjamin West belonged to a Society of Friends when West was a child, and according to his biography, in that environment his prodigious artistic talents were not viewed positively. The boy's future occupation was the subject of a public meeting of the Society, since it held

that things merely ornamental were not necessary to the well-being of man, and that all superfluous things should be excluded from the usages and manners of their society.

"The study of the fine arts" was therefore prohibited, and only after significant debate was Benjamin West permitted to develop his talent.

Now to my question: do any current branches of the Society of Friends (Quakers) still generally disapprove of the fine arts? I'm aware of the existence of the Conservative Friends, but it's not clear to me if they would discourage or prohibit the creation of merely "ornamental" images. Do all Friends now view the fine arts as a legitimate occupation, or do some groups still see it as something to be avoided?

Galt, John, The Life, Studies, and Works of Benjamin West, Part 1, Chapter 3

1 Answer 1


There are a lot of different groups of Quakers in the world, see the Friends World Committee for Consultation.

The core values of the Quaker tradition is based are:

  • Peace
  • Equality and justice
  • Truth and integrity
  • Simplicity and sustainability

So I would say that it's possible that there are groups of Quakers who do not see fine arts as a legitimate occupation. I think it would be more common to find individuals who question whether it is a good use of someone's time and that there might well be a better way to contribute to a better world.

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