I teach studio art classes at a liberal arts university. This, of course, provides me with a particular way of thinking about the purpose of higher education. But I'm also a parent. And that provides me with a new way of thinking about the purpose of higher education. Each year at university recruiting events I'll have parents ask me if their children will be able to find a job if they get an art degree. The idea of the starving artist has been perpetuated to the point of making a 4 year degree in studio art seem laughable to some.
I completely understand how illogical an art degree can seem to a non-creative parent. They see the world through their eyes and their experience. But their skepticism about the possibility of artistic careers filters down to their children so that even the most talented young artist must wonder if they can pay a mortgage with their art degree.
Life is about so much more than your job.
I've had enough students and parents ask me serious questions about art related careers lately, that it feels important to share something with you. This semester I sent an email to my upper level students to perhaps pry one eye open about the possibilities of their degrees. That email is copied below. Perhaps it may help you see your world a little differently...
Dear Art Student,
Some of you have a general idea of where you want to head after school. Some of you have no idea. Some of you have dreams that deep down you kinda sorta think will never happen. Some of you are worried about not getting an art job or not using your 4 year degree.
Here’s some blanket advice for you: Do what you love.
If that’s art related, awesome. If it’s in another field altogether, awesome. But why on Earth would you choose to willingly work 40+ hours each week doing something that bores you? Why limit yourself to only enjoying life on weekends? That’s just dumb and life is too short for that nonsense.
People these days are so concerned with getting jobs and careers and they are using college as a means to that end. You did not choose to go to a vocational or technical school. You chose a university education…and one at a liberal arts college. The purpose of a liberal arts education is to teach you how to think and how to be a good and useful human while appreciating the beauty around you. Sure, you may get some experiences and tips along the way to make you more desirable to a particular vocational field, but what you are learning has a much more broad application than just a “major”.
And creative people like you are perhaps even better prepared for the broad job market than any other students. You learn how to critically analyze a given situation and locate problems. You learn to plan ahead and anticipate potential problems before they even exist. You learn to use unorthodox and creative solutions to solve those problems. You learn how to create things that did not formerly exist in the world. You learn how to truly see the world around you and you learn how to interact with that world and how to show parts of that world to others. That is the very recipe for a perfect employee.
Forget this crap you’ve been sold about wasting your time and money being an art major. And shame on anyone who has insinuated or flat out told you this. You will all leave here with a degree experience that makes you much more useful and valuable to employers and to society than any other major on campus.
So stop feeling pressure. Stop feeling anxious about what you might do for the rest of your life. Give some thought to your dreams. Give some thought to what makes you happy and how you might give back what you have learned to those less fortunate souls around you who did not have the ability to be art majors. As you plan your future, plan to do what you love doing. Plan to live a life even better than what you have dreamed. And when you walk across that stage at graduation, every single step you take after shaking the president’s hand should advance you in the direction of your dreams.