Friday, October 22, 2010

The Importance of the Arts

I was reading recently about the move to encourage Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math in schools. I am thrilled by this idea because I think that too often this has been ignored in recent years. However, I worry about the lack of Arts in that equation (STEM rather than STEAM). Perhaps this is because of a bias on my part; after all, I have a Ph.D. in literature, took drama in high school, and support the arts. I believe that the arts are an important part of our education.

When I mentioned this to my husband, once a science major, he jokingly responded, "Ah, yes, the 'Do you want fries with that?' major."

I think that is the problem. Those of us who study the arts, whether that be drama, literature, music, painting, dance, or some other form, are viewed as unready for the workforce, dooming ourselves to low paying jobs and failure.

1. This is, for the most part, untrue. There are plenty of careers in the arts, although many are not very highly paid, and education in the arts does not stop a person from working in other fields. I have worked as a graphic designer, for instance, and in web design. Neither of these were part of my schooling but are skills I picked up over time. Also, many businesses want people who can think and write well--things which a degree in English or one of the other Liberal Arts can bring you.

2. This world would be a much sadder place without the arts. We need people to continue to pursue theatre, music, and the arts because our culture would be dead without these things.

3. The study of the arts is partly about self-expression, something that is very important for human growth, and therefore very good for kids in schools. I also found that drama class was one of the places where I was safe in school. Drama (and, I am told, Band) was a place for those of us who were geeky, shy, or otherwise "different" to hang out and grow up. I learned a lot from my time in drama--including how to become less shy (so much so that I now do a lot of publicity/public relations-type work for my nonprofit volunteer groups--"schmoozing" with people at receptions, talking to the press, etc.--something I could never had done with drama).

Much like steam is what makes a locomotive go, so STEAM can be good for our kids and our society--moving us forward through an emphasis on both science and the arts. I think that, hand in hand, these things will help our kids grow intellectually and emotionally and be prepared for the workplace. The Arts are not about preparing kids for a job of "do you want fries with that" but in exploring human potential--and they can prepare kids not just for jobs in the arts but for many things in life.

Besides, I don't know why everything has to be judged in terms of job preparation and future salaries. Sometimes we need to think about expression, culture, passion, and drive--things that don't always translate to money but which are needed in our society--and much as math and science careers are.


  1. I agree that the Arts are important, but do you really need an education in the arts? I've always envisioned artists as people who were driven by their creativity, and strove to hone and improve their craft outside the bounds of any institution.

    I could, for example, take all the art classes in the world and still be incapable of drawing anything more complicated than a stick figure; but my wife has more than enough creativity for the both of us. She sings, writes, draws, and colors. She's never taken an art class outside of elementary and high schools.

    Obviously some art classes (art history, music appreciation, etc.) are excellent candidates for emphasis in schools, but I don't think that raw arts like painting, sculpture, photography, or graphic design really need to be focused on. Those are all things that a person should be discovering and practicing on their own.

    I think it could be argued that introductory classes given in elementary and even high schools could help children discover their raw talents, but beyond that level art should be more of a personal thing. You don't need a degree to be a good actor or painter any more than you need a degree to work at a fast food place. It's the innate creativity involved that matters.

  2. I agree that with many of the arts, a degree is not necessary for it. On the other hand, since they are cutting the arts out of elementary, jr high and high school, people are not getting the experience and background to enjoy the arts more or to consider pursuing it as a passion or career.

    I was arguing more that people who seem to equate education only with how well it prepares one for a job and equate all art education with people who will end up serving fries ignore the need for arts education, the value such education has (it was a great haven for me in high school and helped me grow as a person), and the desire people have to pursue such fields (sometimes for careers and sometimes ending up in very different fields but with valuable skills from the arts).

    I don't want to sacrifice art education in order to get more science and technology. I want that education in addition to the arts.


Please be kind in your comments.