Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why My Art Degree Isn't Worthless Like Everybody Thinks


Since Monday was a holiday, I know I should be posting a challenge up today, but I really needed to write this blog post for multiple personal reasons today, so this is what you get.  Lucky you.

Don’t mind me while I climb up onto my soapbox….

Maybe it was Kate's "Fight For Art" post, or maybe I've just had about as much crap as I can take this week; either way I have pretty much had it up to here (imagine a hand to eyeballs motion there) with the number of blog posts and newspaper articles circulating right now about the arts and creative fields being one of the top 5-10 most useless degrees at college to study. According to HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE and HERE and probably a hundred more places I didn't link to, the message I am getting from society is basically this:

"Don’t study art, it’s worthless; spend your time learning more important things, things that will make you lots of money."

 
First of all, you basically just told me that you think my degree is worthless… thanks.

Also, you are making the assumption that the value of my degree and the education I received is proportionate to the salary I will be making after graduation.   I can see how this may seem logical to you, but the two really have nothing at all to do with one another and I’d appreciate you not confusing the two.

Furthermore, (such a great word, don’t you agree?) I’d like to see you try and make it through your first semester of art school and see if you don’t change your tune.

I am sick of art students being painted as this lazy bunch of college students who just wanted to avoid taking math classes and sit around all day gluing together pipe cleaners and playing with paint.

I don’t know how intense your accounting class was, but has anyone ever broken down in tears crying in the middle of class because their work didn’t meet the standards expected of them?  Have you ever been graded on something you can’t simply study for or learn out of a text book? Have you had to create work without any guidelines or rules or knowledge of on what criteria you are being graded and judged?  Have you ever had a teacher hate your work because they didn’t like the color orange?

Listen people, every degree is hard. I’m not saying the fine arts are worse; I’m just trying to make the point that it’s not all sunshine, butterflies and flowers for us.  Which brings me to the point of this rant.

Why I think fine art degrees are so important and shouldn’t simply be passed over as some sort of third-rate, lazy-ass, worthless degree:

1) Art school fosters 
higher levels of creative 
thinking abilities.

This is the obvious one.  But in this day and age creative out of the box thinking is what is moving our country forward.  Art students understand that to get a result you have never gotten you have to go somewhere you haven’t been before.  That is the only way to move any industry forward.  Creative, innovative minds are what push our society into the future, and I don’t think it’s asking too much to assign a little bit of value to that role.

2) Art school teaches you 
how to embrace and handle 
feedback (good and bad).

Putting yourself out there in the world is difficult, but it’s even more scary if you’ve never had any experience opening yourself up to critique like that before.  If art school knows how to do anything well, it knows how to beat the crap out of your emotions until you grow a thicker set of skin and learn how to embrace the feedback, accept it with grace, process it, and grow from the experience instead of simply being traumatized by it.

3) Art students know how 
to push through the crap 
to get to the gold.

Every art student, no matter what year of school they are in, understands the value of pushing past the initial surface of an idea and digging down deeper to the root of the thought.  They know that the first several sketches of an idea are never going to be the best, so they keep pushing, keep digging further and further until they have expelled the obvious and are left with the essence.  

4) Art students understand 
the cost of business.

While you were busy drinking with your buddies at the bar in college, just about every art student was home eating Top Ramen noodles, or not eating at all.  Why?  Because we spent all our money on the art supplies we needed to complete a project to get a grade to pass a test so that we could graduate.  They didn’t just come free with the price of tuition.  Did your free history tests teach you about how much it costs to operate a business?  Did you have to learn how to budget for a project and work within that set budget to complete a project to the best of your ability?  Then when it’s all said and done did you have to sit down and figure out how much to price your work at so it would cover your time, labor, and cost of materials?  Probably not.

5) Art students understand 
how to present themselves 
and their ideas.

If you were one of those kids who liked to sit in the back of classes, blend in and hope that the teacher never noticed you existed… you probably didn’t go to art school.  For one, most art classes rarely ever had a “back of the room,” we were always sitting in little circles for some reason.  Secondly, if you DID manage to sit in the back of class, you were going to have to stand up and present every piece you made during the semester in front of all of us at some point, so going unnoticed would pretty much be impossible.  Art students become masters of the presentation.  You have to know how to get up there and quickly and professionally present what you did, why you did it and why you think it’s important.  That takes practice and art students get it by the bucket loads.

6) Art school teaches you 
to have an opinion and to 
be passionate about it.

It is impossible to go through art school without learning to form passionate opinions on one thing or another, it’s how we create art.  Every piece you make has to come from somewhere, and even if you go into a project just so-so on an idea, the amount of time you have to spend shaping the piece and putting it together automatically grows a strong bond between you and the subject matter.  Art is all about shedding light onto things that we as a society are intrigued by, want to understand or investigate.  Art school forces artists to think critically about the world around them and form passionate opinions about how their work can speak to those issues and bring about change or understanding to the world through them.

7) Art school teaches you 
that not everyone will like 
your work - and that’s ok.

The world isn’t like a biology test, there isn’t typically one right answer and then a bunch of wrong answers, it’s more just a mess of muddy grey.  Sometimes people will love what you do, and then other people will hate that very same thing.  Art school makes you very aware of this fact early on and teaches you that no matter how talented you are, there is always going to be at least one person out there who hates what you do.  You can’t change their minds, you just have to learn to ignore them and keep working.

8) Art school teaches 
you good work ethic.

It is impossible to just show up on test days for art school.  You are either there every day working in class (and out of class for hours on end usually), or you don’t have a finished piece to turn in on critique day.  If you do decide to slack off and skip class and not work at home and turn in some crappy half ass project, you then have the consequence of having to stand up in front of all your peers and show it off,  you can’t just quietly hand in a test paper to the teacher.   I pulled more all-nighters trying working on art pieces than I ever did studying for exams.

9) Art school takes 
theory into reality.

Most degree programs can talk theoretically practically for their entire programs, art school immediately takes you from theoretical to practical application.   You can’t just be an armchair creative in art school, you are forced to actually live your craft, discover exactly what it means to you, and carve out your own unique voice.  The irony of art school is that no one can really teach you how to make art, it is something you have to discover for yourself.   It can teach you the techniques and the classical ideas, but it is up to you to take those tools and figure how to use them in your own unique way, no one can do it for you.

10) Art students are 
masters of failure.

Nobody wants to fail - in fact, in most degree tracks you are strongly encouraged not to.  Students are told to get straight A’s and 4.0 GPA’s so that they will look great for the future.  But As and 4.0 GPAs don’t teach us a damn thing about failure.  Art on the other hand is all about failure.  No artist has ever made anything without first failing miserably at it, getting back up again and trying it once more, and sometimes a thousand more times until their piece finally comes together and works.  As human beings it is impossible for us to grow without learning how to fail, because it is only through failure that we can truly test the boundaries around us and push them.  Playing it safe never got anybody very far, and those who are afraid to fail are not going to have the courage to push our society toward greater things.

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So if I'm a boss, looking to hire a new employee, do I want someone who sat in the back of class, followed the leader, did what they were told, got decent grades and that's about it… 

Or do I want someone who has highly attuned abilities for creative and critical thinking, knows how to form an opinion and professionally present it to a group of people, clearly outlining why their idea is important.  Someone who can handle any feedback you throw at them, can keep pushing a concept past the ordinary into the extraordinary, but understand the costs behind the project as well.  Someone who understands not just how something would work in theory, but how it would work in the real world and isn't afraid of hard work. And most importantly someone who isn't afraid to put their ideas out there and possibly fail because it's so new and different and innovative?

If you ask me… creative studies students don't sound half bad. 

But what do I know, I graduated with an art degree.



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