Opinion //

Why your arts degree matters

Stop dismissing the value of the arts degree, writes Maani Truu

The Struggling EngineerUP

Art by Matthew Fisher

The humble Arts degree has been a punching bag for a while now.

Frequently described as a ‘waste of time’, it’s easy to become blind to the fact that it represents a massive proportion of students in higher education, along with being the gateway to many necessary occupations. As such a prominent field of study, it seems odd that the degree is so flippantly discounted when compared to its vocational counterparts.

It is not difficult to argue the social, cultural and intellectual benefits that come from studying the Arts—and many before me have—but what if an Arts degree could not only be a fulfilling educational exercise, but also, a valid career move?

Hot tip: it can be.

The two concepts are not mutually exclusive; no matter how many times people crack jokes that all Arts students will end up behind a drive-through window.

We will likely hold 6 to 10 different jobs in our lifetime. It is no longer as simple as picking a degree, graduating and working in the field until retirement, slowly climbing the ladder as you go.

Realising this, employers are learning to value transferable skills and flexibility, which allow a candidate to adapt to any role. There is no expiry date on cultural literacy or the skills fostered in an Arts education. In contrast, industry-specific training can quickly become outdated based on technological development or changing practice. That’s assuming the role survives the RISE OF THE MACHINES and outsourcing of the workforce.

As Vivek Ranadivé expressed in an article for Forbes; “Whatever can be done in India and China WILL be done in India and China… Also, whatever can be done by a computer will be done by a computer.” By comparison, the Arts supports innately human qualities, such as creativity and analytical thinking that will always be in demand. Take that robots.

Through making these comparisons, however, I’m giving in to the notion that there is an unbridgeable void between the “Two Cultures”, as described by C.P. Snow. Between the “literary intellectuals” and the “scientists”. Or between the Arts and vocational degrees. Or between the 99.95s and those of us who took up drinking in high school. An alternative view sees the bipolar nature of higher education as an unnecessary social construct.

There is no reason that one faculty needs to be placed on a pedestal as more ‘worthy’ of study, as it only creates further pressure for students to choose the ‘right’ degree. I can attest to this, having just barely passed the third year of a Law Degree that I don’t want (and gaining some debt that I really don’t want) due to the early influence of teachers and peers, who trivialised my first choice of degree.

But things are changing, with a so-called “renaissance of renaissance thinking” and an attempt to reprioritise Arts alongside STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects, leading to the STEAM movement.

Ultimately, the crusade has developed through the realisation that scientific innovation can have value added to it when creative individuals are integrated in the development process.

There is no benefit to ranking disciplines, when it is clear that an effective society requires educated folk from all fields on the intellectual spectrum. An Arts education provides a unique way of approaching innovation and development, a perspective that is just as important as any other discipline.

There is a whole world of career possibilities for Arts graduates, assuming talented young people continue to enrol in the Degree.