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‘The Arts Are Important’: Why You Should Study For Love, Not For A Job



Choosing to go into further education is a big decision. Antonia reflects on the hostile debate between arts and science students and why the two are ultimately incomparable. 

‘I have six exams – you only have two. Why are you stressed?’

A report from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in January 2015 showed that the gross value of creative industries was worth £7.6 billion – 5% of the UK economy. You would think that this alone would merit it as a sector to celebrate.

Instead, I spent a lot of time at university trying to justify stress about my studies to bitter science students constantly seeking to undermine the academic discipline of an arts degree. ‘I have six exams – you only have two. Why are you stressed?’ I was often made to feel guilty for choosing to study something I enjoyed – something I could talk about in the pub or round the dinner table. But that’s what I liked about doing a somewhat creative degree. The point of studying at higher education isn’t by default punishment – you can study something you enjoy.

When the time came for me to explore my options in the further education route, my parents advised me to choose wisely. In other words consider law, medicine (hardly possible as I dropped science at GCSE level) or economics (I am useless with numbers and graphs and not even vaguely interested). Because I started university in 2012 – the year fees increased threefold, they wanted my studies to be an investment for my future, and land me into a secure job post-graduation.

…you can study something you enjoy.

There are many misconceptions about arts degrees. Arts students have a significantly small number of contact hours, but all of that is relative. For example, philosophy students have, on average, 8 hours a week contact hours but it would be unreasonable to have any more due to the number of hours we spend reading and writing essays.

David Willetts was either naïve or over-optimistic when he argued that increasing university fees was not ‘placing a heavier financial burden on people least able to afford it’. When the fees increased, students from lower bracket of household incomes had to be strategic about investing in their future because of the debt that university would incur. Job security, training for the workplace and earning potential are all things we have to consider – often at an age where we don’t have any real world experience of them. For some, it can become a dilemma as to whether to follow your interests or be practical.

Throughout my studies I was often asked, ‘do you realise your (arts) fees pay for science students’ equipment?’ It’s impossible to derive the value of an arts degree from material invested, and if you try to, you might miss the point of why art and humanities are important. If you do the maths and compare it to science degrees, it will only make you sad. But the point is that the nature of an arts degree is qualitative, so why try to judge the value via quantitative methods?

…‘do you realise your (arts) fees pay for science students’ equipment?’

I chose to study at university simply because I didn’t know what direction I would be heading in post-uni, so I decided that the next three years would be a sort of purgatory. A time for me to:

  1. 1. get out of London and explore a new city.
  2. 2. grow and become more independent.
  3. 3. take on my favourite subject from sixth form and study it in more depth.

And I did exactly that. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when going into the degree, but I knew that the scope post-graduate were almost endless. That was an important factor for me and for many other arts students; I didn’t want to be restricted career-wise in the future. I knew I wasn’t set on becoming the leading architect, or go on to become a brain surgeon, but it’s the soft skills you develop that really make a difference with arts degrees and guide the way you approach tasks. I’m not talking about skills from an employer’s point of view, but in terms of personal development.

Now, more than ever, employers are less interested in what you studied (unless it’s a specialised vocational field such as medicine or law), but more your classification and what you have to say for yourself upon graduation. Here are just some of the soft skills I learned or developed during my undergraduate that I have already used in the working world, six months fresh out the wings of graduation:

  • Ability to ask the right questions (aka logical critical thinking)
  • Written and verbal communication skills (thanks to all those essays and seminars)
  • Research skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Lone-working and independence

An arts student has no choice but to develop their imagination and creativity

An arts student has no choice but to develop their imagination and creativity simply because you know that there’s not a direct route through the degree with fixed right or wrong answers.

The arts are important. Academically, vocationally or for entertainment purposes. Music, fine art, theatre, literature all makes the world a more interesting place. If we are interested in consuming the arts and discussing humanities, then we have a legitimate reason to be interested in studying it. These courses are available for a reason: higher education should not solely be used as a means to an end.

Art is often seen as a luxury, but it shouldn’t be. Art is not just for the elite. The availability of courses like philosophy, history, languages, so on and so forth helps to diversify the clientele and culture at traditional ‘red brick’ universities, even if the learning content is very one-dimensional. I found out that Simon Pegg from ‘Hot Fuzz’ and David Walliams both went to Bristol Uni and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

Art is not just for the elite.

I can’t say my course opened the door to a obsessive need to take philosophical thought further into a masters, but I ticked off all of my aims for three years in purgatory and then some. There is no such thing as ‘my degree is harder than yours’ because science and art are two very distinct entities that are impossible to judge according to each other. Just because it’s harder to tie the arts to direct point in society, it doesn’t mean it should be relegated as ranking behind concrete theories. Elitism has no place in the arts and humanities because it promotes a culture of sharing ideas and learning from one another.

Are you struggling to make a decision about the next step? Are you put off by going to university because of the fees? Get in touch  on Twitter @rifemag

Drop in to the Employability Club for support and advice about accessing education, employment or training.