Coming to the defense of my arts degree
April 28, 2012 § 7 Comments
I was having lunch with a friend the other day and this dude comes along and jumps right into our conversation. With his pizza and his little stare, he started bagging my arts degree. He started with saying, “I can’t believe the entrance scores for Arts and Science are the same. Clearly Science is much harder.” Clearly! It went straight downhill from there until all I could do was cross my legs and my arms and gaze off into the distance, biting my tongue. I don’t know why I was so mad. I’ve had people bag my arts degree before – my brother, my cousins, and all those articles on Yahoo! that tell me my degree is useless. And it probably is, for practicality’s sake, but what about the place of beauty and pleasure in the world?
My friend asked me, when we had left (under the excuse that I was freezing and needed to be indoors), why I hadn’t said that, why I hadn’t defended my arts degree. And…I don’t know. Probably because there was absolutely nothing witty that came to mind to defend my degree just because there’s something intrinsically important about the arts that I had never thought of defending it before. All I wanted to say to the dude was, “You. Me. Outside. Now” (add threatening hand gestures here).
How do you argue with someone who is, for all intents and purposes, studying to find the bottom line? I have nothing against commerce students; in fact, I am looking to make my living in business. But to denigrate my degree in such a cavalier way….it was truly one of those experiences where you just sit there, appalled, with absolutely no defense that comes to mind. Never mind that I am finding it intensely difficult to find a job. If I could do it all over again, I’d still do the same thing. (okay, maybe not. Maybe I’d have studied something other than Psych, which you can take through arts or science, and which I’ve had to explain to people over and over and over again, but that’s for another time.)
I studied Spanish for three years. It was the best thing my arts degree ever taught me. There’s something exciting, fascinating even, about having your world expand to such epic proportions, having your thinking change through learning another language. I loved every minute of it. I love how the words feel in my mouth, I love how sentence structures run through my brain. I love how I can sing more songs, read more poetry, talk to more people, and how I know more about more bits of the world. And then there was this subject I did on Spanish literature, IN Spanish. It fascinated me how I was able to think, understand and argue abut more complex things in a language that, three years prior, I knew nothing about.
I don’t know about your commerce degree, but I am absolutely sure that it couldn’t have given me the pleasure that my own degree did. Okay, yeah, that’s not quite right. I did a few commerce subjects in the early years. Aside from the one lecture with the really cute global economics lecturer, I found it all mind-numbingly dull, with not a drop of happiness to be found anywhere. It’s practical, sure. But every little step we do in life is practical already – we choose which uni to go to that’ll give us the best advantage, we choose jobs that’ll help us achieve the things we want, some of us even choose the partners that’ll help us achieve the bottom line. I don’t understand why I can’t choose to fill my mind with beautiful things, beautiful words and thoughts, and not be criticised for it.
Dear boy-who-shat-on-my-arts-degree, I feel sorry for you, I really do. On any given day, I am sure my mind is more lively, imaginative, and creative than yours. I feel sorry for your future offspring – I can only imagine, if you do think like this all the time, how you’ll react to their stick drawings and their colouring books and their fairytales. On the other hand, I’m quite thankful, now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, that you made me realise how much I loved what I studied and how my mind goes places it wouldn’t have if I stuck with studying management and human resources. (Btw, the whole idea of humans as resources would never fly in the humanities, just so you know. What an absolutely mercenary concept! But again, that’s for another time.) I believe in science, yes. I believe in studying commerce too; to a large extent, yes, money DOES make the world go round. But please don’t shove it down my throat and try to convince me that there is no place for studying the arts. After all, all those scientists of legend had hobbies – whether it was music or painting or poetry. They were smart people, I’m sure they found at least SOME merit in it, and I hope you do too. And if, sadly, you don’t…and end up ruling the world, Hmmm. I’m sure you’ll end up hiring someone who has a useless arts degree to inject some beauty in it and spruce the place up. Goodness knows you’ll have a hard time finding it in your figures and your graphs.