Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'm a little angry about arts education

Recently I learned that the governor of Florida proposed to stop funding majors at state colleges in subjects that do not lead to “practical degrees,” meaning that many arts, English, and other liberal arts degrees will be considered unimportant. As a student of art history and history, I am frustrated by the idea that what I studied was “worthless” and what the greater implications of this are. Here are my thoughts:
When we say we will only used state funds to fund majors that will have jobs waiting for them at the end of the line, what are we saying about arts, literature, history, and other “liberal arts” studies? Are we saying that the limited jobs in these fields are not worth funding, and that no matter what people have talent in, we should only fund those careers that will have jobs that will bring a better return to the state? Are we then saying that private schools should carry the burden of the liberal arts, thus creating an even bigger divide between the “haves and have nots?” Where does the talented kid in drama, painting, sculpture, dancing get an education when private schools are not an option for him or her because his or her parents can barely afford to put food on the table? How will this child develop talent in a world where extra lessons are too expensive, and he or she is required to get a part time job at 16 because his or her family needs that extra income. Maybe this isn’t the kid who is going to go to college anyway because there isn’t going to be a way to pay for it. But maybe, just maybe, that kid has a talent like no other and has to put dreams on the back burner. Why can’t we decide that as a society we do value art? Why can’t we say that there is a place for the aesthetically pleasing? Or a place for the thought-provoking? Why do we feel that there is less value in a person who paints or writes (or makes pottery) for a living than in someone who uses a pipette to separate out biological matter? I’m not demeaning what scientists or others do, I’m just frustrated by the social value that’s placed on one over the other. We all can’t be in those positions. As someone who was told she was “too smart” to be an artist, I get frustrated at how we (as a society) try to tell people what to do with their talents and their skills. While I wouldn’t trade the fact that I get to work with artworks every day, and am very fortunate to be where I am, art historian isn’t a job that is valued. Nevermind that it takes tons of grey matter to memorize art movements, artists, influences, social history, social changes, and how our history as people is so intertwined with our history as artists. Let’s not tell kids that the only value education has is to train you for a job. Let’s teach our children that art, music, poetry, drama, and so many other things have value. And that funding these projects lets not just children, but everyone see the value in the arts. I don’t often get political in my blog because I don’t feel that it’s an appropriate forum. But I am passionate about the arts. I believe there is so much value in what they bring to our lives. I want to know that my kids can be a part of a world where knowing how to draw and paint, and write are important skills that can transform who they are. And I want to live in a world where what I can do with clay is considered amazing, not just something that “must be fun and relaxing.” I want a world with art.

Note: This was a very stream-of-consciousness post with very little editing.