Discourse / Editorials / January 20, 2016

Arts just as important to study – and fun, too

When I declared a minor in dance, I had no idea what I was doing. It wasn’t premeditated by more than a week or two, and it certainly wasn’t a conscious move toward a future career. It was following an impulse, a passion. It was trusting in Knox to get me to something bigger.

Since, as a creative writing major and dance studies minor, I’ve become accustomed to a certain degree of incredulity. My favorite reaction when asked what I’m studying is the subtly-condescending “that sounds like fun.” Yes. Fun. My peers and I pay upwards of $50,000 a year for fun.

According to ThinkAdvisor.com’s list of the Top 30 Highest-Earning College Majors, the 10 subjects you should study to ensure a financially stable future all feature the word “engineering.” Nothing against engineers: We need them, and my hat’s off to anyone with a brain geared toward that particular skillset. Engineers have my utmost respect and my late-night envy. But I doubt many of them take on such a strenuous subject for its earning potential, because, like me, I’d be willing to bet that they’re curious. That they like what they do. And many schools, Knox included, support them.

Knox, however, supports the arts perhaps even more so. Not only as worth participating in, but as professionally viable. For instance, just this year: Repertory Term, which immerses students in the company structure of professional theatres; Dance Ensemble, a two-term capstone course which familiarizes students with the audition and rehearsal process of professional dance companies; senior Karli Shields’s honors project about audience, advertising and pitching screenplays; senior Hannah Cloh’s anthropology senior research about artistic communities; the annual Milk Route reading series which showcases creative writing students’ work off campus. “Fun.” Serious. Impressive. Academically and professionally useful. Personally relevant.

Artists may not show as much obvious, subject-specific earning potential. Art is unquestionably undervalued in the world at large. But here we are devoting hours of energy to the arts on a campus which takes us seriously.

Perhaps making art is selfish in its way. Perhaps it can even be frivolous, though I defy anyone who has laughed along to a well-performed Shakespearean comedy to claim that the frivolity left them anything short of giddy. I defy anyone who has been embraced by friends after their first Terpsichore performance to claim that hip-thrusting through their Michael Jackson tribute piece left them anything short of empowered. Surely as members of a generation obsessed with self-expression and individuality, we should be moving toward universal embrace of the cathartic, illuminating power of art. If not as a profession, as a means of self-exploration.

We were told two tales as children. One was that we could be whatever we wanted when we grew up, the other that all we needed was a college degree to get a job doing it. The inherent conflict is the notion that we have to do the thing we are most passionate about for a living. Knox has taught me demonstratively that this is a lie by proving that the things I am most passionate about are valuable enough to pursue regardless of whether they earn me money.

In conversation right after I reveal my major and minor, I get this question: “What do you want to do for work?” I don’t talk about writing or dancing, because I don’t plan to do them for work. I simply plan to do them. As a sophomore, declaring that minor in dance, I didn’t know what I was doing other than walking an unexpected path. I have a satisfactory answer now.

I have been equipped by my experiences on this campus to recognize art as a fundamental part of my personality, without which I would be less happy, less myself. I recognize art as inextricably linked to my humanity. It will help me in my future career by supporting my ability to solve problems, my willingness to revisit, my capacity for collaboration. Maybe I’ll be a lucky one: Maybe I’ll write a novel that sells a hundred million copies or choreograph for the VMAs. But even if I don’t, my education will have given me the confidence to embrace the creativity so many strangers doubt the value of. Mine will never make the list of the Top 30, or indeed the Top 100 highest-earning college majors, but having lived in a community which takes it seriously, I will always respect the importance of making art. Plus, it’s fun.

Tags:  art arts Carly Taylor discourse Knox College majors

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