The national conversation surrounding the arts in academia has focused on, at various times recently, the arts as: an engine of commerce, a tool for better articulating science or of theater, a training method for business to learn better communication skills… in short the arts as a helper to assist other disciplines and agendas to achieve their goals. However, these are not options that serve the arts as the arts. In other words, I wonder, what about the primary rationale for those engaged with the arts? What about creativity and communication, what about the individual’s need to simply find a way to express themselves to a larger (or smaller) public? What about the joy of creativity for its own sake and for personal growth, or to, in the years during college, find a sense of self amidst the noise of contemporary culture? Do these things still have value I wonder?
We often hear that in regard to students coming out of college these days, it is a much different world than in the past… the stakes are higher, there is a scarcity of employment and things are in general, more expensive, education being perhaps the most frightening of costs. And, of course, it is different today than in the past. But I wonder if students who chose to study education in order to become K-12 teachers find their hypothetical future as a working teacher subject to the same suggestions that teaching is a means to another end as we are asked to consider in the arts. In other words, given your education background, you might be able to monetize your teaching passion by training business people in say, history? That sort of multi-purposing of an education degree might seem to devalue the potential of teaching, but the arts are constantly under the microscope of an unstable future, and the pressure to monetize the arts and the study of them is palpable in higher education.
I would like to propose that, for a moment, we think about art for the sake of art; that we allow ourselves to take the kind of risks that got us this far in the first place. Every student that considers art as a degree option has decided through the positive feedback of teachers and others, and through their own inner joy and sense of accomplishment derived from the work they have made with their own hands. They are standing at the edge of a decision that will lay the groundwork for a very particular kind of life; one that may change the world as much as any other field of interest from engineering to medicine. The arts are the heart and soul of a citizenry, from the books we read our children to the movies that live on through generations to the design and fabrication of everything in our field of vision.
I would like to suggest it is possible to have a conversation about the arts in a research institution which unashamedly considers that the arts serve a different purpose than other subjects, that they have at their core a different mission, and that those who gravitate to the arts and devote their lives to studying or teaching the arts, do so with eyes wide open and with a sense of self that is tethered to their goal of full expression in their chosen creative discipline. I want to support those who make the bold choice to embrace creativity in whatever way they choose. Every professor at every institution of higher education who teaches in the arts has made a similar decision at some point in their life and we are all waiting for the next great artist to arrive at our own institution, ready to change the world.