Our love-hate relationship with the arts and humanities

Illustration by Dionel de Borja/The Daily Campus

As a senior in high school announcing my commitment to UConn, I always dreaded people asking me what I wanted to study when I finally got to college; the conversation only ever went one of three ways. If I said I was undecided and wanted to explore my options a little, people said I would figure out what “makes me tick” eventually, without ever giving me any actual advice on how to find my passion in life. If I gave a STEM-based answer, people encouraged me, vaguely claiming that I’d end up richer and smarter for it, but with no real idea as to how that would actually happen. And if I even dared to say I enjoyed the arts and wanted to be some kind of a liberal arts major, I got a worried frown in response. While a degree is not any guarantee of a job, adults around me were legitimately concerned about my future financial state if I expressed interest in the humanities being anything more than a hobby.  

This concern I received reflects a troubling trend in higher education. We discourage young adults from creative pursuits, falsely assuming that more technical or scientific degrees have a higher market value. We ignore that humanities degrees teach students to think critically and to use criticism and persuasion effectively. These “soft skills” of imagination and collaboration are valuable in most fields and vital in everyday life; but we act like they’re worthless in the real world.  

In general, people are hypocritical with regards to the arts and humanities. The idea of a liberal arts education is often shot down as a useless waste of money, when we really need the well-rounded people that such a broader educational track creates.  

At the 2021 inauguration of President Joe Biden, Amanda Gorman, (the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate), read a poem titled, “The Hill We Climb.” Later, viewers everywhere claimed the 23 year old was the best part of the inauguration entirely, perfectly capturing the picture of America in desperate need for unity. Gorman’s moving message stems from a lifetime passion for poetry that required  support from those around her, rather than discouragement pushing her towards a hard science or technical trade.  

“These “soft skills” of imagination and collaboration are valuable in most fields and vital in everyday life; but we act like they’re worthless in the real world.”

Other examples of the love-hate relationship we seem to have with the humanities or more creative fields are present on a smaller, more personal scale. The tattoo industry in the United States is steadily growing, having nearly doubled since 2007; tattoos are becoming less a symbol of delinquency and more a symbol of personal expression. However, people are quick to complain about the price of a good tattoo and tipping well. Paying someone to put their artwork on your body permanently is apparently too costly, which just goes to show the lack of value creative fields hold in the public eye. Or, look at the grip music has on our society. We hear music everywhere, almost completely nonstop. But we don’t actively encourage young adults to pursue music. We instead tell them to get a backup plan, (or two or three), not to quit their day job and to hope they just “get lucky” and make it big, acting like it’s that simple. And just think about how ingrained the idea of a “starving artist” is into our popular culture. The lack of support for creative pursuits is present even in school budgets — music, art and drama programs are often the first to receive cuts when funding is scarce. Tragically, the arts have been branded as “electives” as if they’re disposable. The bottom line is,  we want creative people in our society and creative problem solvers in the general workforce, but we don’t want to emphasize the humanities classes that are going to instill this creativity in young people.  

We can’t continue refusing to support something while also enjoying the benefits we receive from it; we don’t get both. The humanities need funding and fewer deterrents. Otherwise, we’re on track to build a very bland world.  

Leave a Reply