Are Arts degrees worth it?

As someone who transferred from BSc Maths to BA English Language and Linguistics, I feel somewhat qualified to explore this question and to debunk the myths that are associated with Arts degrees.

When I was a maths student (and before that, physics), there was always an overarching assurance that with this degree, I will definitely not have a hard time getting a job. Probably a well-paid job too, and, if I really wanted to sell my soul, I could follow the footsteps of the Wolf of Wall Street, although not quite so immorally/illegally… But the point is, it’s no secret that BScs are well-valued by society and BAs are usually met with an onomatopoeic outburst: BA!, followed by “So what do you want to do, be a teacher?”.

No, I don’t want to be a teacher, thank you very much. Not that teachers aren’t amazing, it’s just that I’m quite looking forward to escaping the flawed system of education that doesn’t value the degree I’m currently pursuing…

See, while my maths degree and physics interests held definite monetary value, they didn’t fulfil me in the way that I had hoped. There was something missing. All I could see and all I was told to study were pedantic proofs and outrageous phenomena like imaginary numbers (yes, I’m serious). But, most importantly, it narrowed my field of thought to only that which can be measured and proved. As a man who has spiritual beliefs, this mode of thought – while being incredibly effective in developing the world of empirical studies – left me with a hole in my heart. 

Arts degrees address the part of life that is missing from the modern (Western) world. They address the divine, the beautiful and they are unadulterated by political correctness and HR and corporate policy. The arts are what make humans so fantastic. We can create things out of nothing, and these creations are manifestations of our very beings. When you create something that has an effect on another person, your very soul has touched theirs, and you gain a sense of self-affirmation and individuation that you cannot get from any other source. 

The arts help people express who they are. They give people meaning. They affirm that we are all unique individuals with something equally beautiful to offer the world. 

I think that if you are going to take an arts degree you need to know why you are doing so. I don’t mean you need to know what job you want, I mean you need to know exactly what it is you love doing. It’s not going to be easy to make money, you’ll be self-employed, and you might find that you have a lot of time on your hands. Pursuing any kind of artistic career is similar to a high stakes lottery: your chances of winning are realistically slim, but the pay-out is huge. This must not matter to you if you want to be an artist! The dream is to make it big, of course it is, but you need to be creating out of love in order to be fulfilled.

Finding work

A word of advice: do not rely on your artistry as your sole source of income in the beginning. Work a job that you can tolerate, preferably something creative, in order to pay the bills and then spend as much time outside of that job as possible chasing your artistic dreams until the day comes that you have a name for yourself. Try to find part-time jobs related to what you want to do, or freelance opportunities (much like writing for the Campus Society content team!). But make sure you work enough to have your basic human needs met, and outside of that, get creating. Once you make it, you’ll be immortal, but it takes a great deal of patience, failure and hard work to get there.

It’s sad that the arts are so under-appreciated in the modern world. Society now values only that which is productive, and anything else is considered a waste of time and even slandered. It hasn’t always been this way; the Scientific Revolution didn’t start until the 16th Century. While that may seem like a while ago, in the history of the planet and humankind it is only a stones-throw away. Prior to that, art, spirituality and personal growth were more central to society and had been since our evolution. Today there is an epidemic within the Western world: people are depressed, anxious, trapped in cycles of unfulfilling work and surrounded by contradictions. Looking only at the empirical, at what can be observed and measured, and disregarding any possibility of divinity or things beyond our comprehension, the Scientific Method has swept across an entire culture’s domain of thought, leading to this disconnection from life that many of us feel. It’s our severance with spirituality that has brought us here, and what are the arts but a connection with spirit?

Hone what makes you unique, follow your passions, and don’t let anyone tell you your Arts degree is a waste of time, because it’s your life, and whether or not the qualification itself lends you a hand, I guarantee that your journey through university and through the arts will benefit you on a deeply personal level.

Philip Lowe

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