As an arts student, I have frequently heard the false assumptions and ill-informed opinions a lot (in fact, too many!) people have, over what this kind of degree entails. ‘You’ll never get a graduate job with that degree, certainly not one with a decent starting salary!’, ‘8 contact hours?! Do you actually do any work?’ and ‘Essays! Pfttt, I could write an essay in my sleep and do well, the assignments we have in Maths are on a completely different level to be honest’ are all comments I’ve heard since beginning my time at University. Whilst not said with any kind of malice, these ideas contribute to the hierarchy of subjects we see today. Fundamentally, there is the all too widespread, misconstrued idea that if you don’t study Maths, Engineering or any kind of hard science, you will graduate poor, jobless and having wasted three years doing basically no work. Believe it or not, these opinions and, thus, the hierarchy that exists today, stem from people who have never studied an arts degree, let alone considered the vast amount of work that goes into doing well in one. These people clearly don’t appreciate the value that arts degrees bring to society, so perhaps it’s time to bring this to their attention…
Yes, recently there has been a demand for engineers and chemists and a particular push for women to assume a more active engagement with these career paths. Yes, these careers are, of course, important for economic growth, technological enhancement and scientific progress. However, if everybody worked in these spheres, who would run our courts and defend citizens? Who would produce cultural products which occupy so much of our time in society? Where would the media be? Who would translate at international conferences on pressing issues such as human rights and economic development? Ultimately, arts degrees equip people with crucial communication, presentation and research skills required to work in roles which fundamentally benefit society, even if these advantages do not arise through clear cut technological enhancement. Indeed, to progress even further, society must continue to cultivate a wide range of skills, received from a variety of degrees.
The culture arts degrees perpetuate is not only enriching but incredibly important to society. In 2014, a UCL Centre for Digital Humanities study found that 76% of people think their lives are richer for having the opportunity to view their historical environment, with 88% stating that culture is important for creating jobs and boosting the economy. Cultural products- such as books, films and music- not only encourage self-education and a means of escapism from everyday life, yet sales of such items add immense amounts of money to the domestic and global economy each year. Most producers of these commodities are indeed previous arts students who have spent years developing a skillset to produce high quality products which benefit wider society in numerous ways.
Understanding perspectives, understanding ourselves
The Guardian’s Wendy Earle recently remarked that ‘The arts and humanities embrace much of human life, and study in them filters into society, feeding our desire for knowledge and understanding, encouraging us to rethink our own ideas and assumptions.’ Through arts degrees (particularly via the wide range of sources one must consider to do well and the set-up of seminar discussions) we have easy accessibility to a wide range of perspectives, some of which we may have never even slightly considered before. Essentially, this broadens our horizons, allows us to empathise with others on a different level and even helps us to gain greater understanding of ourselves. As Earle says, these advantages do not just benefit arts students themselves, but society as a whole in that they are filtered through society. You only need to turn on the news to see that problems in the world today such as civil wars and the refugee crisis require people to understand alternative perspectives they would not usually adopt if such crucial problems are ever to be solved.