We’ve all had that awkward conversation with a parent whose child has just declared a major in the arts. You know the ones—they clearly are on defense because they have been asked too many times: aren’t you worried your child won’t be able to get a job? And if a degree in the arts is narrowly viewed as the pathway to Lincoln Center or MOCA, well, maybe a little worry is warranted.
However, I’m going on record: I love to hire arts majors for jobs outside the arts. Here’s why:
1. Problem Solving
They know how to solve problems within constraints. Any arts education teaches this. What is the problem you are trying to solve? What are the tools, materials, resources and people you have at your disposal? What are the other options if what you have is not ideal? These are questions I must answer a dozen times a day, and my work is so much easier when the people around me are fluent in answering them too.
2. Broad Perspective
Adults with an education in the arts tend to be connected learners with a transdisciplinary attitude. They have usually been exposed to thinkers who read, watch, and listen to sources outside of their own culture or area of interest. They have their antennae up to find inspiration in diverse and nontraditional sources. That may be the secret hiding place of innovation.
3. Strong Communicators
Communication skills taught in the critique methodology in arts include the ability to sell one’s ideas, while being able to adapt and change them on the fly based on feedback and collaboration. Visual communication continues to grow in importance exponentially, so I highly value these grads’ abilities to present ideas visually with economy, polish, and precision—and to recognize when some deliverable we have made or received does not achieve these goals.
Some of my most valued colleagues started out as literature, video, design, art history, and visual arts majors. I confess that I can see where their education may have augmented their natural talents and skills because I’m married to the arts. My husband is an associate professor of painting and drawing. I have seen the shine and shadow of higher education in the arts up close, so it would be unfair of me not to throw in a few cautions.
First, in my experience, many arts departments seem to be unaware of the contributions that they can make to the development of the arts major who will not become a full time professional practicing dancer, painter, musician, writer, sculptor, actor, etc. Perhaps an antiestablishment outlook makes them feel like sell-outs if they are “just preparing students for jobs.” But I ask: what better place to conduct the revolution than from within?
Second, sometimes, the arts become a destination for the students who define themselves too strongly by what they can’t or don’t want to do. These students often finish the sentence: “I became an arts major because…” with a phrase like: “I can’t do math,” “I hate to write,” “I don’t like rules and deadlines,” or “I have some personal issues I want to work on through my art.” These aren’t the students I want to hire, and you probably don’t want to either. Too often arts departments may feel like they must fix or ignore these problems. Most schools, however, have programs and people who can help, and such students should be referred to them.
So, my unsolicited advice to that parent whose student is declaring a major in the arts? When you get into “that conversation” with the invasive but well-meaning inquisitor, hold your head high and say, “I think it is a great choice. My child is a creative problem-solver and an excellent writer who can collaborate and innovate to make things, and works well on a team. Employers are hungry for that. We’ve picked a great school where these natural talents will be cultivated and augmented. I’m sure a great future awaits.” And if any of those things aren’t yet true, encourage your child to figure out how to make them true.
Drive, commitment and passion can meet some of the most ridiculous stretch goals. These are three more things that years of defending their academic choices against naysayers have given to these grads. I’m more than happy to reap the benefits of that struggle.
It is easy to think that the history of higher education is irrelevant to the challenges that today’s colleges and universities face... [T]he history of higher education is filled with important lessons for those interested in envisioning the future of postsecondary education. Let’s look at 11 lessons.
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