The Value of the Arts in Education & Life

Posted by Stephanie Milling, May 02, 2013 6 comments

Stephanie Milling Stephanie Milling

As a university administrator and associate professor, I frequently interact with parents who visit our campus with respective students. The one question that is always interesting to field is, “What will my child be able to do with a degree in (fill in your respective arts area here)?”

From a financial standpoint the question is a valid one: parents want to know that their investment in their child’s future is going to lead to gainful employment and prevent him/her from returning home and living on their couch after graduation. However, the assumption that any college degree, regardless the area of study, will lead to a specific job is a misconception.

While a degree does set one on a career path with a specific skill set, it does not guarantee employment in any specific field. The question is also valid because in my experience, the knowledge that a majority of students and their parents have of the opportunities in the arts is limited to practical involvement in their respective art area of study: singing, painting, dancing, acting, etc.

In higher education, I have witnessed practicing an art form as the point of entry that many students take into their respective fields. However, that initial exposure leads them to a variety of careers within and outside of the arts. Therefore, I try to quell the notion that a degree in the arts leads to being a starving artist. Instead, I point them to resources that will help them expand their perspective of the possible career options for those with arts backgrounds and discuss the transferable skills that students learn within the arts.

If someone wants to work in the arts or an arts-related field upon graduation, the choices are numerous and extend beyond practical involvement in the field. Many college arts programs and career centers post information about the careers a person can pursue with a degree in specific arts area.

The Career Center at Boston College and The Career Center at the University of California Berkeley are two just examples of this type that can be located on college and university websites. By directing prospective students and parents to such resources, it enables them to peruse career profiles and their accompanying qualifications. In addition, many of these web pages include links to other websites for internship possibilities, professional organizations, and career finder search engines.

Making the connection between a college major, a prospective job in the field, and the professional networks that exist for various arts-related professions is one way of helping people understand that individuals in the arts do work and contribute to the functioning of industry in a variety of ways.

While there are specific long-standing careers in the arts and arts-related professions, recent discussions in higher education circles and news media have revolved around arts entrepreneurship and innovation.

At the International Council of Fine Arts Deans conference that I attended in October, James Undercofler, Artistic Director of the National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland and special advisor to Ithaca College’s new MA in Entrepreneurship in the Arts, spoke about how today’s arts students are inventing their own careers. He frequently blogs for Arts Journal and shares Entrepreneurship in Music and Arts Student Projects completed by students at Drexel University.

The projects demonstrate how the students are able to think outside of the box and create their own opportunities within the arts. “Innovation-ready” students who are inventing jobs are discussed by Thomas L. Friedman in an op-ed piece entitled "Need a Job? Invent It" recently published in The New York Times. In his review of Tony Wagner’s book entitled Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Friedman summarizes Wagner’s argument regarding education reform in the United States.

Wagner believes that students in the United States are getting shortchanged when curricula does not allow them to develop creative problem solving and critical thinking skills: these are the capabilities that he believes will set them apart in a competitive marketplace where employers are expecting workers to do more than possess knowledge of their field and demonstrate innovative ways to use their knowledge.

A similar sentiment was discussed in "The value of a liberal-arts education spurs major debate," a recent article in The Columbus Dispatch. Creativity is being valued in corporate America, which is demonstrated by a recent example discussed in "Dance troupe markets creativity to cube-dwellers." This article highlights the efforts of Hewlett Packard as the organization has engaged Trey McIntyre Project, a dance company, to help employees learn about creative process and its potential in the workplace.

There are countless other articles that have appeared in recent media sources, and I am sure that you have discovered similar stories that I encourage you to share. I have begun compiling these resources to use as tangible examples to support the list of careers in the arts to help me I am asked what one can do with a degree in the arts. Perhaps real world stories like these might resonate with skeptics in a way that research cannot and encourage a perspective that values the arts at the center of human experience.

6 responses for The Value of the Arts in Education & Life


May 03, 2013 at 8:12 am

Thank you for a very interesting article, Stephanie. There's no doubt students are being shortchanged when it comes to developing creative thinkers in the current curricula.


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May 09, 2013 at 12:39 pm

I have had many friends that received practical degrees and have struggled to gain a job within their field or have a low paying job after investing in an expensive practical degree.

I was fortunate enough to have a family that supported me in becoming a professional artist. Since I was a child all I ever wanted to do was to work as an artist.

Being a professional artist I have worked with many other successful artist. What many people do not understand is that art is all around us in advertising, stores, TV, the radio, internet and streets made by artist who got paid to make that art. If your child has talent invest in that talent! You will have a happy child that may make a higher wage than you one day!

I am entertainment art director and photographer who makes a very comfortable living in creative fields that I enjoy! It is much better than data entry in accounting any day! I did that for one week and quit while I was on summer vacation!

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May 05, 2013 at 10:41 am

EDITIING IS FUNDAMENTAL. "I'd rather do something I love and feed my soul....and so I do. I feed my soul by doing something that I love.

I majored in theatre. I can remember (translation: I am reminded by my mother frequently the time that I told her that I was going to major in theatre. She suggested that I major in something else so that I could make a living. I told her that I’d rather do something that I loved and feed my soul.

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May 05, 2013 at 10:36 am

I majored in theatre. I can remember (translation: I am reminded by my mother frequently :) the time that I told her that I was going to major in theatre. She suggested that I major in something else so that I could make a living. I told her that I'd rather do something that I loved than feed my soul.

Well, lo and behold, that's what happened. As an elementary school theatre teacher, I get to see first hand and at its nascent stages the wonderful transformations that arts education can have on students. Theatre can bring a shy child out of his/her shell or teach him/her how to have empathy for others. It can help develop an already amazing gift in another. Dance allows students the opportunity to express themselves, their feelings through movement, and gives them a level of confidence in their own skin that will carry them through the more challenging times in their lives (adolescence and the like), learning to play a musical instrument or taking voice lessons, not only enhances students' musicality, but also supports their math and social development, and visual arts allows students another form of communication and interpretation.

Whether students decide to major in the arts to teach it in a classroom, use it in business, or become artists who take their acts on the road in film, art galleries, concert halls, or Lincoln Center, a degree in the arts can never be a bad thing, and starting children early in the arts is even better. This way they can experiment with multiple art forms, hone their skills at a very young age, and hopefully have even more of a sense of where they want to take it when they get to university. In terms of artists' ability to get a job in the work force: the arts generated $135.2 billion of economic activity, and that was in a down economy in 2010....and it's nonprofit arts activity. This doesn't include the meals that were bought before attending these events, the parking that was paid for, or any souvenirs bought at these events. The arts are truly an economic engine.

So, should your children decide to major in theatre, dance, visual arts, or music, be supportive of them. The arts teach so much, critical thinking skills, resilience, problem-solving, collaboration, listening skills, that no matter what, they will be more than prepared for this 21st century workforce.

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June 11, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Hi Stephanie,
Great topic of discussion - and thank you for all resources you linked to in your article...some of these were new to me, so were most appreciated! I stumbled across the Arts USA blog while doing research for my new article which outlines reasons for studying Art at high school ( I think the best news is how the internet has opened up a whole range of opportunities for creative people - very exciting times!
Best wishes,

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Gabe Nechamkin says
May 17, 2013 at 7:06 am

Arts in very important in a person's life. It give relive to our tension. Even in education its very important that students should take interest in Arts. Art is a thing which give us peace and release tension.

Gabe Nechamkin

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