I want it all (by Lucy Wang, Americans for the Arts' NABE Scholarship Recipient)

Posted by Lucy Wang, Mar 10, 2015 0 comments

Editor's Note: Lucy Wang is the 2015 recipient of the NABE Scholarship, presented annually by Americans for the Arts and the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) Foundation to a student of both economics and the arts.

Even though economics and art are two very distinct fields, I feel that they are best understood in combination with one another. Art inspires me but can't reveal the quantitative foundations of modern life. Economics allows me to understand the underlying influences of the world, but I synthesize and process the things I learn through art.

One striking illustration (no pun intended) of the necessity of both art and economics is in Lewis Hine's photos of child labor in the early 20th century. They were poignant and heart breaking to encounter, but without an understanding of the economic conditions, financial motivations, and incentives to use child labor of the time period, I would be confined to a purely emotional and aesthetic response.

Likewise, the training I've received through art has allowed me to approach economics in a different way than my classmates. I find myself often stepping back (metaphorically) to get a glimpse at the larger picture of the problem set that I am working on, a practice that has originated from when I would literally step back to gain some perspective on my artwork.

On a slightly different note, the past two years have been a time of discovering the relevance of both art and economics. Initially, creating art was a way for me to capture the beauty of my surroundings: sunsets, butterflies, and loved ones. But as I learned and experienced more, I realized that the world is more complex than I perceived and more nuanced than my eyes could see. Intertwined in the beauty of the world was injustice, discrimination, and poverty. These were not able to be so easily captured in the strokes of a paintbrush because I didn’t understand them. Underlying each act of injustice and discrimination was a whole dearth of political and economic factors, but all I could see through art was the pain on the surface. Art was no longer a satisfying way for me to explore and make sense of the world. Instead, I turned to books and the social sciences to get a better grasp of the causes and factors that make up of the complexities of the world.

Unlike most of my classmates, my college decisions did not automatically come down to Yale or another academically rigorous university. I was choosing between Yale and art school. Even though art wasn’t able to help me see the world more clearly, it was still something that I valued deeply and devotedly a lot of my time to. Ultimately, I chose Yale —I reasoned that in art school, I could paint the world as a more beautiful place, but at Yale, I could learn the skills to actually create a more beautiful world. I couldn’t imagine sitting in a studio with a paintbrush depicting the beauty and injustices of the world when I could help mitigate those injustices.

I came to Yale with the mindset of learning all I could about the factors that perpetuate injustice and pushed art off to the side. I immersed myself in studying economics, writing policy memos, working with IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services of New Haven), and taking classes such as “Chinese Society Since Mao,” which was an amazing introduction to using political and economic factors to analyze changes in society. However, at the end of my freshman year, I found that I missed creating and engaging with art a lot.

I’m hoping and beginning to see that creating art and bringing about social change don’t have to be dichotomous, but can and have been integrated successfully. I am especially interested in the power of art to transform communities on a small-scale, but very powerful level. The two examples I can think of right now are the Detroit-based nonprofit Write a House, which is creating a community of writers in the abandoned Eight Mile Road of Detroit and Theaster Gate’s Dorchester Projects on the South side of Chicago. Gates purchased a couple of abandoned lots, hired local community members to renovate the houses using completely recycled materials, and created a cultural center. These are beautiful pieces of art themselves but also double as hubs for artists and the community to come together.

I’m interested in the economic causes and consequences of art installations such as the ones in Chicago and Detroit. For my senior essay, I’d like to study art as a tool for economic stimulation and political change as well as consider the place of art in a society.

Please login to post comments.