Give Art a Chance
By R. S. Drain
I think the most monumental part of every creative person's life is when they realise the world is not made for them. When they realise that the only passions celebrated are the ones that involve equations and formulas.
I can still remember the first sign that I was doomed. My second-grade teacher got me to stay behind after class. She pulled out an empty notebook from her pocket, and as I stood there, completely innocent to the curse she was about to place on me, from her lips came the earth-shattering words: ‘’I got you this notebook because…. I think you should be a writer.’’ Even though I didn’t know it then, that was the end for me.
I filled that notebook with stories, and then another ten notebooks after that. I’d found something that I loved - and I was good at it! Then I hit high school. I soon learnt that writing was a hobby- and nothing more. What I should be doing instead was memorising math equations and science formulas, because if I couldn’t do that, then what did my other strengths even matter?
However, I am not a special case. Every year, funding for creative art programs are cut in order to allocate money to science and mathematics programs despite the fact that 85% of Australians believe that the arts ‘make life richer and more meaningful’, and 38% participate actively in the arts more than six times a year.
The real question we need to be asking is: why? Why have we decided that one interest is more important to encourage than another?
The answer lies in the Department of Education’s priorities. They are not training kids to achieve their full potential, but are instead training them for allocated future jobs, and with monetary gain as the most important factor. Maths and STEM subjects receive the most funding because it provides future profit and economic gain for the country. The question must be asked; with so many different types of ways to provide service to the world, why have we decided that those that make the most money are the most important? This completely disregards the proven utilities of arts, just because it isn’t an assured means of advancing the country’s GDP.
It has been proven repeatedly that creative arts of all types are important for student’s growth, no matter what they’re interested in. Creativity helps grow and kindle problem solving, promote motivation and self-confidence, improve a student’s ability to communicate and to cooperate with others. Art has also been proven to reduce the probability of a student using drugs, or even of dropping out of school.
Raising up the arts and giving more kids the opportunity to pursue their passion doesn’t disadvantage those who are pursuing STEM either. It doesn’t have to be a constant battle. In a study (Catterall, Chapleau & Iwanaga, 1999), it was found that the students with high levels of arts learning experiences in a sample of 25,000 students across the United States of America earned higher grades and scored better on standardised test measures than those with little or no arts involvement, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
Deputy chair of the Department of Education at Swinburne University in Victoria, Dr Therese Keane, has stated that incorporating creativity into other subjects such as STEM will have a profound effect on the way children respond to subjects. “There are four skills that are identified as 21st century skills,” Dr Keane says, “They’re called the ‘Four Cs’ — creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration. Creativity is in there because it allows kids to think, do things differently and express themselves.” This will also allow the children of today to respond better and adapt to the jobs of the future.
Another argument people use to disregard the arts is by saying that those pursuing STEM or mathematics will have a higher probability of getting a job, while creative arts are frivolous and reduces your employability. This is false. This completely ignores the facts that each year there are more than three times as many STEM and engineering students than science and engineering job openings. STEM and math-related subjects are just as competitive, if not more than creative subjects. Creative students, if given the chance, are able to master their passion and find a way to get paid for it, while STEM and engineering don’t have as much freedom to do so. No job pursuit or interest guarantees employment and it’s time we stopped pretending it does.
Another argument is that art is ‘easy’ and anyone can do it, while math and STEM subjects require years of study and hard work. The truth is anyone can look at a piece of art and say ‘I could do that, just as easily as I could drop an apple on the ground and go ‘Boom, gravity!’.
Your first reaction to that may be, ‘actually, it’s much more complicated than that.’ Newton had to work hard to formulate his theory of gravitational force - a moment like that doesn’t happen instantaneously. Contrary to popular belief, creative arts are just the same. You can see this in any artist who has spent their lives studying proportions and colour theory, any writer who has written draft after draft in order to perfect their world building and language techniques, any dancer who has put blood, sweat and tears into the perfect pirouette, any actor who has learnt to portray the boundless range of human emotion with ease. In any dedicated creative, there are years spent perfecting their craft.
Just because their ‘boom, gravity’ moment may not be the same as Newton’s or any other scientist, this doesn’t mean it is any more simple or less profound. We must allow every student to reach that moment, no matter what form they find it in, because a world where people feel free to pursue their passions, is a world where the extraordinary can happen.
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.