The Value of an Art Education

Detail of Monarch Butterfly painting © Jen Norton

There was a point mid-way through my university art education when my mom kindly suggested, “Why don’t you study business instead so you can get a job?” Ahhh… the lament of so many well-meaning parents. So I added in a business minor. I suffered through every econ, finance and accounting class, but I made it. Thank God I had art to fall back on. Truth is, without art nothing else made sense. Art is my language. I am forever grateful my parents let me declare it my major, even with their misgivings. I am thankful they trusted in my character above their own fears. It all worked out.

Over the years I have been approached many times by worried parents of college-aged kids who want to study art. We all seem to agree that having art in grade schools is a good idea. But study it in college? That’s a whole different jar of paint all together! How will they get a job? What will our friends think? How can we justify the cost? Talent and creativity are great, but you should study what will get you a top job, they argue. I disagree. Unless you are on a specific vocational track, I believe the purpose of college is to prepare young people to live independently with the ability to adapt and LEARN. The arts are uniquely positioned to help with that goal because they encourage creativity in problem-solving. There is no one right answer, but many possibilities.

Art is the language of the soul. In a healthy society, some of us need to speak it fluently so others can experience it. It is the “human” part of our humanity; the proof of God. Art is creating something out of nothing; expressing an emotion in a concrete way. We all need that, whether we know it or not. If you want more than a choice of a burlap sack for clothing, food in tin cans (with no pretty labels), or a plain white card for your birthday, you might need art. What if you could only paint your home white, white or white? What if your only weekend movie choices were military propaganda, there were no books to read or music to listen to? Can you imagine the state of our economy if there were no emotion involved in a purchase? Art touches everything. Someone needs to make all that art. Someone gets that job.

It’s true that it often takes years of passionate dedication to make it as a working artist. I believe this is largely due to the “self discovery” aspect of art. When I look at artists who have made it big or who I admire, they have done so because they figured out their message and their purpose. They know their audience. This discovery can take years, even a lifetime. Sometimes you do need a day job or an understanding life partner. But there are so many lucrative fields one can explore above and beyond the solitary artist stereotype, from graphic design, to movie or video game production, to in-house illustration. If art is your child’s passion, they just might make money, empower others and create a joyful life while they are figuring it out. Or, they might take on a different career, but be an art supporter. Perhaps a music promoter, a designer beautiful office environments or they might discover more creative ways to flow traffic. A life will unfold the way it’s supposed to, but taking time to study art just might open their eyes to some unconventional options.

Here’s the thing: we all have a soul purpose, and the thing that most naturally uses our talents, personality and abilities to manifest that purpose are exactly what the world needs. The world doesn’t need more miserable people spending lifetimes doing something they think they should do. That creates dis-ease. The world needs inspired people inspiring others. So go ahead and let your kids study art if that’s what drives them. They just might become the productive citizens you dreamed of.



, , , , , , , , ,

One Response to The Value of an Art Education

  1. James Mears August 22, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    “The language of the soul”. Yes, absolutely! Good article.