Adriene Jenik: So Your Son Or Daughter Wants To Be An ART Major?!

By Adriene Jenik
November 22, 2013

(Photo courtesy of the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Blog)
Adriene Jenik is the director of the Arizona State University School of Art.

Your college major has a bigger influence on your income, and the team at Planet Money looked at range of earnings for undergraduates. Based on research by an economist at Georgetown University, the most lucrative college majors are Petroleum engineering, pharmacy sciences and mathematics and computer sciences.  But consider this...

As students and parents are well aware, it is now very difficult to complete a degree without incurring some student loan debt. Given this fact, I am not surprised that I am increasingly asked, “What’s an art degree good for?”

Look around you. Pretty much everything we wear, sit on, look at, and listen to was created with input from a creative professional, a field full of artists. With the growth of social networks and applications for all kinds of human exchange, the computer interface increasingly mediates our lives.

Sure, you might allow that “digital arts,” which happens to be my own field, have some use. But what about painting and drawing, or sculpture – not to mention ceramics or printmaking? Although these may not translate into more traditional looking jobs, in fact, they prepare students exceptionally well for life in the 21st Century.

Art students learn to tap into creative flow. The sketchbook-toting art student may be a cliché, but that sketchbook, and its digital equivalent, is really a capture source for an outpouring of creative flow, and having been required to brainstorm project ideas on a regular basis, students can readily activate this important skill.

Art students learn to synthesize. Unlike many undergraduate degrees which require students to analyze, interpret and break down a subject into smaller parts for closer examination, undergraduate artists are regularly asked to bring together complex and often contradictory ideas into a larger whole.

Art students do research. In order to create a contemporary figurative warrior sculpture, a ceramics student studies historical images and objects from indigenous cultures, reads accounts of warriors and perhaps even composes written reflections on the meanings of war and resistance in her life.

Art students learn to give and take criticism, discerning what critical feedback is of value to them in their practice and learning how to interpret and respond to the work of others. They also become comfortable with disagreement and debate and are capable of advocating for their ideas in a group.

Art students learn resourcefulness. In the course of their degree, artists learn how to make the absolute most of what they have at hand, inventing new uses for common, cheap and even discarded materials. Countless examples of “reborn” neighborhoods in cities around the world are the result of artists moving in.

I am not trying to convince you that if your child is interested in engineering or business or medicine they should study art instead, but I hope that if your child is genuinely interested in art you will not be discouraged out of concern that he or she will end up in your basement for years. Studying art is serious preparation for the demands of the contemporary workplace.

And consider this- according to the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, 87 percent of arts alumni have reported that they are gainfully employed and content with their lives.

Adriene Jenik is the director of the Arizona State University School of Art. This report first appeared as a post in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Blog.