Words by Emily Fuller
As many of you already know, by studying an arts degree you become the target for endless backhanded comments and judgments about your future. You grow not only immune – deflecting every negative comment off your hardened exterior, but also expectant of the too familiar looks of disapproval that are painted on many people’s faces when you tell them about your academic pursuance.
“What sort of qualification will that get you?”
“How do you think you could make a career out of something so open-ended?”
“Don’t you have any ambition for a more prestigious degree and career?”
These are just a few of the many variations of condemning comments you become subject to. Negative stigma has leeched itself upon what it means to study a degree of arts, provoking students to feel guilty or embarrassed about it, causing them to feel the need to justify their decisions for choosing to study a “less ambitious degree”. You may feel burdened with the guilt from parents, for not choosing something more stable and secure that you’re well and truly capable of. You’re also subjected to the guilt from friends studying other degrees who rescind your need vent about your stress, just because they have to sit for more exams whilst you apparently have the luxury of mainly submitting written assessments.
Truth be told, I feel like I have nothing to be ashamed about by obtaining an arts degree. I don’t feel that I lack ambition or am intellectually inferior to my friends who study the more socially acceptable degrees of psychology or law. There seems to be this massive misconception that those who are studying arts are there not by choice, but rather because it is a ‘convenient’ option until you decide what you really wish to pursue. Let’s clear that up right now – most of us choose to study in this degree because we simply want to. As a major of literature, philosophy and religion, I have been afforded the privilege to immerse myself in areas of art and humanities that I find myself endlessly passionate about and fascinated by. In comparison to how I felt when I was undergoing the beginnings of a law degree, I found myself to be lacking the thirst for knowledge in this field. It is through pursuing this particular degree that I discovered my love for writing, and it is through the influence of my lecturers that I have been able to cultivate not only the technical skill set involved with analysing and writing, but they have also encouraged me to readily embrace a certain type of openness towards the creative process. Quite frankly, I do not have much concern about where I’m headed beyond finishing this degree, what I do care about is the fact that I get to be engrossed in content that I am so passionately driven by.
Another hugely significant consequence in studying an arts degree is the transformative effect it has on how you perceive the world and everyone around you. I know it sounds cheesy, but I constantly feel like my mind is being probed and prodded – forcing myself to question and challenge dominant discourses that I have ashamedly accepted as norm in the past. The study of liberal arts puts students in touch with ways to interpret the inner functioning of our world within various cultural contexts, not just our own in which we grow familiar and comfortable with. It disputes the central notion that for every big social or political issue there is always a “right” answer, but rather these are issues with various answers that extend along an expansive spectrum tied to an array of world views and moral values. It allows for the mind to be prised open to a realm of infinite perspectives, possibilities and human experiences – which ultimately stretches your sense of awareness and empathy to reach people and cultures that you once deemed incomprehensible and unreachable.
So yes, I study “just an arts degree” and no, I don’t really know where that is exactly going to propel me once I’ve finished. But do I care? Not really. At this stage, I consider myself so overwhelmingly lucky to be able to spend these years of institutionalised education actually studying content that excites, impassions and inspires me. From Jane Austen’s ironic feminist agenda to Shakespeare’s clever subversions of Victorian convention and its masculine ideals, I have learnt to appreciate these forms of art, history and philosophy for the beauty and relevancy that they still hold in a contemporary context of the 21st century. It’s a no brainer here, there is a reason why these influential figures and subject matters have been essentially canonised and are still deconstructed today regardless of how prehistoric you may think they may appear. I’m pretty proud of the social, political and cultural evolution I have made over these few years, and I am eager to continue on this constant path of growth – and I have the study of arts and humanities to thank for this. For blowing up my narrow and ignorant conceptualisation of the world as I once knew it, and for exponentially enlarging my understanding and desire to learn about and respond to not only our 21st society and culture, but also our history and cultural antiquity.
Art by Vondove