Why Society Needs to Quit Looking Down on Careers in the Arts

“An actor yesterday. A botanist today. Let’s get them ready for tomorrow.” This is quoted from a pamphlet from Wells Fargo advertising for “Teen Day.” A couple of weeks ago, a photo of this pamphlet went viral on social media due to backlash from the artistic community. The backlash was understandable, since the statement implied a mindset that a career in the arts is worthless and that we should have teens instead looking into more “practical careers.”

It is a mindset that everyone who has a career in the arts or is a fine arts major, including myself, a theatre major, has heard a thousand times. We are sick of hearing it. Wells Fargo has just been the most recent institution to upset the artistic community because of a negative attitude they conveyed to the career field.

Another recent example was a line of t-shirts released by Old Navy. The shirt had the phrase “young aspiring artist,” typed out on the shirt, but the word artist was crossed out and either replaced with astronaut or president written on the side.

These advertisements are awful, but sadly they are a reflection of society’s troubling opinions on careers in the arts: they are not “real” careers and are inferior to jobs in the scientific and mathematical community.
When asking this question of why society reacts this way to the arts, most would usually answer that what jobs do in the mathematics and sciences is have a stable job security and allow you to live with good pay. Based on the starving artist stigma, this answer makes sense, but on the contrary actual data begs to differ with this ideology.

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, or SNAAP, conducted a national survey back in 2010 about college graduates. The survey reflected 13,581 alumni of 154 colleges and conservatories and included graduates of visual arts, theatre, film, dance, music, creative writing, media arts, design and architecture from 2005-2009. According to the results, 92 percent of those who want to work are working. More than half (52 percent) are either working as professional artists (41 percent) or did in the past (16 percent). This also does not include arts minors who found work. According to the survey, despite the reports of low pay, 78 percent of arts majors reported satisfaction in their job. This shows that art majors do find work in their field.

The other argument you hear is that work in the arts is not as important as work in other career fields. What I find ironic, is that the majority of the people who  proclaim these type of statements go to see a good amount of movies, watch TV and/or play videogames. Also, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, John Steinbeck, Picasso, Monet and so on are taught in public and private schools every day. They are studied just like other historical figures.

Plus, there have been people who have majored in sciences that went on to a career in the arts, with the most notable example being the writing staff of the acclaimed series Futurama. The “most overeducated cartoon writers in history,” held three Ph.Ds., seven master’s degrees and had cumulatively more than 50 years at Harvard University. The graduates do sometimes go on to other careers outside of the arts, and still find meaning in their work and life.

We need to stop implying that a job in the arts is not a real job. Like any other career field, there are pros and cons that when weighed against each other are not any worse than any other career field. We are just as important as any other career field of jobs, and should be treated as such instead of a punch line for an incredibly false stigma.

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