Changing Careers or Changing Art?

Is a Bachelor/Master of Fine Arts worth it? 


With everything online, where do we draw the line? We’ve already seen free university courses available on the Internet, including free art classes as well. Since these learning resources are so easily accessible, will they defer people from pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or a Master of Fine Arts (MFA)?  


Take a minute to think about your answer. You may be inclined to think that people will have less of an incentive to go to art school, but I insist that will not always be the case. Our world is constantly changing, becoming more digitized by the second. While some may think that automatically means a decreased appreciation for the fine arts, I adamantly argue otherwise. Art conforms to the times, and those who learn art formally may be more adept at learning how to mold their skills to those needed in the present moment.  Artists can, and should, continue to pursue formal fine arts degrees as new doors open every day, creating even more future opportunity for these skills to shine.  



Shifting our Market Interests 


We all know him as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and love him for his role on Shark Tank, but even multi-millionaire Mark Cuban thinks that the fine arts deserve more attention. In an interview with Business Insider, he says “I personally think there is going to be a greater demand in ten years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors...when all the data is being spit out to you, options are being spit out for you. You need a different perspective.”  


Sure, we need people to program machinery to operate, but how do we express their findings? How can we get people who are not in these fields to understand it? Formal education in the arts helps preserve the artistic talents of people who can communicate breakthroughs in technology to their audience. Take Google for example, when you go to the homepage, there’s almost always an icon behind the “Google”, modeling something representative of that day in history. We can have programmers connect us to information on the important person or event being represented, but we need artists to create a visual that draws us in, sparks our interest and makes us click that picture to learn more.  


Much More than one Type of Art 


We sometimes see fine arts as the traditional arts- painting, sculpture and drawing. Many programs focus on training students to pursue more versatile forms of art, such as graphic design, printmaking, game design, fashion design and architecture. All of these are offered at remarkable art schools, like Maryland Institute for Art and Design, Savannah College of Art and Design and Rhode Island School of Design.  


Today, formal art programs encourage students to be well rounded and knowledgeable in multiple fields. This keeps them up with trends and up-to-date with what types of art they should be producing at the moment. Many of these programs require that students dabble amongst forms of art other than their main concentration (for example, game design students taking courses in art theory). Formal programs like these are impactful upon the future success of its students- they have students learn a plethora of trades and understand multiple disciplines within and outside of their focus.  


At my university, all students, regardless of major, were required to take general education requirements. This was a SUNY-wide initiative; so all public school college students in New York also were expected to take at least one course in the arts, the humanities, mathematics, physical sciences and physical education. As a freshman, I hated these classes, but as a senior and recent graduate, I appreciate them.

Many schools with art programs implement this system as well- New York University, for example, requires that BFA students, among all other students, take a core intradisciplinary curriculum before proceeding onto major requirements. These courses can help students complement their art skills with the newly acquired ones, such as public speaking or research. Gen eds can even help students find new passions that they never did. I’ve noticed plenty of my art-student peers taking up multiple fields of study- pairing painting and biology, or neuroscience and sculpture. When we encourage all students, including art students, to explore their horizons, we foster career growth. We help them refine the skills they already have and have them learn how to utilize other skills that may complement their art abilities. 


Relaying Art Skills to Other Skills  


Mark Cuban is right- we can only predict the market in the short-term, and it’s nearly impossible to know what jobs will be in high-demand in the next fifty or sixty years. We have no accurate way of knowing which careers will be abundant in the distant future. I promote formal art programs, as they offer training in versatile fields- students learn graphic design, which can help with computers. Students are also trained in painting and drawing, and if these skills are in higher demand in the future, art students can adapt to these needs and produce work for such markets. I also want to mention how the core general education curriculum that many art students are required to take help them develop strengths in adaptability, problem-solving and critical thinking. These skills are some that can be found in nearly every major and applied in nearly every field.  


According to a survey conducted at Bentley University in 2014, two-thirds of participants believed that “hard” or technical skills were just as valuable and sought-after as “soft”, more innate skills, like communication with others. Art degrees carefully blend (pun intended) physical, technical skills with human interaction. Artists learn how to draw, paint, sculpt, design,and Photoshop, but they also learn how to be receptive to their audiences, delivering carefully crafted messages through their work. 


Combining Interests and Skills  


As a society, we tend to push those who are interested in art to pursue another career. We often tell them to keep art as a hobby, take courses (perhaps the ones that are available free of charge online) and to practice art during their free time. I think we gravitate towards this pattern because we are quick to forget how many careers can branch from an art degree! We are far too often thinking that the only careers available for an art major are those in illustration, painting or sculpture. Positions in these fields may be limited; however, why do we tend to not encourage our friends in the arts to explore other art-related options?  We often neglect to discuss jobs in printmaking, interior design or media programming, as mentioned here. I find that the skills these professions require can be developed extensively through BFA or MFA programs.  


Perhaps those enrolled in BFA or MFA programs will pursue other fields of study in conjunction, equipping them to ultimately pursue more intricate professions within the arts. For example, art salespeople may perform best after studying both art and economics; art therapists may excel with degrees in both art and psychology and art curators may find success after exposure to both art and management courses.  


I find that people who have been enrolled in a BFA or MFA program are more likely to be malleable and versatile, and thus more prepared for multiple types of future employment with such degrees.  Art students should not be dissuaded from pursuing art; rather, they should be encouraged to explore the various kinds of art. This will help them refine their art skills and conform to producing the types of art that the job market demands the most.  


Our world has gone more digital than ever, perhaps this is why many artists choose to pursue graphic design, user interface and application aesthetics at the current time.  We can program as much as we want, but ultimately, we surely need people to bring an aesthetically pleasing effect to our products and services. This is a skill that people will always require and has been throughout history. We all need a chance to appreciate the finer things in life- and maybe those who pursue the fine arts can help us make that happen more often. 

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