We hear it all the time from struggling students and concerned parents alike—what are the job prospects for anyone with a degree in Fine Arts? And while those of us in the field can argue the benefits till we’re cerulean in the face, it’s always nice to hear an outside opinion singing the praises of fine arts.

Fine Arts education proponent Dr. Barbara Falk

Consider the following story that appeared on The Mark, an independent news site whose contributors include “Nobel laureates, heads of state, best-selling authors, business leaders, artists, academics and more.” In Defence of a Fine Arts Education is written by Dr. Barbara J. Falk, an associate professor at the Canadian Forces College, who specializes not in the fine arts but in political philosophy, dissent, Cold War history, war and terrorism, contemporary public policy and debates regarding globalization and global governance.

“What if there is a place in universities today where students are simultaneously acquiring job-related skills, challenged to be entrepreneurial and creative at times of high unemployment and engaging in the ideal process of human development described above?” Dr. Mark asks rhetorically. “It is happening. In the Fine Arts.”

After summarizing the usual post-secondary complaints—high cost, diminishing job prospects, too many graduates—and the standard defences (intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, challenging the status quo), Dr. Falk points out what so many of us already know: how challenging a fine arts education can actually be.

Getting into Fine Arts programs is often considerably more difficult than general admissions into the arts and sciences,” she writes. “Portfolios and auditions are required, and our supposedly over-coddled millennial kids who reputedly want a trophy for just showing up get dished out plenty of criticism and rejection out of the starting gate. And talent is not a replacement for good grades or a tough work ethic. At York University in Toronto, the students accepted into the Theatre program outpace the business students with the highest average entry grades.”

Visiting professor Michael Nicol Yahgulannas critiques student art

“Fine Arts students—whether in Theatre or Music, Creative Writing or Visual Art—learn early on that they had better cope constructively with intense and often very public criticism, or they are not going to survive. They have to learn how to respond quickly and offer feedback to their peers—tactfully and not boorishly.

They learn to work together in pressure-cooker situations, multi-task, and project manage—as much if not more so than in business schools, because the results are real and not imaginary. In Theatre and Music especially, students must be enormously respectful of deadlines that are not amenable to ‘the dog ate my homework’ kinds of excuses. If you’re stage managing or acting in a production, being late is not an option. An orchestra cannot begin a concert without its members present. And the variety and type of written assignments—either in traditional essay or more creative format—on top of all the audition, rehearsal, performance and skills development activity—directly contradicts the reigning campus stereotype of the BFA as the Bachelor of F—K All.”

Now, Dr. Falk does admit that her own daughter is a Department of Theatre acting student right here in UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and her extensive bio does include one tangentially fine arts-related position—as the director of human resources at Sony Music Canada—but she’s hardly someone you would turn to as the first line of fine arts defence. But her points are incredibly valid.

Piano professor Arthur Rowe well knows talent alone often isn’t enough to guarantee success

“Students in the Fine Arts are prepared from day one that there are no automatic job guarantees once they graduate from university,” she writes. “They know they have to think entrepreneurially about their work, that it’s not demeaning to take other jobs while you hone your craft, and that you often have to work as a team and take risks to be successful. Because the arts are perpetually under siege, students are acutely aware that you had better learn to make your own opportunities in life, and when things don’t turn out, that you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

“Artists are also an inherently interdisciplinary bunch, learning—out of desire and necessity—to research and understand time periods, characters, conflicts, and methodologies, in order to complete their work. In a sense, they are part-time sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and historians. Ultimately, they are students of the human condition, and realize that learning is lifelong and does not stop at graduation day.

“Artistic examination of a subject is hardly arid, but meant to provoke, inspire, generate catharsis. In that respect, artistic endeavor is deeply community oriented, requiring a public and respecting an audience. Moreover, historically it’s those pesky artists who are often the most dangerously insightful, taking risks in creatively speaking truth to power, and suffering the political consequences. It’s no accident that artists are disproportionately overrepresented in dissident groups who often crazy enough to fight for and then successfully achieve some measure of societal change. We need artists to act as a mirror—to reflect back to us our shortcomings and failures—and demand that we deliver, and do better.

“Finally, Fine Arts programs combine the practical with the theoretical. The skills they learn—whether in marketing or the use of power tools—are transferable in ways not immediately evident in traditional university offerings. Of course not every student with a degree in Theatre is going to become an award-winning playwright, actor or director. But it bears worth mentioning that, during the financial meltdown in 2008-2009, the entertainment industry kept generating jobs while many at the bottom of the food chain, armed only with their Bachelor of Commerce degrees, were left pounding the pavement. And a large proportion of arts-related jobs—from the menial to the celebrity—are not easily amenable to outsourcing to export-processing zones overseas.”

Read the full article here.