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  • Mon, 1, Jul, 2019 - 5:00:AM

The arts and humanities are underappreciated

Woman in front of graffiti wall / THE COLLAB. / Pexels.com

An arts or humanities degree has been the butt of so many jokes in wider media and academic circles that everyone (even arts majors) accepts them as pursuits of passion rather than pragmatism. My teachers mourn for my wasted potential when I tell them I’m doing English Lit. My friends (engineering buffs) laugh and my parents weep for my future paycheck (or lack thereof.)

But it’s about time everyone got off their academic high horse.

So, an arts degree doesn’t exactly forecast a cushy life — that’s fine. I’m doing an arts degree because I will be miserable doing anything else. I know the money isn’t great and the industry is hard to break into but, like my fellow arts degree seekers, I remain an optimist. The cynics, as Oscar Wilde put it, know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

The value of the arts and humanities has been sorely overlooked.

Before we figured out how to construct buildings and perform surgeries, we were painting on cave walls. We were staring at the sky and imagining constellations. We were role-playing in arenas. We were storytellers. Art is at the centre of every civilisation. Whether it’s the oral storytelling of Pacific cultures, the calligraphy of the Chinese or the traditional dances of India, there was a time when artisans were elevated to the highest echelons of society.

I’m not dismissing the value of the scientific advancements we’ve made since then. But that’s the thing about our advancements — they’ve been hard-won in an uphill battle by a few pioneering individuals, often against the rules of nature as we knew them at the time. On the other hand, we are still as enamoured with the arts as the day we first splattered a handprint on some rock. 

It’s natural, it’s innate and it’s one of the things that make us human. While not everyone has a passion for bioengineering or medicine, I bet we all have playlists for our various moods. We all follow some account (cough, ASMR) on Instagram that gives us some extra feel-good stimuli whether it’s visual, audible or comedic. Many of us have probably attended one of the light shows, music festivals or art exhibitions that make our big cities so welcoming for creatives.

It’s easy to forget how reliant we are on the arts because for the most part, we’ve just integrated them into our lives. But we also benefit significantly as a society from investment in the arts and humanities.

Art therapy provides Alzheimer’s patients an alternative method of communication as their language skills deteriorate. This might include sketching faces to help stir memory, or learning an instrument to help with retaining fine motor skills. New Zealand’s music and film industry is growing rapidly; filmmakers like Taika Waititi and Peter Jackson have worked on extremely successful franchises, in turn improving the landscape for blossoming filmmakers. Parts of the Mulan live-action remake were filmed in New Zealand, which created a bunch of jobs for people from a number of sectors.

The arts and humanities are a core part of our curriculum. When we expose our students to artistic outlets from a young age, we see an increase in imagination and creative thinking, which develops into better abstract thinking skills as their education continues. Generally this exposure to the arts in early education also provides valuable ways to teach spatial awareness, literary skills and communication.

The impact made by the arts and humanities is so hard to measure because it is intertwined with education, the economy and entertainment. But the current government seems to appreciate its worth, as the arts, culture and heritage sector received $87 million more in funding in the May 2019 Wellbeing Budget. This invests in upgrading infrastructure at Te Papa, building a National Music Centre and supporting the Creatives in School programme.

To an aspiring arts major like me, the growing acknowledgement for the arts and humanities is encouraging to say the least. It might take a while for the academic sphere to hop on board, but I am excited to be stepping into an industry so vibrant, so diverse and so necessary.

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  • Arts /
  • Humanities /
  • Degrees /
  • Education /
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Aimee
Lew

Regular Contributor All Articles