Monday, June 18, 2018

a few pieces from The Stage about how arts degrees are a bad earnings investment but "enrich lives"

When I was in college decades ago I loved studying the liberal arts.  But I settled on a journalism degree thinking that, at least compared to literature or music composition or biblical studies that journalism, of all the ostensibly useless fields of study that intrigued me in college, might have been most likely to land me a job. 

So much for that.  I managed to find work but much of the work I landed in the last twenty years was not really directly or even indirectly connected to studying journalism.  Certainly I put the journalism degree to something I considered a good use, chronicling the peak and decline of Mars Hill while the mainstream and even independent press seemed to more or less fail to do that job. 

Yet I'm glad I studied journalism and didn't attempt to make my degree more officially liberal arts.  The more I read about the academic job market and the more I read about the longitudinal studies that show what a bad return on investment liberal arts degrees are for the job market relative to expense the less bad I feel I couldn't get into more advanced degrees.  There's a lot in the age of the internet you can learn by sharing ideas with people in person and online.  There's a lot of resources that are public domain that you can study. 

So it's not a surprise to see that there's a recognition that arts degrees offer the worst earning potential ...

Nor, however, is it a surprise to see defenses of advanced degrees in liberal arts defended on the basis of what amounts to a purely ideological bid.
by Lyn Gardner - Jun 18, 2018
News that creative arts graduates earn 15% less than the average university leaver five years after graduation – and so may expect to have considerably lower earnings over an entire career – will not surprise many who work in theatre.
The report, carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on behalf of the Department for Education, points out that, while earnings of an Imperial College maths graduate were double the average, those graduating from Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts or Guildhall were as much as 50% below average.
Quelle surprise. I don’t think the IFS needed to be funded to tell us bankers earn more than set designers. Just like artists, of course, nurses and teachers also know that pay is not linked to value. As Edward Bond once asked: who is the more valuable? The chauffeured or the driver?
Rather than being scandalised by the fact that those who are most creative – and the most creative thinkers – are likely to be paid less, the IFS draws the conclusion that students should consider later-life earnings when picking their subjects at GCSE and A level. This will allow them to access degree courses with a greater financial return. I guess that’s what happens when you turn higher education into a market-place and sell the old canard that the purpose of a degree is to boost earnings.
If the state is paying for the education does the state have no interest in wanting some kind of career return on investment?  This reminds me of a friend I made in high school who was from Germany who said that what the government did (this was ... about thirty years ago ish) was work out where you tested best, steered you into that vocational path, and then you had the opportunity to pursue other hobbies on the side.  One of his hobbies was playing violin and singing but it wasn't the career path he was taking. 

What we should be scandalized by is more the assumption that liberal arts devotees should be considered "most creative".  I refuse to assume that a sculptor, painter or novelist is more creative than a stay-at-home parent.  It just does not follow that people with the leisure time to learn how to write novelsor poetry are in any way demonstrably more creative than people who work in trades or are parents at home.  It may be peopleeducated in the arts want to believe they are the most creative but when critics complain about how many movies all seem to blur together year after year and how "Hollywood has run out of ideas" this betrays ignorance of how Hollywood never had its own ideas on the one hand and how it gives the lie to he idea that people in the arts, merely by dint of being in the arts, could be considered "most creative" or "most creative thinkers".

Up to 40% of current jobs may become automated, but a robot cannot replace an artist
In any case, when increasing numbers of jobs are becoming automated, including those such as accountancy that were considered solid jobs for life, it may turn out that running away to join the circus rather than joining a bank could be the better long-term career option.Particularly in the 21st century, when cultural and technological shifts are bringing about undreamed-of disruptions in our everyday lives – from how we shop and earn a living to what we do with our leisure time and how we interact with each other. It has been estimated that up to 40% of current jobs may become automated in the coming decades. But a robot cannot replace an artist.

It's not that there cannot be an argument formulated as to "why" this should be so but that the assertion is, well, simply asserted.

If the education bubble is as bad as some are saying is it necessarily "bad" that people of color are less represented in academic or less represented by way of earning advanced degrees in an era of what some consider scandalous degrees of student debt?

If people are getting educated that's wonderful so long as they aren't crushed by debt that functionally renders them some kind of wage slave for their rest of their adult lives.

But why should someone get a liberal arts degree to learn how to write music?  Why should someone even necessarily have to learn music in school?  To be clear a lot of people learn music in school. I learned about music in school but it wasn't always where people learned music, not school in the more modern sense of the term. 

if I had tried to go the academic music study route I have no clear idea that I would have been encouraged to go in the direction of studying contrapuntal cycles composed for solo guitar, for instance.  Nor, for that matter, would I suspect I would have been much encouraged to take a historical survey of the evolution of sonata forms in solo guitar literature from early 19th century guitar sonatas.  Neither would I imagine musicology as it has played out in the last fifteen to twenty years would have had much use for theoretical explorations of the ways in which the syntactic scripts of sonata forms from 18th century literature could be used to refract the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary of ragtime or blues.  There's almost no truer truism than the canards that blues and Afro-American music "doesn't follow the rules" of classical music even if you have a tonic, a subdominant and a dominant chord and even if the twelve-bar blues can be mapped out in such a way as to demonstrate adherence to the golden ratio! 

But academic musicology probably doesn't not want to hear the suggest that it is, as an entire field, the most probable enemy of a fusion of "Eurological" and "Afrological" idioms to the extent that we even "should" pretend to ourselves that these taxonomies are as real as academics want to believe they are.  It's not clear in the realm of practical and practicing musicians that these boundaries have to be so clearcut. 

Meanwhile, the idea that arts study enriches the world ... eh ... I wonder more and more if that' s just an ideological gambit. 

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