Sometimes it is quite hard being an Arts student. Despite being by far one of the most popular subject choices for newcomers to UCC, Arts as a subject has never been fully able to shake off the perception that it is a course for dossers and no-hopers. As a third year Arts student, I have already endured over two years of scepticism aimed jokingly at me by friends and peers, as well as the deeper more insidious kind that you encounter when discussing your future with relatives and elderly neighbours.
In fairness, it is hard to counter the argument of a chemistry or computer science student when they confront you on what are, in their opinion, your criminally short hours or your horrific lack of tests and exams. It is difficult to argue the merits of such a subject when your opponent has just returned from a 3 hour lab class and is in a bad mood, especially when you’ve just casually strolled in from one of your two lectures that day.
Likewise, it can be very disheartening to run into a friend of your mothers in the shop who, after the customary observations about your height and the feigned shock to learn that you are not in fact a child anymore, will then inevitably move the conversation onto the topic of “what are you doing with yourself?”
“I’m in college in UCC” you might reply.
“And what are you studying?”
You could lie and say you’re doing medicine but you know that before the week is out the entire rural community will have you on their radar as the future town GP.
“Arts. English and History.”
“Oh, oh that’s…….nice.”
“And what will you do with that? Teaching?”, most people fail to see any alternative when it comes to the likes of History.
Alternatively, they might ask “do you enjoy it?”
Replying in the affirmative will usually elicit a response in the vein of “Well that’s all that matters” and they will depart happy in the knowledge that although you are travelling towards your future doom on a jet-plane, at least you are doing it with a smile on your foolish, naïve face.
What people fail to realise is that by arguing the futility of the Arts, they are themselves adhering to some of the principles which make the Arts such an integral part of everyday life. Argument, debate and the use of reasoning are some of the pillars which have helped humanity achieve all that is has achieved over the years. In the past, men and women of great intelligence such as Pythagoras did not need mathematical and scientific proficiency to be distinguished from philosophy and poetry. They saw each as important and vital tools by which we might advance ourselves. Somewhere along the way this peaceful coexistence was lost in a haze of confusion and misunderstanding.
Whereas science might provide us with the hows, whats and wheres, the Arts provide us with the answers to perhaps the most important question of all: the whys.
Perhaps the greatest evidence for the importance of the Arts comes from an unlikely source. Why is it, whenever a dictator or totalitarian regime take over a country, the first thing they do is clamp down on the media, censor artists and writers and even, as in the case of Mussolini et al, seek to change history itself? The reason the Arts are so important to us is that they allow us to question, to explore and to expand on ideas, they allow us to create our own identity and to understand the identities of others in a way that is dangerous to the likes of Mussolini, who relied on indoctrination and state-sponsored brainwashing to control people’s lives. Science may provide us with the means to live in a world with clean water, heated housing and electricity, but it is the Arts which allow us to exist as individuals and to improve the psychological quality of our lives.
It annoys me that I should have to defend the arts at all. Why should I have to justify my choice of studies in a way that students of other subject areas do not? Although I’d never say no to a nice juicy income popping into my bank account every week or month, I would much rather be happy and fulfilled in a job that was right for me rather than slaving away in position to which I am not suited but one which meets with society’s approval. The immense fun that I had writing this article only further proves my point.