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Artful Thinking- Why study arts? Artful Thinking-Why study arts
Posted by Yi Long Li | June 21st 2011

High school’s almost over and more study may be the last thing on your mind. Or maybe you’ve been on that whirlwind coming of age trip around the world, been confronted by cultures, and sought sustenance in a barrage of unfamiliar flavours. What next?

Whatever the story, something ticks over in your mind and university seems like a good option after all. You know others who are there, undertaking some solid studies for 3 or 4 years towards a future career. Yeh, you think to yourself, maybe that’s for me.

What is it?

After some quick elimination, and some hard thinking, you’ve shortlisted a degree in Arts. Sounds great, but what does it mean?

Music, poetry, literature, painting, sculpture. The arts, just to name a few, have always be a part of human civilizations. From primitive rock art, to stories, songs and customs passed on for thousands of years, the Arts are creative “time machines”, preserving and documenting the shifts and changes of cultures in many forms.

In comparison, the academic study of Arts stemming from the wealth of cultures is relatively new. Although throughout history the humanities have been refashioned and reshaped countless times to suit particular ends, they maintain a deep historical connection with human experience in all its forms, mysterious, complex, primal and enduring.

Studying the humanities gives you access to a wealth of human knowledge and creativity. It promotes critical thinking, a thirst for deeper knowledge, the communication and circulation of ideas, and a passion for inquiry about the world.

What are the options?

The beauty of an arts program is in the versatility in the patterns and pathways of study available, and the diversity of subjects on offer. There are the standard Arts degrees alongside Arts Languages, Liberal and Global Studies, Media and Communications, just to name a few. And sometimes there’s the option of combined degrees in Arts/Sciences, Arts/Law, Arts/Medicine…the options are endless, but of course this will depend on the institution and what they provide (here’s an example).     

Whether you want to take a unit of study on contemporary British literature, fashions in Japan, social media developments, or perhaps continental philosophy, you’re sure to find subjects that’ll tickle your fancy. The only catch is that in order to reach more specialised units, you’ll need to undertake a pre-requisite course or two. These are usually general introductory courses that give you a taste of what a subject has to offer.

What does an Arts degree give me in the end?

A girl’s father gives her a ten dollar bill and reminds her to spend it wisely. What will ten dollars give me? She asked herself. I wonder how much chocolate I could buy…

Given prices today, a realistic answer would be not that much. But as an analogy, let’s pretend the girl bought and ate enough to make herself sick. My point is that instead of asking what she could get for $10, i.e. what does $10 equate to in real-world terms, a simple spin on the initial question could’ve saved her from her sugary overload.

Instead of asking what the Arts degree can give you, ask instead what you can get from it. How can I get the degree to work for me? The difference is subtle but it’s the critical difference made between a passive learner and an active learner who takes control of their education.

The same principle goes for any degree. You make the most of your study and make the knowledge you acquire work for you. That’s what university’s about, independent and practical learning.

Even if you plan to continue study in a graduate field that’s completely unrelated, the skills in communication, analysis, synthesis and critical thinking that you’ve learnt from the Arts are indispensable.

If you think Arts is for you, then find out more by checking out some university websites. Look out for university open days or info events where you can get the chance to ask some academics your questions. 

For all your options, see here.