I've had a hell of a time coming up with a clever introduction for this article. I’ve struggled to write something witty, informative and catchy. But the words will not materialize. So instead, I’m just going to cut to the chase…
If you want your kids to be successful in life, send them to art school.
Yes, you read that right. And it’s not for the reasons you might think.
I graduated from art school mrphhhsh years ago and while it’s true I learned how to draw, paint and sculpt during my time at college, I also learned something far more important…
I learned that anything was possible.
I entered into a fine arts program at a local community college after realizing I didn’t want to be an early childhood educator - even though I had applied for and was accepted into an ECE program. Sure, I liked kids well enough, but after volunteering at a daycare centre a month before classes were beginning, the reality of my future washed over me like a heavy wave and I felt myself gasping for air.
Being a teacher of toddlers would have been a good job. A safe, smart career choice.
But it wasn’t my calling.
High school had taught me that in order to be successful, I needed to pursue a “real” career. Then – as now – there was common belief that an art degree would get you nowhere and that those who wanted to study art should really do it on the side, as a hobby while working toward a "practical" degree.
Fortunately my non-conformist parents were of an entirely different mindset. They knew I had always shown an affinity for art and design so when I agreed with my mother’s subtle suggestion to switch programs, both she and my dad breathed a sigh of relief.
I worked through my courses, I learned not to fear mistakes and I found a kinship with some teachers while utterly despising others until, in my final year; one of my instructors told me I had a knack for writing. It hadn't occurred to me that I could share ideas on paper because although I loved books as a kid, high school English, with all of it’s dissection and conjecture - combined with a teacher who made me feel I wasn't up for the challenge - made me want to shave my head and poke a box full of toothpicks into my skin one at a time. No offense Mrs. W, but it wasn’t until YEARS later I discovered Shakespeare was actually a riot.
And so, after college - in addition to making lots of art - I started writing. I approached a local entertainment paper with a lot of hutzpah because I had learned that anything was possible.
When I realized I was lacking a few skills, I took an online University level English course to learn more about how to do what I wanted to do - properly - and the rest was up to me.
Meanwhile others who studied art at school with me went on to become picture framers, graphic artists, industrial designers, interior decorators, video game inventors, special effects artists, makeup artists, web designers, cross-stitch creators, architects, sculptors and muralists. One even went on to become a scientist.
Same school. Same program. Different passions.
Obviously, some of the above career paths required more than a three-year college diploma but it was at art school where we all learned that anything was possible.
Participating in art nurtures inventiveness as it engages people in a process that aids in the development of self-esteem, self-discipline, cooperation, and self-motivation. And, art helps people gain the tools necessary for understanding human experience, adapting to and respecting other points of view, developing creative problem-solving skills and communicating thoughts and ideas.
It’s the reason why you gave your kids crayons and paintbrushes when they were little and it’s why many business leaders consider creativity one of the most desirable qualities in their employees.
Joseph M. Calahan, PhD (a man who spent more than 40 years at the Xerox Corporation, where he held a series of positions in public affairs, communications and social responsibility) once said, “Arts education aids students in skills needed in the workplace: flexibility, the ability to solve problems and communicate, the ability to learn new skills, to be creative and innovative, and to strive for excellence.”
And he’s not alone in his thinking.
McGill University Professor Nancy J. Adler, a pioneer in the integration of art and design with business and societal leadership, has brought artistic approaches into her work with managers and executives worldwide for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, medical educators are combining art and medicine to develop unique new ways to involve the humanities to focus on skills in diagnosis and observation to understand a patient’s needs.
Surprised? Don’t be.
The world continues to change. We are not living in an age of routine performances. We are smack dab in the middle of an era where our survival depends on engineers being able to adapt to new situations, teachers finding creative ways to deal with unforeseen problems and doctors who know how to think on their feet. We need imagination, thoughts and vision in our pressure packed world. We need our kids to follow their bliss and we need them to tap into their right brains because if they don't, they will fail.
So if your son or daughter comes to you saying they want to go to art school, do not be afraid. Be joyful and dance like no one is watching. Because it is there that they will have the opportunity to fully discover their calling and it is there that they will learn that anything is possible.
Before I go, I will leave you with this speech by University of Waterloo Economics professor Larry Smith. In it, he makes some points that every parent should hear. It’s a long presentation so if you’re pressed for time, skip ahead to 10:38.
Curious about what you can do with an art degree, other than becoming a visual artist?
Have a look at this list of more than 200 options.
I wrote it years ago so some of the careers might be obsolete ;) but it gives you a good idea of the possibilities.
Lecture Hall Image: Griszka Niewiadomski/FreeImages.com